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India Pale Ale (IPA)

by: BeerAdvocate on 10-10-2001
One of the most popular beer styles on the market today, the India Pale Ale (IPA) often saturates beer markets and beer drinker's palates with its sometimes over-the-top hoppy flavour profile. And, in the Pacific Northwest, it sometimes seems that that is all you can get these days. But what is an IPA?

First off, India Pale Ales are not native to the US. Nor are they native to India. The style originates from England, wherein 1774 the British Empire appointed its first governor to India and began heavy trading. Beer being one of the many items, was leveraged within the market due to its being such a necessity at the time, a staple of one's diet even.

In the late 1700's and early 1800's, coke began to replace wood as the primary fuel used to kiln malt at breweries and maltsters. As coke burning was easier to control and produced more heat than wood, maltsters found that they could produce a much lighter coloured malt that retained a higher level of enzymes. This increase in enzymes brought more yield out of the grain, or rather turned more of the malt starches into fermentable sugars. With the invention of these paler coloured malts came the birth of the Pale Ale, however these beers had stability problems when shipped long distances. So, based off of the Pale Ale style, English brewers in the early 1800's began brewing a more stable beer to withstand the long and rigorous journey to India. A common method was to heavily hop the beer and take advantage of the acids in hops which act as a natural preservative. The second method was to reduce the gravity (amount of soluble sugar in solution) of the beer as much as possible (via yeast), thus creating a product with much less residual sugars, which in turn would attract less micro-organism that might spoil the beer on its long journey. From this you were left with a rather light coloured, bitter, dry and higher alcoholic beverage - compared to other ales of the day.

Today, India Pale Ales can be found all over the world with varying degrees of hop, malt and alcohol levels. Very few are even close to what the early IPA used to be. The "IPA" mark can also be found on numerous beer labels throughout the world, seemingly regardless of its contents. American brewers are one the biggest culprits of this by becoming notorious for pushing the limits of acceptance and lambasting the palate in an attempt to make the strongest and/or hoppiest beers possible. On the flipside many brewers, world-wide, will brew a more mild ale and call it an IPA, when in fact it is a Pale Ale. Although not 100% true to style, the American-style IPA has come into its own as an unofficial style and partially meets a niche crowd of beer drinkers who crave hops. These insane hardcore tribesmen of the humulus lupulus (hops) call themselves ... "hop heads."

There are some renditions, or replicas, that take a very close stab at attempting to be a genuine IPA. Pride of Romsey I.P.A. (from Hampshire Brewery of Romsey, England) and Burton Bridge Empire India Pale Ale (from Burton Bridge Brewery of Burton-On-Trent, England) are nice contenders. Fuller's IPA (London, England) and McEwan's IPA (Edinburgh, Scotland) are much cleaner versions, but respectable nonetheless. Tremont Brewery's IPA (Boston, MA) is a big fat hoppy ale full of juicy fruit flavours and a well-sized bittering hop, and Magic Hat Brewing Company's Blind Faith (Burlington, VT) and Shipyard Brewing Company's Fuggles IPA (Portland, ME) stay close in perspective with Tremont's.

Samuel Adams IPA, Harpoon IPA, Brooklyn East India Pale Ale, Redhook IPA, Ipswich India Pale Ale, Wolaver's IPA, Samuel Smith's India Ale, Wachusett India Pale Ale and Stone Cat I.P.A. are all available in Boston, and worth checking out too. On the local brewpub scene you can taste Brewmoon's Improper Hopper IPA, North East Brewing Co.'s Lobsterback IPA, Boston Beer Works' Back Bay IPA and John Harvard's IPA.

As you can see there are quite a few India Pale Ales to be had, each very different with focuses on tradition or twists within the style. Whatever your fancy, just get ready to have your taste buds pummeled into submission!
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