Monday, August 1, 2011

Beer style of the week; American-style India Pale Ale (IPA)

Week 26

Last week we explored the origins of the original English India Pale Ale style;

Just to recap; the IPA was created out of necessity because the Pale Ales that English brewers were shipping to India didn’t survive the long ocean voyages very well. By the time the beer arrived it had gone stale. The English troops stationed there were not satisfied with tea and bland beer alone, so the brewers pitched loads more hops (a natural preservative) into the brew kettle. The results not only saved the beer’s beeriness, it also created a stronger more flavorful brew.

This week we focus on an IPA style that’s similar, yet distinctly different from the English IPA; the edgier, stronger, slightly unruly, American IPA. Whilst British men wear proper trousers when supping IPA’s, America men wear pants or cargo shorts while slugging down their IPA’s.

The traditional English brewers of IPA’s tend to use the traditional hops varieties (Challenger, Goldings, Fuggles, Target) and pale barley along with a little crystal malt (Victory, Maris Otter), and yeast strains such as Ringwood known to brewers for centuries. The American versions are all over the place as far as hop, malt and yeast varieties are concerned. And speaking of differences, New England IPA’s differ from Mid-West, Northern, Central and West Coast IPA’s. At any rate, IPA’s, no matter where they originate, they should be hop-forward ales with medium to solid malt backbones. The malt characteristics of New England IPA’s can be described as biscuity, bready, with caramel or honey-tasting sweetness. The hop profiles are rangy from piney, floral, citrusy, grapefruit, metallic, tea-like, resinous, spicy or all of the above. Gotta love that freedom to explore! Also, gotta expect a few flops when brewers chuck massive doses of ingredients into the brew kettle simply because they can.

Let’s look at a couple West Coast and Mid-West America IPA’s to compare and contrast to New England versions;

West Coast IPA’s

Racer 5 IPA – Bear Republic – Healdsburg, California – 7.0 ABV

This is a big IPA...could be an Imperial IPA and no one would bitch. It pours a bright shiny copper with a medium-sized off-white head and some trails of lace. The aroma is mostly made up of fragrant floral hops, with a hint of sweet malt. The body is fairly full and sweet for the style. Caramel and vanilla wafer come to mind. A big blast of fresh sharp-edged hops jumps out with grapefruit, lemon zest and a faint metallic tang. The warming alcohol mixed with the lush sweetness gives this brew a sort of brandied candy flavor, only a tad more astringent in the finish.

Stone IPA – Stone Brewing – Escondido, California – 6.9% ABV

This shiny copper IPA is loaded with fresh whole hop flavors. The aroma is almost totally floral hop based. The medium/rich malt body doesn't provide much competition for the hops, but it plays a nice supporting role, while offering a trace herbal, earthy character. Full grapefruity, pine and citrus bitterness lasts. Lightly sweet with some noticeable alcohol kick that melds seamlessly with the hops. Lasting White Head and nice sticky lace. A nice representation of the style.


Bell’s Two-hearted Ale – Bell’s Brewery – Kalamazoo, Michigan – 7% ABV

12oz brown bottle. No freshness date.

It pours a wonderful honey amber color with a medium-sized white head and a fair amount of trailing and sticky lace.

A big blast of floral hops is noticed upon opening the bottle and increases in intensity during the pour. Citrusy hops and a faint malt smell emerge briefly, then fade. The floral hop aroma remains.

A lightly sweet biscuity malt flavor meekly sets the table for the abundance of hop flavors. Grapefruit, lemons, orange zest and limes make up a jowl clinching citrusy hit. A mild metallic bite and some peppery spices act as seasonings for this potently charged IPA.

Had the Brits invented this stuff during their colonization of India, they'd be flying the Union Jack in Bombay today.

New England IPA’s

Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA - Portsmouth, New Hampshire – 6.9% ABV

12oz brown bottle. Freshness date etched on label.

It pours a hazy orange-hued amber with a big, slow-fading off-white head and lots of sticky, clinging and trailing lacing.

A big whiff of floral hop is released immediately upon opening the bottle. Deep citrusy fragrant grapefruit and orange zest follow, as does a light smell of pinesap. A distant malty grain smell is noticed with a bit more concentration.

A lightly sweet caramel malt is revealed incrementally as it warms. A mild taste of pears comes to mind.

Sharp-edged grapefruit and lemon zest bitterness really perk the pucker up. A bit of fumy alcohol is noticed from time to time. For all of the abundant hoppiness, this brew maintains a nice, lightly creamy malt body.

Hi.P.A. – Magic Hat Brewing – Burlington, Vermont – 6.7% ABV

Pours an orangey amber with a rapidly dissipating head, which leaves a thin sheet and small specks of lace. A fragrant floral and citrusy hop aroma dominates a lightly doughy smell. The sweet malt begins to emerge after a few gulps. Grapefruit, lemon and lime and a slightly metallic bitterness overwhelms at first swallow, and then mellows out slightly. The alcohol kick gains some ground and becomes more noticeable towards the end of the glass. I like the fact that MH relies on traditional beer ingredients in brewing this IPA. I'm not a fan of their propensity to use flavorings (#9, Miss Bliss, Hocus Pocus Lemon and Ginger).

Other worthy New Englanders

Samuel Adam’s Latitude 48

Harpoon IPA (very consistent!)

Leatherlips from The Tap & Haverhill Brewery

Indie Pale Ale from Cisco Brewers

Pucker up everybody! There are IPA’s to be had at every packie, beer bar, brew pub and restaurant in New England. Full flavored, hoppy, juicy, spicy, they are versatile beers!

Next up; Double IPA’s (Hop Monsters)

Quote: “Gimme a pigfoot and a bottle of beer” – Besse Smith, American Blues singer (1894-1937)