What Is An IPA Beer?

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WHAT IS AN IPA BEER?
For the uninitiated it may appear that all beers are alike, this of course could not be further from the truth. The popularity of craft beer particularly the IPA style has soared in the last 10 to 15 years and seem to show no signs of stopping. The history of the IPA-styled beer can be traced back to the 18th century with the English imperially owned East India trading company, unfortunately getting beer to and from their destination was a mission in of itself with many barrels turning sour by the time they had arrived. A solution was needed and was duly found! It was discovered that a new style of beer with increased hop additions called a ‘pale ale’ would act as a type of preservative and stop the beer from spoiling.

By 1760 the vast majority of breweries were aware that an increased quantity of hops acted to prolong the shelf life of beer. Its interesting to note that the Indian market was only ever a small player in the beer market paling in comparison to the vast amount being shipped to North America (You can find out more about the East India Trading Co. and its dealings with the English breweries in Pete Brown’s book ‘Hops and Glory’). Nonetheless IPA beer was now a commercial success, ironically the Indian Pale Ale never really sold particularly well in the country it was named after, preferring the dark Stouts and Porters. IPA’s can be broken down into two categories, firstly English IPA which is typically around the 4-5% ABV range with a modest hop schedule, whereas the America IPA are a touch stronger typically 5-6% and boast a more hop-forward tasting and aroma beer.
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The style remained fundamentally untouched until the 20th century. During World War II all beers were required to be brewed to a lower ABV to save grain which changed the IPA style permanently, bringing the alcohol content below that of its Pale Ale cousin. Meanwhile in the USA prohibition was in full swing which all but ended the popularity of IPA’s there. Fast forward to the 1990’s on the west coast of the United States where it was discovered the climate was ideal for growing fruity, resinous and juicy hops and once again boosting the popularity of the IPA. Not to be outdone the east coast of the USA introduced their take on the IPA, characterized by a hazier appearance and white-fleshed fruit and stone-fruit flavoured hops. Cut to current day and when you think of craft beer the default image is an IPA.

Now we have a run-down of the history of the IPA style, how exactly do we make an IPA beer? Well, that would depend on what type of IPA you prefer. Firstly, lets explore the English IPA. This is the style that got the ball rolling in terms of the IPA we know and love today, an English IPA can be recognized by its earthy hop profile which does vary but typically includes classic British hops such as EKG and Fuggles to name a few. British base malts typical to the style are generally bready and biscuity with toffee tones such as British Pale Ale and Crystal malt. A standard yeast for fermentation process is usually a British yeast such as WLP 005 British Ale Yeast or perhaps the WLP 039 Nottingham Ale Yeast.

American IPA can be separated into two groups, first we have the West Coast IPA which is packed full of piney, citrusy, grapefruity notes. Chinook, Citra, Cascade, and other ‘C’ hops immediately jump to mind when one thinks of a west coast-styled IPA (Sierra Nevada Torpedo is a case and point). Most brewing guidelines will tell you that the accepted style for a west coast IPA is pale copper in appearance, with slight to no chill haze (although hop haze is quite acceptable) with a low to medium malt flavour, and a hop profile that is typically high to very high with piney, resinous and tropical flavour notes. Malts widely used in west coast IPA’s are 2-row pale ale malt, crystal malt as well as Vienna and American Ale malts.

Turning our attention now to the East Coast IPA, which is famous for its hazy, cloudy beers with a much lighter straw-like colour and this means very little malt character. Like its West Coast cousin, the East Coast IPA is full of hoppy flavour and aroma with low to medium bitterness present. East Coast IPA’s are usually medium to medium-high body and mouth-feel beers and sometimes fruity esters can be present, adding to the juicyness of the beer. A variety of yeast strains can be applied to an East Coast IPA from a SafAle US05 to a yeast specifically designed for such a beer the White Labs East Coast Ale WLP008.

