Whether you love ’em or hate ’em, IPAs are a formative beer in the craft beer universe. Still far and away the most popular craft beer style, IPAs are known and loved for their ability to wake up the taste buds with a kick to the face of hops and bitterness. Yes, it’s an incredibly delicious kick to the face, but it’s the reason why many people love, and other hate, the mighty IPA.

IPAs are King

First, let’s get into the fact that Americans love IPA. In fact, they love IPA so much that the dollar shares of IPAs are nearly double that of the next most popular beer style on the list, Seasonal Ale. What’s interesting about this graphic from the Brewers Association is that Pale Ale is so far behind IPA on this list. It’s been a conversation in our brewery as well as many others as to what defines a Pale Ale vs. a Session IPA with different opinions coming from different brewers. In the end, it seems to be a naming choice that the individual brewer makes. While Pale Ales generally have a slightly maltier backbone than many session IPAs, this difference tends to disappear more when you get into the category of West Coast Pale Ales, which to many can seem like lower-alcohol but just-as-hoppy IPAs. This graphic highlights the reason why so many brewers decide to call their lighter IPAs “Session IPAs” because when it comes down to it, IPAs just sell better than Pale Ales.

What’s With the Origin Story?

We’ve all heard the rumors: IPAs were invented by a brewer named George Hodgson, they were high in alcohol to survive the long journey across the seas and were made for British troops to enjoy while overseas. While none of this is far off, it isn’t exactly correct either. In the late 1700s, the East India Company was shipping supplies to British forces overseas, in India, on their way to fill their ships with spices, silks and other valuables from the Far East. Here is the first inaccuracy. Even though the beer was on a boat shipping supplies to British forces, the beer wasn’t really favored by the troops, who in fact still favored porters. The beer was consumed mostly by middle and upper-class British expats in India who had been consuming Pale Ales since the 17th century.  You also might have read that IPAs came about because stouts and porters of the time were sub par beers to ship across the violent seas and they often ended up stale, spoiled or infected. But all beers ran this risk at the time, including pale ales. While hops do act as a preservative, they were no match for the more primitive means of storage and shipping that beers faced during this time and arrived spoiled just as often as darker beers. In order to expand the market, George Hodgson’s Bow Brewery decided that instead of sending a porter, they would try to send what was called an “October Beer.” This strong, pale beer was brewed at harvest time and loaded with just-picked hops to keep a fresh taste even when it was aged, sometimes for years. Apparently, the rough, ocean journey matured this beer much like it would taste after 2 years aged, so when it arrived, it was at peak flavor. The resulting brew was a hoppy success and popularized the taste for Pale Ale in India as well as back in Britain, though this style of beer wasn’t called IPA until 1835.

Double IPA = Imperial IPA

Being that Americans do everything bigger, it was only a matter of time before we started producing a super-sized IPA. While Imperial Ales, in general, have been around since the 1700s, the term “Double IPA” is quite new. It was first coined in 1994 by Blind Pig brewer, Vinnie Cilurzo, who was playing around with his IPA recipe and the amount of hops that were usually used in such recipes. What came out of this was a hop-bomb that excited the palates of Southern Cali craft brewers at the time and then exploded nationally.

So what’s the difference between Imperial IPAs and Double IPAs? The answer is nothing, really. Imperial, double and even triple IPAs are labels to connote more hops, more malts, and more alcohol but there is really no standard for when a brewer has to use the term or which term to use. The terms are pretty interchangeable, though double/triple is most often used in terms of IPAs here in the states. Another thing to think about is that the U.S. craft beer movement is heavily influenced by Belgian beer where there are dubbels, trippels, and quads. They also refer to the beer being a bigger version itself, with more hops, malts, and increased ABV. Their origins, like most beer history, are also somewhat murky but one theory is that it has to do with Trappist Monks marking two, three and four X’s on a bottle of beer to denote how strong it was and what number it was in a series.

The Constant Evolution

One of the coolest things about the craft beer industry is that it seems to be in a constant state of creative development and experimentation. This idea is front and center with IPAs and the ever-evolving use of hops. While most people know the big proprietary hops including Amarillo, Citra, Mosiac, Simcoe, and Warrior, there are tons of other varieties of hops out there that brewers are brewing with which create exciting new flavor profiles in IPAs. All About Beer published a piece on “Hops to Watch in 2017” that included Idaho 7, Azacca, Cashmere, Jester, and Comet (described as Citra’s little sister) varieties. To push the creativity even further, many brewers have started using Lupulin power and hop oil in their brews which only adds to the complex flavoring that a beer can provide.

In the end, while IPAs aren’t for everyone, they certainly are loved by many, if not most, craft beer consumers. So raise a pint of your favorite IPA in honor of National IPA Day (Thurs, August 2nd) and savor the flavors that evolved over the last few hundred years to get us to the delicious state of beer we are in today.