IPA Insanity Pt. II
Welcome back. After having offended most beer nerds with simplistic explanations, and examples not everybody agreed with, we can let you in on a secret: the lines between craft beer styles are blurry and often debated. It only gets worse when you narrow it down and discuss sub styles within a category.
It’s about to get even weirder.
Black IPA: This alleged style is difficult because it combines the addition of dark malts and specialty grains into the IPA recipe. Many beers in this fluid category seem like hoppy porters or stouts. Perhaps brewers would stop pretending this category is a thing if more people would buy stouts and porters. To this writer, sometimes it just seems like a trick to get people who don’t drink dark beers to try dark beers. Local brewers offer takes on this style from time to time.
Super Pale Ale: Don’t get this confused with an “Extra” Pale Ale. An Extra Pale Ale is a pale ale brewed with all pale malts. The resultant beer is very light in color, but still hoppy, and assertive, at least as pale ales go. A pale ale, of course, is simple a lighter, lower ABV version of an IPA. A “Super” Pale Ale is a beer that is bigger and more robust than a pale ale, but not quite so much as that brewer’s version of the IPA. This is a subjective thing. You could just as easily call it a Junior IPA, but that doesn’t sound as cool, does it? Seventh Son’s Humulus Nimbus is a great local take on this “style”.
Here’s where it gets weird.
CBC’s Bodhi is called a “double” IPA. Creeper is dubbed an “Imperial” IPA. These terms are, technically, interchangeable.
In CBC’s world, the 8.3% ABV “double” drinks more like a West Coast Double IPA, where the 10% ABV “Imperial” has a classic flavor profile with a bit more malt and residual sweetness, though it falls well below the level of sweetness you’d expect from a barleywine. You can compare these two beers, from the same brewer, side by side and experience the dramatic difference available inside of one, very specific subcategory of beer, where the terminology is arbitrary.
Imperial/Double IPAs are supposed to be “drinkable” which means that you don’t sip them. The trick here is to pack a lot of intense flavor into the beer without being too heavy, or harsh. This is why people always say of beers in this category:, “It drinks like something with a much lower ABV.” With relatively loose parameters, this style is wide open to interpretation and experimentation.
This is just a high level overview of things, but it should provide a foundation that helps to demystify a convoluted category of beer.
IPA Insanity Pt. I
People often ask about IPAs and the various sub styles within this category. While one could dedicate a book to this subject, we’ll try to break it down in a quick read.
What’s an IPA? An India Pale Ale is a more robust version of a pale ale. Legend has it that a high test version of the popular pale ale was brewed to withstand journeys to India where it was supposed to be diluted with water to keep the British troops sated.
The veracity of this story is in question and it’s more likely that people just wanted a strong beer. Today, there are several versions of the IPA.
English IPA: These beers use English hops, and malts to produce a sweeter flavor with less acidity and a more herbaceous aroma.
American IPA: These are more assertive in flavor and aroma, and there are several additional subcategories that are distinctly different. Commonhouse IPA is a recent entry into the local IPA scene that doffs its cap to the classic sensibilities of the style. It’s well balanced, but has a more assertive hop profile than an English IPA.
West Coast IPA: While most American IPAs use west coast hops, the West Coast IPA was distinguished by brewers on the West Coast who used copious additions of hops, particularly later in the boil to impart distinct aromas of citrus and pine.
West Coast brewers have been credited with innovations that increase hop flavor and aroma in beers. Sierra Nevada’s Hop Torpedo being one of the more famous. Homestead’s Galactic Heroes IPA is a local offering that captures the West Coast vibe.
New England IPA: This is a newer style of beer known for extremely aggressive hop additions very late in the boil, which reduces upfront bitterness dramatically, while delivering extremely assertive citrus aromas. The sweetness of the malt isn’t checked by bitterness, so the combination of sweetness with citrus aroma imparts a “juicy” quality.
Many beers in this vein are hazy, which has resulted in some brewers creating recipes that increase the amount of yeast, hop residue, and proteins suspended in the beer. Sometimes this can alter the flavor by introducing certain esters, which some people enjoy.
In order to appease consumers overly enamored with the amount particles suspended in a beer, some brewers are adding unfermentable starches to the beer. Yellow Springs offers Boat Show as a relatively local entry into this category. Boat Show is a consistent and straightforward take on the style that doesn’t get caught up in the nonsense.