India Pale Ales, or IPAs, are one of the most popular beer styles on the craft beer scene today, and unless you have been living under a rock for the last twenty years or so, you won’t have failed to notice the ever-growing number of IPAs on the shelves of your local beer depot or the taps in your favorite craft beer hangout.
As the number of IPAs on the market grows, so too do the types of IPAs — we all know how keen the beer industry is on coming up with new monikers for each category of beer.
But what exactly makes an IPA an IPA, and how do these different styles of IPAs differ from each other?
What is an IPA?
An IPA is a style of beer known as a pale ale; the “I” stands for India. Thus, India Pale Ale. Its history predates the craft beer movement, all the way back to the days of the British colonization of India in the 18th century. No beer was being produced in India at the time, so colonizers had to import it from England.
Remember, these were the days before quick air travel, which meant the beer had to endure a long ocean passage where it was likely to spoil before it arrived. To prevent the beer from spoiling, British brewers would increase the alcohol percentage and add more hops. The oils in the hops, and the antibiotic properties, aided in preventing contamination and acted as a preservative to significantly increase the shelf life of the beer.
Due to the hotter climate in India, the ex-pat colonists wanted to drink a lighter, more refreshing beer than the milds, bitters, and stouts they were accustomed to back in England, hence the pale ale became the beer sent over to India, and the IPA style was born.
Basically, an India Pale Ale is an over-hopped pale ale with a bolder flavor and a higher alcohol content. Intense hop aromas or fruity flavors define an IPA with an accompanying bitterness that often reaches dizzying levels of up to 70 IBU (international bitterness units.)
Classifying the exact aroma and flavor profile of this bitter beer becomes difficult, as there are so many types of IPA now on the market. Some have an earthy, citrusy taste, while others might have a more clean, crisp taste with hints of pine or flora.
Furthermore, the wide variety of hops now available means that more innovative brewers have a wider selection to experiment with, and this has led to more IPA styles than ever before. Good news for beer drinkers, at least.
The 9 Official Types of IPAs
The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) trade body, which aims to promote beer literacy in the US, identifies nine distinct types of India Pale Ale. There are, of course, more added to the market each day, but these are ones the BJCP recognizes as official.
The original beer that started it all, the English IPA is considered to be the grandfather of the modern-day IPA.
Golden in color, it is similar to an old-fashioned English Pale Ale. Using English hops like east Kent holdings and Fuggles gives the beers earthy, grassy flavors with notes of light citrus, but with nowhere near as strong an aroma profile as its American counterparts. Like most British ales, the malts used often give biscuit-malt taste or a distinct “breadiness” to the ale.
With a very dry, hoppy finish, it will usually have an ABV between 6% and 7% and is less common in America today due to the exclusive use of British yeast and hops.
Examples of English IPA you may see in your local store include Three Floyds Blackheart and Sixpoint Bengali IPA.
West Coast IPA
American IPAs, on the other hand, don’t get the same broad classification as their English counterparts. In fact, the two most popular variants are classified by the coast they came from.
The West Coast IPA was originally crafted in California by about 5 brewers and takes its inspiration from British IPAs, but uses American hops and grains.
Less dry than most other American IPAs, West Coast IPAs use crystal malt, giving them a maltier backbone similar to the British IPAs. The use of “Big C” hops such as Citra, Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook give it piney aromas along with citrus and earthy characteristics loved by hop heads and beer snobs worldwide.
They also tend to be more bitter, sometimes even topping 80 IBUs — just nearly the limit the human palate can withstand or taste.
Good examples include Magic Rock Highwire, Alpine Duet, and Sierra Nevada Torpedo.
East Coast IPA
East Coast IPAs are a relatively new innovation in American IPAs which differ from the West Coast variants in the varieties of yeast they use.
Instead of the clean, almost flavorless yeasts favored by Californian brewers, East Coast brewers use more complex varieties of mutated British yeasts.
These British yeast strains produce more complex flavors and aromas as they ferment the sugar usually of stone fruit, banana flavors, and tropical fruit notes. These are used to top up the intense, hoppy flavor. East Coast India Pale Ales tend to be less bitter than the West Coast IPAs, as the flavor boost from the yeast means they use fewer hops but can also leave the beer cloudy or hazy.
Examples of East Coast IPAs include Other Half Citra IPA, Alchemist Heady Topper, and Brooklyn Brewery East India.
Many would argue the Black IPA is not an IPA at all — how can it be a pale ale when it’s black?
More commonly known as Cascadian Dark Ale after the region of America where it was first invented (and no doubt the hops which were used), the basic idea is a beer that looks like a stout, with the hoppy aroma of a West Coast IPA and the taste of both.
The best Black IPAs are full-bodied yet clean with a hint of that roasted note normally found in darker beers, but with the flavor of hoppier beers.
Examples include Beavertown Black Betty, Vocation Divide, and Conquer & Founders Dark Penance.
Also known as an Imperial IPA, a Double IPA is a great example of what happens when excitable brewers take a beer type to the next level.
American brewers were soon screaming out for more hops as they got used to the high bitterness of modern-day IPAs, and the solution was to create stronger, hoppier beers. An increased number of malts used in a Double IPA (DIPA) results in a higher alcohol level, with more hops added to balance out the sweetness of the malt.
Basically, a turbo-charged IPA. If you like strong, hoppy beers like a West Coast IPA, you are sure to lie a DIPA.
