For most people when they hear the words “Craft Beer” they immediately think “IPA”. It’s one of the most popular styles of beer both for craft breweries and homebrewers alike, but why exactly? And which recipe is the best to try at home?
I thought I knew everything to know about IPA, then I started doing some research for this article and found so much more!
First, what exactly is IPA beer?
Indian Pale Ale or IPA has a long history and originally was associated with beer with high alcohol content and plenty of hops added to it for a long voyage to British servicemen based in India during the 18th century. Nowadays, the original recipe has evolved and there are 7 main IPA styles today.
So why has IPA taken the world by storm and what has made it a staple for beer drinker for nearly 400 years (yep!).
In this article, I go into a little more detail behind the history of the name “Indian Pale Ale” and the different styles you may come across. I also give you a suggestion on a recipe you can try at home based on your current skill level. Read on to find out more about IPAs.
So, tell me again, why is IPA called Indian Pale Ale?
Unlike the name might suggest, Indian Pale Ale didn’t actually come from the sub-continent (spoken like my imperial ancestors). It was a beer that was prepared for British servicemen, and others, who were stationed in the tropics, especially India.
There is some debate over whether it was British troops, and those of the East India Company before them, who actually drank IPA. From the evidence I’ve read, it’s suggested that these troops actually liked a nice Porter beer and it was the middle and upper-class British ‘expats’ who actually drank IPA. In the end, who cares who drank it as long as it was invented!
Unlike today, getting across the other side of the world took months and in order to ship any perishable foodstuffs to their final destination, they had to be preserved in some way. For meats, salting was an ideal method but you can’t do that with your favorite brew. In fact, I’ve tasted intentionally salty beer and it’s awful, don’t do it yourself!
In order to preserve beer in days gone by the brewers would add additional hops to the wort. Again, there is debate over whether this was actually necessary. What I did find out is that from the 1800s the brewers were encouraged to add the additional hops to the wort as it was believed to preserve the beer’s flavor during the crossing.
Anyway, given the time it took to ship the freshly made barrels of beer out to the growing British empire the hops would lose their bitter taste (quite nice for us that like that sort of thing) and soften into what is now known as the classic English or British IPA style.
So, Indian Pale Ale derives its name from the market it was brewed for and not where it was originally brewed.
Does hops really preserve beer? Should I be using it more in my homemade beer?
Hops are THE beer flavoring ingredient for most beers around the world. There are of course other flavors that are produced from the addition of other plants, but hops really are indispensable for the commercial and home brewer alike.
While it is true that hops do have a chemical agent within it that helps to preserve the beer by combating any possible bacteria infection which would lead to a sour tasting beer, it can’t make your beer immortal.
Adding more hops, or double-hopping your beer will mean that you will also have to increase your malt proportion if you want a balanced flavor. That’s going to produce a much stronger beer, so be prepared for a few unexpected headaches.
Nowadays, hops is purely used as a flavouring choice and you are far better off preserving the life of your beer through scrupulous sanitation during the brewing process and refrigeration of your finished beer.
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7 styles of IPA beer to try yourself
English (British) IPA
OK, we can argue that this is the original style of IPA but we don’t have to hold tradition against this great tasting IPA sub-style. These types of IPAs are brewed with English malts and Kentish hops to give them their distinctive character.
Colour: Amber or deep golden
Taste: strong malty taste with hints of toffee, biscuit and caramel.
You may, on tasting, think that a Belgian style IPA tastes just like an English/British IPA. However, what gives the Belgian IPA its unique twist is the Belgian yeast used to brew it. This brings a sweet and bready character to the beer. You could argue that Belgian IPA is somewhere between a Trappist tripel such as Westmalle or La Trappe and an English IPA. Check out my article on Trappist beers here
Color: Pale to deep golden colored and perhaps a little hazy
Taste: slightly bready with spicy aromas and citrus notes.
This is the new kid on the block and the brewers of Brett IPA are doing something a little different. By using a wild yeast strain, Brettanomyces, from where the beer gets its name, they are approaching beer fabrication in a slightly new direction.
