The India Pale Ale (IPA) is one of the most popular beers in America right now, especially at breweries and restaurants where it can be sampled fresh. Although it has a long history all over the world, the modern American IPA is a creature all its own, with roots right here in the US, born from the last few decades of experimentation and brewing. A lot can be said about the bitterness and high alcohol content of an India Pale Ale, but these beers are so much more than bitter booze bombs, they are as varied and complex as any other beer out there.
The defining characteristic of an India Pale Ale that really sets it apart from other beers on the market is the use of hops. An IPA is typically much hoppier than something like a lager, which affects not only its appearance and aroma but also its flavor. It is not enough to simply say that an IPA is hoppier, therefore it is more bitter – bitterness and the overall flavor of a good IPA depend on the types of hops used, how they are added, and so many other factors.
Simply calling a beer an India Pale Ale falls short of conveying the complexity and unique flavor of a lot of these beers. It is important to understand where IPAs have come from and how they have developed over recent years. Of course, at the end of the day, the best way to fully appreciate an IPA is to sit back, relax, and enjoy one among friends and family.
The Empire Strikes Beer
While its name might first make you think of India, the history of the India Pale Ale begins in England, at the height of the British Empire. In the 1700s England had spread its control and influence all over the world through its massive fleet and the power of the East India Trading Company. One of the most important locations for the British Empire at that time was India – and the emigrants and troops in India wanted beer.
The hot conditions in India proved inhospitable to brewing beer, and a lot of beers could not make the trip from England to India by ship. The solution was a beer that had higher quantities of hops and more alcohol content so that it could better survive the trip from England to India and still be enjoyable. A pale ale high in hops was ideal, and several different brewers shipped their hoppy pale ales across the ocean – these became known as India Pale Ales, or Export Pale Ales when sent to other countries.
Return of the American Craft Beer
Although England exported their pale ales to America, lagers were generally more popular. The brewing of lagers became substantial here in the US, and ale brewing took second fiddle. With prohibition, ale brewing was all but eliminated in America.
After prohibition, lagers returned as king for decades. This all began to change, however, in the 1970s as microbreweries started opening and becoming popular throughout the country. With a desire to set themselves apart from the common lagers found on liquor store shelves, a lot of these breweries began experimenting with different types of beers to create something that would stand out. Among them was the India Pale Ale, which was reinvented through the use of American hops, rather than European hops that were traditional.
Flavor and Aroma
The use of American hops is what sets American India Pale Ales apart from those still being made in England, Belgium, or different parts of Europe. In general, American hops are typically fruitier and more citrusy in terms of aroma and flavor, whereas European hops are renowned for more floral and herbal notes. This means an American IPA is typically quite complex in terms of taste, commonly displaying fruity flavors and smells when enjoyed.
Another major part of the success of the American IPA is the fact that many different types of hops are grown here in the US, especially in the Pacific Northwest. That means that simply saying an India Pale Ale has a lot of hops in it falls short of fully capturing what it is going to taste and smell like. A lot of brewers experiment with these different types of hops, to find combinations of flavor and aroma that tease and delight the senses.
In general, an India Pale Ale is going to be more bitter than something like a standard lager, which some people might not find enjoyable. Saying an IPA is bitter, however, falls short of fully defining that complex flavor profile. For some drinkers, other types of beer like a simple lager can seem too sweet or lacking in depth – that is where the bitterness and complexity of an IPA really shines.
The bitterness can offset sweetness in beer, and the added citrus and fruit notes from American hops creates a much more complex flavor. With that in mind, an American IPA is still going to be bitter, usually falling somewhere between 50 to 70 IBU. An Imperial or Double IPA can be even more bitter, which is attractive for some drinkers, but can put off others.
In general, an India Pale Ale is light golden in color – after all, it is a “pale ale” and its appearance matches that description. Depending on the hops used and when they are added, some IPAs can have a cloudy or hazy appearance to them. This is not an indication of poor quality or other issues, but instead simply comes down to how the beer was brewed and can even be affected by the type of yeast used in brewing.
Alcohol by Volume
An India Pale Ale is usually stronger than something like a lager, which hails back to its roots as an export beer that needed to survive long trips at sea. While the exact amount of alcohol can vary from one brand to another, they typically fall somewhere between about 6% and 7.5% ABV. This is often directly connected to the hoppiness of the beer – an Imperial or Double IPA can be even stronger, with greater than 7% ABV being common.
Serving an India Pale Ale
An India Pale Ale is usually served in a tulip glass, which has a round bulb base and a slightly narrower opening. This not only nicely shows off the golden color of the beer, but helps trap aromatic qualities of the beer inside, rather than freeing them. A tulip glass makes it easier to continue enjoying the complex and rich flavors and aromas well after pouring.
Due to the strong flavors often associated with an IPA, this type of beer is quite popular when paired with food that is also rich in flavor. Spicy foods in particular are excellent with an India Pale Ale, since the beer not only helps cool off the heat but the fruitiness plays well with the burn of spicy foods. An IPA is also perfect with dessert, especially anything that has citrus or fruit notes – or that works well with citrus flavors, such as ice cream or cheesecake.
Come Get Wrapped Up by the Ocho
At Fort Brewery & Pizza we have a simple mission: serve our friends and neighbors in Fort Worth the best food and beer we can. We accomplish that mission every night with our salads, sandwiches, and pizza along with a selection of carefully crafted beers to please any palate. Come and try the Ocho, our signature India Pale Ale crafted with eight different types of hops for a complex and remarkable flavor, or any other of our beers for a great evening of food, fun, and friends.