Hail To The IPA – or Should We Say the Twenty Different IPAs

Hail To The IPA – or Should We Say the Twenty Different IPAs

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Last time we talked about three of the newer types sub-styles of IPA, the milkshake, the New England, and the brut. These represent some of the hottest styles of beer being made right now. We’ll have to see if they wrestle each other into submission, or if one comes out on top as a lasting style of beer.

This was the first year in the last decade or so that the American IPA wasn’t the most numerous submission for GABF (supplanted by the Hazy/Juicy IPA that we talked about last week). It goes without saying that American IPAs are still the backbone of hoppy world, alongside little brother, the pale ale. But there are myriads sub-styles of IPA out there, from the common (black IPA and Belgian IPA) to the exceedingly rare (brown IPA, and to a lesser extent, the white IPA).

In all, one can make an argument for there being 20 different sub-styles of the IPA, and maybe 21 if you count the fruit IPA (I don’t). Since we talked about three IPAs last time, we’ll start at #4 today. We’d better get to it:

It’s not odd that many good English IPAs come from England, but don’t overlook Screaming for Vengeance from Black Acre. image credit: beer recipes

4) English IPA – considering that this is the origin of the IPA, I give this sub-style a lot of power – it’s the IPA. While this beer is hop forward, it is so dang tame compared to the American IPA. But tame doesn’t mean bland.

The English IPA became milder from the time it was born into the 1900s because taxation issues caused English brewers to make lower the ABV of beers. Lower alcohol beers require less malt, so less hop was needed as well, otherwise the beer would become very out of balance.

In general, English IPAs have just moderate hop bitterness and distinct, but not overpowering, hop aroma. The malt is going to be much more pronounced than with American IPAs, and they remain very balanced even as they warm up. The hops and malt also tend to be English, with the hops being a bit less fruity and more herbal, floral, or earthy and the malt being a bit biscuit or with some toffee. If you’d like a great local example, see if you can catch Black Acre Brewing when they have a keg of Screaming for Vengeance on, nice and mild hoppiness, with a hint of coffee flavor.

5) American IPA – For most people, this is the IPA they know and love. Where the English IPAs strive for balance and moderation, the American IPA is big and bold. The hops outstrip the malt in both complexity and flavor, though the degree to which this happens varies greatly.

In addition, the flavors imparted by the hops tend to be bigger and more varied. American hops that are most often used tend to be citrus fruit flavored, dank, or very earthy/piney. The big point here is that American IPAs are bigger than English IPAs in hop bitterness, hop flavor, and ABV. But that’s about as specific as you can get, because there are so many sub-sub-styles within the American IPA; milkshakes, dry and wet hops, brut, blacks, New Englands, Midwests, West Coasts – these all start with an American IPA recipe and then wander off in different directions.

Daredevil’s Lift Off is a great American IPA. And the daredevil himself looks just like my father in law. image credit: Daredevil Brewing

Even though Daredevil Brewing likes to brand Lift Off IPA as a west coast, I think most people would agree that this is a stunning example of a the American IPA, less hoppy than a true west cost (see below), yet truly hop forward in both bitterness and flavor/aroma. Find one today if you haven’t had it, or get some more and rediscover this beer.

6) West Coast IPA – As the IPA craze took hold of the American craft beer scene, the hop growing part of the country looked to take their game to a new level. If strong hop bitterness was good, then over the top bitterness must be better.

For West Coast IPAs, hops bitterness is about all that people are shooting for; shrink your head, palate-wrecking bitterness. There is flavor to be sure, but one has to search around for it amidst the bitter.

UnTappd doesn’t delineate IPAs as West Coast, although they list several other sub styles, so I have to rely on my memory, never a good idea. K.I.S.S. from Round Town Brewery is a great one, perhaps not the most aggressive, but great nonetheless.