If you want to get technical, you’ll know that regular yeast (Saccharomyces) does the primary fermentation in most beers, Brettanomyces is also present but is used as a secondary fermenting yeast in most cases. With Brett IPA the Brettanomyces is used as the primary fermentation choice and it really changes the behavior of this strain eradicating the risk of skunky beer later in the process.
OK, one last interesting thing about Brettanomyces, if you are also a wine drinker then you may have heard of the “Noble rot” that some chateaux use in their wine fermenting process. Well, Brettanomyces is the same yeast found on the skin of the grapes selected for this process. I thought that was cool, just thought I’d mention it!
Color: Hazy yellow in color
Taste: Crisp and fruity slightly hoppy
East Coast IPA
Is this an official IPA, is there even a list somewhere, I don’t know but it gets onto this list. This is a style somewhere between the original English IPA and a West Coast IPA in terms of flavor.
Expect a more balanced yet complex beer with a malty kick and some sweetness you won’t get with West Coast IPAs
Color: Dark golden to amber in color
Taste: Malty, sweet(ish) citrus and fruit hop in character
There are various fruited IPA beers out there on the market and plenty of scope for you to try and brew your own at home. These types of beers are popular with those who don’t like the bitterness of more traditional IPAs nor the hoppiness associated with others. I recommend brewing up a batch for summer as a fresh fruiting beer really goes down well on a hot day.
Color: varied but generally light
Taste: various fruity notes (too obvious?)
the “Milkshake” IPA is perhaps the results of brewers trying to push the envelope on what is possible in beer brewing. It shares many of the characteristics of more conventional IPAs in its hoppiness and aromas. The main addition is the relatively high sweetness in the background which comes from lactose, or milk sugars. This brews a thick and sweet beer which also has those high hoppy flavours.
Taste: sweet, bitter hops, fruits malt, citrus
New England IPA
This is a very popular beer at present and is generally dry-hopped. If there is someone you know who has always avoided IPA because of their bitter or hoppy reputation, this is the beer to brew for them.
It is an unfiltered beer which gives it a hazy appearance but produces a very fruity flavor which is very refreshing.
Taste: intense fruity flavor
Loosely defined as a New England IPA with added tartness, sour IPAs are very much coming into style. Most homebrewers actively avoid producing sour beer but when it is done right it’s surprisingly good.
Taste: tart, hoppy often fruity (based on beer)
West Coast IPA
Rather than following the traditional notion of balancing the hops and malts in a beer, and thus their flavors, West Coast IPAs tend to be more on the hoppy side, this is due to the double-hopped techniques used by brewers. Also, they do not dip into the English hop cupboard when brewing these beers, it’s an all American show in terms of hops.
Color: clear orange/gold
Taste: bitter and piney with complex layer of fruits, caramel and malt notes
IPA Vocabulary every home brewer should understand.
This is a term which generally means the beer has a lower alcohol content. It can also affect the body of the beer but its ABV of between 4%-5% (or lower at times) means that this is a good one to drink if you have a busy day tomorrow.
Double doesn’t only mean double the hops it also means nearly double the strength (OK mathematics isn’t my strong point). Because we are always aiming to get a nice balance between the hops and malts, if you add a lot more hops you need to add more malt which will push the ABV up to around 7%. Do not drink these if you have stuff to do later on.
Usually, we add hops to the wort (beer mix) in the boiling stage of the brewing process. Dry-hopping is the process of adding hops to fermenting beer with the effect of producing very strong aromas and increasing certain flavors in the beer. The smell of the beer can also be improved without adding a bitter taste.
There is some debate over what this means and if it even really exists as a process. For us, we can imagine that it means supercharging your Dry-hopping by adding proportionally twice as much hops to significant add flavor and aroma to your wort.
It has become very common for brewers to use a multitude of different species and types of hops in their recipes to build up a complex taste and smell. Single-hopped IPAs only use one type of hops throughout the process and therefore are more defined in taste and aroma.
