Ahoy, ye thirsty internet traveler! Today we are examining a brew that packs a wallop of flavor. A style that some may be cautious of, yet each sip grows on you until the glass is, somehow, sadly empty. With notes of citrus, floral, and pine aromas, and above all else, an encompassing bitterness. Ladies and Gentlemen, the India Pale Ale.
I was sort of expecting an applause there, but allow me to continue. This unique ale has developed into its own delicious entity since its inception in the mid to late 1700’s. Whereas pale ales were common beers brewed with pale malted barley and a low hop profile, this new style was a somewhat modified version of what had already existed. It was found that, in higher concentrations, the bactericidal properties of hops cones (Humulus Lupulus or Wolf’s Vine) and less residual sugars in the final product could act to preserve the beer for greater lengths of time. This was important when exporting beer to thirsty men halfway around the world. Before long this strong flavored, hop-infused beer became a favorite.
With its origin in Britain, the IPA eventually found its way to North America where, over time, our preference in hops varieties refined the style into what you and I know as an American IPA. Hops varieties such as Golding and Fuggles were the most commonly used variety in Britain. Low in alpha acids, these hops impart less bitterness and more sweet floral flavors than the now popular Cascade, Colombus, and Centennial hops used in many modern American breweries.
The strong hop aroma of the India Pale Ale is the first thing you’ll notice when a pint has been placed in front of you. With a color ranging from golden to amber, the proper American IPA should have a moderate to low sized head yet still show some lacing on the glass after each sip. At first sip, there’s a bright citrus and pine taste. It reels you in as the effervescence dances atop your taste buds. Then to balance the sweet, almost cloying, maltiness, the bitterness and—more importantly—the dryness provided by the extensive use of the hops takes hold and steers your palette to a state of blissful balance.
The grain bill for most IPA’s has a Pale Malt backbone. This is often accompanied by various specialty malts to help with color and flavor. Caramel sweetness can be obtained from lighter crystal malts, a light complexity can be brought out using wheat, and if you want big flavours, chocolate malts (not those kind of chocolate malts, Grandpa) and darker crystal malts can be used to transform the IPA into something quite beautiful, like the Cascadian Dark Ale. As far as hop profiles go, we mentioned that it is common for American IPAs to utilize at least one variety of “C” hops (Cascade, Columbus, and Centennial). These are North American hybrids, each providing a perfect flavor for the India Pale Ale style, more specifically the Pacific Northwest IPA.
When it comes to India Pale Ales, sometimes adding hops to the boiling wort just isn’t enough. Sure, it will provide bitterness and dryness, but some of those hop varieties are so fragrant and flavorful, it would be a shame to lose any of that by adding so much heat. At room temperature however, the acids in the hop cones will not dissolve in water. The solution is to wait until primary fermentation is fizzling out, then add the dry hops cones straight into the fermenter. The alcohol will allow the acids to solubilize at fermentation temperatures and the aromatics compounds will infuse the beer.
In British Columbia, there is a fierce competition for the IPA crown. You’ll get a different answer depending on who and where you ask the question which IPA reigns supreme. In my eyes, locked in a deathgrip for the title, are Central City’s Red Racer IPA and Driftwood’s Fat Tug IPA. Both in the 60-70 IBU range, both very close to perfection in an India Pale Ale. Honorable mentions include Phillips Hop Circle and Longwood Brewery’s The Big One IPA.
Got a favorite local IPA that you enjoy? Let us know about it in the comments.