Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Death of IPA

Last night at our monthly homebrew club meeting, Barlow Brewing's Jamey spoke about emerging beer styles and touched on several interesting points about what constitutes a "style". One part of his presentation looked at "experimental IPAs" such as Belgian IPA, Black IPA and this year's "innovation", White IPA. I have to admit that all three of the examples are beers that I have problems enjoying, regardless of what you call them, and this got me thinking about the nature of IPA.


As you know, India Pale Ale started life as a beer for the officer class of the East Indian Company's military wing and bounced around in very warm oceans for 6 months because nobody had built the Suez Canal yet. If you aren't aware of the real history of India Pale Ale, read Martyn Cornell's superb book "Amber, Gold and Black". Actually, read the book in general, it really is a mine of fascinating information.

Through the years breweries have sold pale beers under the moniker of India Pale Ale that range widely in strength, shades of pale and perceived bitterness. IPA eventually split along national lines to become British or American style IPA, depending on the use of hops. In the hands of small indepedent brewers, IPA has become the benchmark by which the quality of a brewery is measured in some minds. Today IPA is effectively a meaningless marketing term, appended to any type of beer as long as you hop the shit out of it and make it virtually unpalatable to anyone other than the latest lupulin loony that wandered into your tasting room.

In many ways you could say that IPA is the Pilsner of the early 21st century. Misunderstood, misappropriated and abused at will by marketeers to sell hopped up beers, just as "Pilsner" has come to mean in the minds of those who know no better, a pale, flacid lager, mass produced and sold cheap in dive bars.

What then does the future hold for IPA, both as a beer and a marketing term? Will some brave soul of a brewer actually have a stab at brewing an early style IPA and letting it hot mature for 4 months so we can see what the product that so wowed the East India Company's "servants"? Will we see endless bastardisation until IPA means precisely nothing or will IPA become accepted shorthand for any beer with too many hops in it?

9 comments:

  1. I think, sadly, the answer to your final question is yes. And the reason is simple... Because we can, we should. Garbage.

    I have often said it is a far more difficult thing to achieve, as a brewer, to be able to take a simple style, say a Helles lager for this example, make it well, and make it well repeatedly. A few breweries have done that and done it with aplomb.

    There, in my estimation, is the true beauty in brewing. Sadly again, I am in the minority.

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  2. The explosion of IPA variants is a precursor to it going out of style. The more the name is misused and the more ubiquitous it becomes, the sooner drinkers will get fed up of it. I think we're getting close to the peak of IPA's popularity. When the fall comes, it'll be surprsingly quick. I give it 5 years at most.

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  3. This is something I've spoken about already. IPA to me has become brand, it doesn't mean India Pale Ale anymore, just I.P.A., a bit like "Stout", perhaps, which comes in many different shapes.

    That said, I don't know if I can agree with Ron. IPA is still an, let's call it, go to style for brewers and consumers, and there are many among the latter who still haven't tasted their first one. Another sign could also be that macros are yet to get on the IPA wagon...

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  4. I think it´s all about the money. Look Brewdog and Mikeller for example join and doing "I Hardcore You", don´t tell me that they join because there are friends and feel a huge love for beer´s, maybe yes but if "I Hardcore you" not generated money they don´t do nothing. There is a big market for IPAS, young´s prefer this kind of beer, I don´t now exactly why, maybe they love the "extreme". So, if there market, why not exploted?
    I repeat, It´s all about money, and there is nothing wrong with that. The problem is some product´s are good, other´s are very bad, but people buy everything.

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  5. Back to the future eh? I think the late adopters will be too late though. Might take longer than five years though.

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  6. To me the problem is merely one of semantics. The meaning of term, "IPA" has evolved. In its original meaning, it describes a historical beer style. In its second, modern meaning, it just means "hoppy". I agree that the term has been misappropriated. But, the misuse of the term doesn't effect my enjoyment of the beers it is used describe in the least. I enjoy many styles of well-made beer whether they be sparsely or obscenely hopped and regardless of what they are called.

    What is important is that "IPA" still means something and is a useful communication tool. Which, to some degree I think it is. When I see a beer described using the acronym "IPA", I believe I can expect something that is either an interpretation of the historical style, or more likely, something that is moderately to aggressively hopped. If I buy a White IPA, it is clear to me which of the two meanings is being implied.

    This evolution of popular meaning is similar to what happened to the word "gay".

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  7. First I love hoppy beers, whether it is a pale ale, IPA, cascading dark, imperial red, etc, etc. But I do think the peak for IPA's has come already, and I think the growth wood aged and sour beers backup my assertion. Sure almost every brewer has an IPA but look at how many brewers are venturing into the next extreme genre of beer. It seams everyday, we hear about another brewery that is starting a collaboration, sour or wood age program and I expect that these new styles will be bastardized just the same way and I will be happy to try everyone I can. Sours are the new IPA.

    But I can hardly wait for brewers to figure out how to collaborate. Just think a collaboration of 7 or maybe even 10 breweries all adding their name to the label and then a couple of them wood aging said beer while some sour .... oh wait Collaborating the new Sour.

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  8. I once ordered a keg of Calapooia IPA for one of my guest taps and received the Calapooia Rye by mistake. So, I put it on as the IPA. All my local hop head drinkers told me what a good IPA it was. I don't recall if I felt at all guilty about this or not.

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