Fresh-hopped beers are just that, those beers brewed from fresh hops. However, this only happens once a year in the peak of the harvesting season for hops. Usually, it’s late summer, August or September in the northern hemisphere.
What’s the best recipe for you to try at home?
Trying an IPA recipe as one of your first forays into home brewing can be an excellent choice as these beers can forgive a multitude of brewing sins.
If you have never made your own beer before then I can recommend that you cut your teeth with a full kit such as the Brooklyn Brew Shop Everyday IPA kit. It comes with almost everything you need.
This is an all-grain recipe and means that you get to experience the mashing process where you release sugars from barley by converting its starch by soaking it in hot water. Some other kits use an extract and mean that you don’t have to do this, but I always think it’s more immersive to do everything yourself.
I recommend that you also get yourself some beer bottles (unless you have saved some up at home), a bottle capper and caps, a hydrometer and funnel. You’ll also need a large pot or cooking container to boil up the ingredient in.
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If you have already made a few batches of beer yourself but still haven’t invested in more advanced brewing equipment then I recommend you look into Northern Brewer’s Chinook IPA kit. It has more of what you need to make a larger batch compared to the Brooklyn Brew Shop kit, but again you’ll need to get your own bottles.
The recipe on this kit is a little bit more involved and perhaps isn’t suitable for someone who just wants to dip their toe in the home brewing waters. Also, this may not be a great gift for someone who hasn’t brewed beer before as it is a slightly bigger investment.
If you have many batches of different types of beer under your belt and have all the equipment already, then you can try the following all-grain IPA recipe with a 5-gallon yield.
Yeast: White Labs California ale
Additional Yeast or Yeast Starter: 2 vials
American Rahr (2 row) Pale: 11.50 lbs/ 5.21 kg
American Briess Crystal 20: 1.00 lbs/ 453 g
American Briess Light Munich: 0.75 lbs/ 340 g
American Briess Carapils: 0.75 lbs /340 g
American Briess Torrified Wheat: 0.25 lbs / 113 g
Chinook (Pellet) 1oz: 30 minutes
Cascade (Pellet) 1.5oz: 30 minutes
Williamette (Pellet) 0.5oz: 15 minutes
Cascade (Pellet) 1.5oz: 15 minutes
Williamette (Pellet) 1oz: 5 minutes
Cascade (Pellet) 2oz: Dry in secondary
Original Gravity: 1.065
Final Gravity: 1.012
Mash at 154° F for approximately 60 minutes. Expect a 70% extraction efficiency in the mashing stage.
Boiling Time (Minutes): 90
International Bitterness Unit (IBU): 65
Primary Fermentation: 7 days at 68° F
Secondary Fermentation: 14 days at 68° F
Additional Fermentation: 7 days keg conditioned under forced carbonation.
What’s the alcohol content in IPA?
A regular commercially brewed lager beer has an alcohol by volume (ABV) or around 5%. There are many styles of IPAs and they all have varying degrees of ABV. Typically an IPA will be between 5% and 7% in alcohol content. (buy beer from local breweries)
If the average IPA is 6%, this means that you are going to start feeling the effects of alcohol much faster than with a regular strength beer such as Budweiser or Heineken. If you are sensitive to alcohol but still want to sample the character of a good IPA then consider drinking a Session IPA as these tend to be lighter in ABV.
Do they actually brew IPA in India?
IPA, despite the name, seems to be pretty rare in India. Although this country does produce some excellent local brews it seems that their namesake beer just isn’t one of them.
If you ever find yourself in India you will have no trouble finding locally brewed lagers, wheat beers or blonde ale. Which is all well and good, but you may miss the bold flavors of your favorite IPA while on your trip.
It seems that the taste is exactly why this beer just hasn’t caught on in India. It’s quite a complex beer in terms of flavor and it would appear that the Indian consumer much prefers an easier on the pallet type of beverage. Still, here’s hoping some intrepid brewer sees the gap in the market and slowly starts an IPA revolution in India.