01 Aug Craft Beer Celebrates National IPA Day On August Third
August 3rd is National India Pale Ale (IPA) Day this year. I guess the IPA deserves a holiday – it’s the most popular style(s) going right now. You walk into a liquor store, and the IPAs are what you see first, middle, and last. When you visit a brewery or brewpub, they will have one – or maybe four – of their own IPAs on tap.
The craft IPA has been popular in America for a while now, and I have stated before that hopheads represent a large section of the craft beer drinking population – but I wonder which came first. Did the trend create hopheads that now seek out all substyles of IPA and demand that new styles be invented? Or is the hop flavor and bitterness just so appealing that people were going to love them no matter what and drove the increase in IPA innovation? It’s a chicken or egg problem that goes back to …. well, to India in the early 1800s.
The IPA style has a rich history, and its name comes from the fact that it was a style created for export from Great Britain to her colonies across the globe, India in particular. England’s Bow Brewery is credited with being one of the first to export the style to India, sometime in the early 19th century. It was in Australia in 1829 that we have record of the first advertisement for the style.
What made the IPA good for long distance drinkers was the heavier use of the hop flower, which was predominantly used as a preservative. Hop alpha acids (the ones that create bitterness when isomerized during the boil) retard the growth of some bacteria in beer, and this helps prolong the beer’s shelf life. The brewers in England had a captive market overseas, but travel was an arduous and time-consuming process. They drastically over-hopped the beer to ensure freshness even months later.
The brewers no doubt understood that more hops added more flavor as well, even if much of that flavor (and some of the bitterness) was lost to oxidation in warm temperatures by the time the beer got to India or Australia. That was OK, it wasn’t the flavors or even the bitterness they were using the hops for anyway. Those were just unintended consequences of producing beer that would resist contamination for a longer period. The thing is, the people in India, especially the soldiers, got used to the added bitterness. They demanded that the brewers make over-hopped beers for the British market when they got home. But only in the craft beer age has the IPA turned in to a hop flavor/aroma bomb.
As we have seen, the IPA has had a rich history, and it hasn’t lost much popularity over that entire period. On the contrary, the craft beer boom has helped the IPA to dominate and then to diverge into various substyles. The first wave of American craft brewers in the 1970s fell in love with the style, particularly on the West Coast, and this had ramifications for style.
The American IPA, more hoppy than the English version to begin with, got a bigger jolt of hop bitterness in Oregon, Washington and California – ét voila, the West Coast IPA. This tweak helped kept the style in the forefront, and its legacy helped the current brewers spark interest in creating other variations on the style. Today IPAs may be at their zenith, with West Coast IPAs, Midwest IPAs, Belgian IPAs, New England IPAs, Double IPAs, Imperial IPAs, red IPAs, black IPAs, session IPAs – you get the picture. With hundreds of potential hop combinations that create vastly different flavors and aromas (see this article), the IPA possibilities are endless.
These days, a beer traveler can always find an IPA just about anywhere they travel – even in Germany (Crew Republic in Munich supposedly makes a great imperial IPA)! As I write this, I am drinking a 3 Sheeps Really Cool Waterslide IPA at Lola’s on Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin. IPA’s are popular everywhere, and no matter where you are on August 3rd, you should be able to get your hands on one that fits your tastes.
Begun as a social media holiday in 2011 to celebrate a style that many people were going to drink on that day anyway, the first Thursday of August has now come to be the “traditional” day of celebration for the IPA. Perhaps this is because August is the start of the harvest season for hops, especially the further north you go and for those varieties known more for hop aroma. Or maybe someone wanted a reason to drink an IPA on a particular August day in 2011 and decided to invent the holiday on the spot to rationalize his/her choice. However it happened, the movement has gained popularity, so that now there are special releases, special tappings, hop forward beer lists in craft beer bars, etc. You can get involved personally by getting together with friends and drinking an IPA. Then send out a picture or tweet or review – use that hashtag thing if you like.
Indiana brewers are wise to the IPA and make a host of excellent examples, but there are far too many to list here. If you feel that drinking local is a good idea, you should have no trouble finding a tap list on the third that includes wonderful Indiana versions of the IPA. The Sinking Ship in Indianapolis will have eight lines of IPAs running, both local and national. The Heorot Pub in Muncie will have the Founders 10K IPA, along with five other Founders IPAs on tap. I’m sure there will be a party going on near you, so join in and be beguiled by the bitter – unless you don’t like IPAs. Hey, it happens.