East Coast IPA – The obvious question here is whether the East Coast IPA s any different from a New England IPA. The answer is, not really. The hazy IPA we discussed last week has a lot of names; Hazy, New England, East Coast, Vermont, Marsha, Tony, etc. Therefore, go back to last week’s article to read about this IPA sub-style. I didn’t mention it then, so I will now, the Nickel from 18th Street Brewery has been a favorite NE IPA for both Walter and I, but you’ll have to convince Drew to make it again, Lord knows I‘ve tried.

The broader point to be made here is that American IPAs have tended to diverge over the past few years. The West coast was probably the first geographic sub-sub-style based on hop bitterness and flavor choices, followed later by the New England. This left a gap in the IPA landscape centered over the middle part of the country. What should fill that void – the Midwest IPA, of course.

7) Midwest IPA – Just as with everything else, the Midwest IPA is stuck in the middle – it might have been named the Flyover IPA if it wasn’t so dang tasty. The Midwest’s people are like Goldilocks, searching for not too much this or not too much that, and our eponymous IPA has followed suit.

The lake IPA is a great Midwest IPA from TwoDEEP Brewing. image credit: TwoDEEP Brewing.

Our lost Midwest yellow-curled girl looks at the West Coast and says, “That’s too hot,” while it tries the East Coast IPA and says, “There’s no hop bitterness there at all” (Goldilocks knows her beer). What she’s looking for is a balance of malt and hop, still with a hop forward hop flavor and a good level of bitterness.

Perhaps the best-known example of the style is Bell’s Two Hearted. That tells you all you need to know about the style, Two Hearted is the most popular craft beer in the country, ranked #1 for several years. However, we have some great examples in Indiana, including the Lake IPA from TwoDEEP Brewing in Indianapolis. What makes it so? – the malt backbone.

The malt has always been a feature of the beers from TwoDEEP, and this fits the Midwest IPA perfectly, a beer with a balance where the malt plays as big a role as the hop. In fact, it’s the thought put into the malt bill that lets the hops shine (as expressed by Matt Gallagher, at Half Acre Beer in Chicago). After providing a nice stage for the hop, Midwests often employ fewer types of hops in the recipe, relying on one or two hops varietals to provide both bitterness and flavor/aroma – often a combination of fruit and dankiness, as mentioned above. Think of Midwest IPAs as double IPAs without the increased ABV, or an English IPA made with American hop flavors and malts (and just a bit more hop forward).

8) Black IPA – If you like your hop bitterness mixed with some roasted malt bitterness, then the black IPA might be your style. Brewers Association doesn’t even called it an IPA, they have named the style an American-style black ale, but in the depths of its black heart, it knows it’s an IPA. In fact, the black IPA is a bit of an oxymoron, people seeing it for the first time are surprised by a hop forward beer that is so dark; sort of the same reaction people have when they try a good white stout for the first time.

Four Fathers’ Ivy Mike is a very good black IPA, they call it a double black, or would that be a black double IPA? image credit: Four Fathers Brewing

The weird thing is that black IPAs don’t need to be black. Depending on the amount of dark specialty malts used to changed the color without really adding a lot of roastiness, the beer can end up being anywhere from fairly brown to pitch black. That helps a bit, but only a bit, with the problem of calling this a black IPA, remember that the “P” in IPA stands for pale – a black pale ale? Perhaps this is why BA with American-style black ale, although they could have just as easily gone with “India black ale.”

Finally, some people call this sub-style of beer a Cascadian Dark Ale, but that suggests that the Pacific Northwest either invented the style or that only northwest hops can be used to make it – neither of which is true, and UnTappd lumps all Cascadians in with the black IPAs. Therefore, let’s just leave it at black IPA and try to forget about the oxymoron. One example that stands out in our minds from Indiana is the Ivy Mike from Four Fathers Brewing in Valparaiso. We found this to be a layered beer, with distinct flavors coming out at different times, including some good roast that didn’t interfere with the resin/pine hop bitterness.

