The title of this blog post is a bit misleading. I admit it. What I really want to talk about is what makes up this style we call IPA. This style that has essentially become the “flagship” of Craft Beer.
India Pale Ale is the most popular style in the category that is widely referred to as “Craft Beer”. IPA’s make up roughly 25% of all craft beer sales. 25%! It keeps growing, and growing, and growing. This growth has been going on for several years; this isn’t simply a current trend.
The thing is, those numbers are a little deceiving. How do you define India Pale Ale? I can promise you that if you spend a little time searching the internet you will find dozens and dozens of variations on India Pale Ale. East Coast IPA, West Coast IPA, Session IPA, White IPA, Black IPA, English IPA, Imperial IPA, New England IPA, Fruit IPA, and on, and on.
The point I’m trying to make here is that while IPA is widely viewed as a catch all style when it comes to sales and statistics, there is great diversity within the style. Someone who really enjoys a traditional English IPA, a beer that displays a fairly restrained use of hops, may not enjoy the in your face hop-forward nature of a West Coast IPA. A lover of super juicy New England style IPA’s may not be as enthusiastic about the high level of roasted character found in a Black IPA. The differences in beers defined as India Pale Ale can be every bit as dramatic as the differences found when comparing, let’s say, a Porter to a Saison.
The major danger in lumping all of these style variations together is that you risk the possibility that someone might write off all IPA’s assuming that if they’ve had one, they’ve had them all. That’s a little like assuming that if I don’t like carrots I must not like any vegetables. The reality is that India Pale Ales are like anything else in the world of food or drink, they are diverse. It’s entirely likely that if someone doesn’t think they like them, they just haven’t found the right one yet.
All this is not to say that if you don’t think you like IPA’s that you are wrong. The point is simply to illustrate that there may be more to this style than many people realized. We didn’t even touch on how the use of different hops or the timing of when those hops are used may significantly impact your likelihood of enjoying a certain beer. We didn’t discuss that the physical appearance of a beer may have more influence on your expectations of that beer than you think. That might all be best left for another blog, on another day.