Examples include Verdant Fruit Car Sight Exhibition and Lagunitas Maximus Colossal IPA.
Yes, you read that right. As drinkers demanded even more hoppy beers with the signature raspy dryness, brewers responded by upping the grain bill yet again.
Sometimes reaching the levels of 12 to 13 percent ABV, these beers are not for your casual ale drinkers. That said, they are immensely popular, despite their eye-watering bitterness level of 100 IBU or more.
Examples include Magic Rock Unhuman Cannonball and Sierra Nevada Hoptimum.
After the high ABV headiness of Double and Triple IPAs, we have to balance that intensity out with something a little more subtle and a little less strong.
Let’s face it, if we spent all our time drinking Double, Triple, or even some of the higher-end West Coast IPAs, we would never get anything done!
For casual drinking sessions, a session IPA is an IPA style that still packs a hoppy punch, but with more balanced bitterness and usually an ABV under 5%. They are much lighter in the body than a traditional IPA, but they still have a strong hop aroma. The bitterness level will also be much lower, but it has to be over 40 IBU according to BJCP guidelines on session IPAs.
These are very dry ales, dry-hopped to the max to emphasize the citrus aromas while minimizing the level of bitterness to be as drinkable as possible and still full flavored.
Examples include Lagunitas All Day IPA and Beavertown Neck Oil to name but two.
Belgian is a word added to the description of many kinds of beer and usually implies a Belgian yeast has been used in the brewing process. The Belgian IPA was invented by brewers who used Belgian yeast strains like Brettanomyces yeast to give those clover-like flavors commonly found in Belgian beers.
A Belgian IPA is known for having a citrus or orange zest flavor that works well for those familiar with Belgian beer but wanting a more complex hop flavor.
Examples include Petrus Aged Pale and Chouffe Houblon IPA.
The Grapefruit IPA
Although the BJCP actually recognizes fruit IPA as a type of IPA, this seasonal variant has become so popular I think it deserves a special mention of its own. if you are talking bitterness, you don’t get much more bitter than the taste of grapefruit.
While some hop heads and beer snobs might see it as cheating to get the aroma from grapefruit, it also lends acidity to ales, giving them an almost sour flavor.
Clever brewers who have realized those Big C hops are getting harder to find also realized that a gorgeous, dialed-in grapefruit aroma can do the same job. Who knows, maybe more fruit IPAs will become popular.
Examples include Magic Rock Highwire Grapefruit and Siren Pompelmocello.
Other Types of IPA
Although I have focused on the “official” types of IPA there are many more subcategories of IPAs emerging all the time. To list every type of IPA would take a full website, not just a blog like this. That said, some more common IPAs you will see at your local beer depot or craft beer bar include:
- New England IPA – a heavily dry hopped ale with powerful tropical fruit aromas and flavor. Unfiltered, it normally has a cloudy or hazy appearance and is smooth to the taste almost creamy some would say.
- White IPA – a mashup of IPA with a witbier. Ranges in color from light yellow to deep gold and is typically hazy due to the wheat used in the brewing process. A hoppy beer but not overly bitter it features an IBU of between 40 to 70.
- Milkshake IPA – loaded with fruity hops, the Milkshake IPA also adds extra fruits and lactose which gives it its creamy milkshake characteristics. If you have lactose intolerance, stay clear, but otherwise, you’ll be able to enjoy the smooth mouthfeel, with flavors hinting towards vanilla or pineapple.
- Sour IPA – Although they may not be as popular as IPAs, sour beers have seen a resurgence in recent years. Some clever brewers have now combined the tartness of a sour beer with the fruity, hoppy taste of a hazy IPA. Think New England IPA but with added sour notes.
- Brut IPA – The champagne of the IPA world. A new trend in the IPA world, Brut IPA is bone dry, very fizzy, and light-bodied with a champagne-like flavor. By adding an extra enzyme to regular IPAs, the San Francisco inventor found he could create a beer without any residual sugars. Generally very pale in color, Brut IPAs are extremely bubbly with a large foam head that quickly recedes. A complex hop aroma has citrus notes to a funky, sweet aroma like a cider or cheap champagne. Ideal for those drinkers who say they don’t really like beer.
- Rye IPA – An IPA made with Rye has a unique flavor that could be described as spicy or even tangy. Normally golden in color, the rye may impart hints of red with a foamy white head. The aroma is hops-heavy, as you would expect with an IPA, but in its flavor, you will find the rye gives a slight spice-and-pepper warm taste.
- Non-Alcoholic IPAs – It can be quite difficult to make great-tasting alcohol-free beer, but the heavy usage of hops in IPAs makes this a style of beer that is better suited and actually tastes quite good. Purists would argue the definition of an IPA is a higher ABV beer, but as long as the high level of bitterness remains there’s no reason why those seeking a great-tasting alcohol-free beer shouldn’t enjoy an IPA style.
Types of IPA – The Conclusions
The IPA is undoubtedly one of the favorite beers of Americans nowadays, and mine too. We really are spoiled for choice with the amount of IPAs on the market, but sometimes those added descriptive tags can make it confusing exactly which one to choose.
Although by no means comprehensive, I have tried, with the list above, to cover the major types of IPAs on the market to help you navigate the minefield.
If I missed your favorite, or perhaps an important type of IPA that should have been on the list, please let us know here at winning-homebred.com and we will try to add it to future lists.
In the meantime, go forth and enjoy as many of those IPA styles as you can find. If you love hops you will love IPAs.