9) Red IPA – These have a bit more malt and a bunch more hop than an amber, although some have less separation between a hoppy red and a red IPA. The biggest difference might be the ABV rather than the hop bitterness. If you kicked up the ABV on this, you’d be looking at a barleywine or an American Strong. But don’t get crazy, the imperial red ale is still is still a different animal – it’s a red with more ABV and still a moderate hop. Yet BJCP saw a different enough animal to add it to their style guide as a style in 2015.

Crystal malt is what gives a red ale its color, and this moves it to the maltier end of the spectrum – but by kicking up the hops a bit on a red ale and you end up with red IPA rather than an a red/amber ale. As kegerator.com stated, “A little caramel maltiness and shade or two lighter on a red IPA; it’s an American IPA.” This all being said, I have to tell you that I do love the color of a red IPA. As for a great Indiana example – Amazon Princess from People’s Brewing in Lafayette. Man, I’m not (even remotely) a hophead and I love this beer. Unfortunately, Chris at People’s doesn’t call Amazon a Red IPA, just a regular American IPA, maybe because the crystal malt addition is fairly restrained. So if I were to choose an Indiana beer clearly labeled as a red IPA, it would probably be the Dankzilla from Bier Brewery.

10) Brown IPA – the brown is not that different from a Midwest IPA – the malt plays a definite role, but here it may be a bit deeper and more biscuit, as opposed to lighter malt characteristics of the Midwest IPA. Am I burying myself here in detail? The more you drink, the more differences you note, but don’t go crazy if this isn’t important to you. I only seek to inform, not to drive your opinions to a certain area or to make you care about the minutiae of beer.

The Morezaik is a good example of a white IPA, and it’s from right here in Indiana. image credit: Burn ‘Em Brewing

The malt for a Brown IPA is most often more English or European as compared to a Midwest IPA. But again, the hops are going to come to the fore. As stated by Eno Sarris in 2015, you “smell California and see England.” Chocolate malts, specialty dark malts and even some brown sugar can work for this beer, but it never finishes heavy or sweet. – again, sort of like a brown ale.

There aren’t a lot of brown IPAs out there, but it means something that those that exist are made by some of the best breweries in the world. I’d like to give you a good Indiana brown IPA to try, but with all the beer Walter and I have put down our gullets, the Dogfish Head Indian Brown is the only brown IPA we’ve tried. I guess that leaves it to an Indiana brewery to come up with one, or to let me know they have one (I hear tell that Figure Eight Brewing in Valpo has one called Intergalactic, need to make that trip again).

11) White IPA – One might be inclined to call this a frankenbeer. It’s part wit beer, part IPA. There is more wheat in the grist for these beers and is spiced with orange and coriander, like a wit beer, but it’s hoppy like an IPA. The style was born in 2010 when Boulevard Brewing (likes making wheat beers), and Deschutes Brewery (likes making hoppy beers) did a collaboration – called Conflux #2 or Collaboration #2. Both versions were hits, and BJCP made the white IPA another official specialty IPA in 2015.

The wit beer has an ester quality to it, with fruit playing a role via orange. There is also a phenolic presence in a wit beer given by the coriander (mild, but still there). Now take that beer, and add a good heaping helping of hops early in the boil, and you have a white IPA. The estery characteristic of the white IPA makes one think of the Belgian IPA (we’ll talk about this next time). But there is a layer of hop bitterness that flows over the entire beer. You want a good Indiana white IPA? Look to Michigan City and the Morezaik from Burn ‘Em Brewing.

Conclusion – We’re now knee deep into the IPA sub-styles and specialties (look, it’s an 11, that’s one more than 10 – thank you Spinal Tap), but we need to dive deeper in order to come out on the other side. We’ve looked at the IPAs based on geography and color. Next time, let’s look at the rest of the IPAs, including things like wet hopped IPAs, rye IPAs, and the elusive International IPA. Only nine more to go – is it any wonder more IPAs are consumed more than any other craft style – there’s just so many of them.

banner image credit: CraftBeer.com

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