Next, we discuss breaking trends and the future of the IPA, which its safe to say is being driven by the new varieties of hop now available. As well as other flavourings to add more flavour and complexity to the beer. A new frontier has been opened up with the inclusion of new sub-styles such as NEIPA, Black IPA, Milkshake IPA and so on, The Brut IPA is perhaps the newest variation to have come to the forefront, using a champagne yeast it leave a drier than normal beer as well as adding enzymes popularized now with New World hops and opening a whole new accessible outlet especially with home-brewers to make their own clone recipes with the new Kveik yeast which is very forgiving with a wide fermentation tolerance. For more on this check out the book IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and The Evolution of India Pale Ale by Mitch Steele.

A typical IPA when concocting a recipe is usually around 90-95% base malt and then 5-10% specialty malts, a general rule of thumb is if using Crystal/Caramel malts it is best to not exceed 20L as this can produce a overly bitter taste as well as when the beer ages it can affect the overall flavour of the beer, giving it a raisin-like character. So, if you like your hoppy beers, just how much hops should you add? In brewing circles its generally accepted that once you attain 75IBU’s adding even more hops after this is not able to be detected. Although it is more common to see IPA beer around the 50IBU mark especially with the emergence of Hazy IPA’s and Double IPA’s and even triple IPA’s. Dry-Hopping is the practice of adding either pellet or leaf hops to the fermenter after or just as fermentation is about to cease and it is pretty much par-for-the-course when it comes to hoppy IPA beers and the further into the boil they are added the less bitterness is extracted and the closer to the end of the boil they are added the more flavour and aroma is added to the beer.
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As far as yeast goes, California Ale Yeast WLP 001 is very popular amongst Brewmasters, but it is not uncommon for Champagne Yeast WLP 715 to be used especially in Brut IPA’s but a wide range of Ale yeasts are perfectly acceptable to accentuate the character of an IPA. Water chemistry plays a big component in the overall flavour profile of the IPA style for those brewing a NEIPA water with a high chlorine content is essential as this is an excellent additive for minimizing bitterness in beer. The biggest challenge the craft-brewing industry faces is actually getting people to drink craft beer, breaking away from traditional macro beer makers for which most people are used to and opening up a whole new taste in beer with the new variations of IPA leading the way.
 
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IPAs became scarce for a while. I looked for them. Travelling around England in the early 1970s, outside of Burton I rarely saw bottles on shelves (with pale ale and barley wine) and never saw them on tap. In the US Ballantine had resumed production when prohibition ended. Theirs was a throwback in some ways, using British hops, fermenting to 7 1/2% abv and ageing in oak for a year, but the brewery went under in 1979.
 

MHB

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IPA and its many descendants has to be one of the most argued about styles going!
The article above certainly favours one side of the argument, just remember that there are other points of view that are equally historically valid.
Couple of points a lot of people forget is that no one put beer in Oak casks that weren’t pitch lined, not if they wanted it to last long enough to ship any distance. Oak is both a great place for spoilage bugs to lurk and is also permeable enough to Oxygen to guarantee oxidised beer in fairly short order.
Worth noting that although hops do contain preservative fractions, coupled with the higher hopping want higher alcohol contents. Alcohol too is a powerful preservative, probably increasing the alcohol content from typical (for the time) pale ale by 50-100% had a lot more to do with preserving the beer than did the higher hopping.

It’s a debate that been going on for longer than the 20 years or so that I have been following it, personally I doubt there is a single "right" answer, but it’s a lot of fun to follow.
Mark
 
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no one put beer in Oak casks that weren’t pitch lined, not if they wanted it to last long enough to ship any distance. Oak is both a great place for spoilage bugs to lurk and is also permeable enough to Oxygen to guarantee oxidised beer in fairly short order.

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There's an argument about whether Ballantine pitched their oak. Here's a summary that agrees with what I heard from workers at the Newark brewery. Ballantine IPA and oak

The oak was noticeable. Pabst, who now own the rights and brew a rough facsimile, use oak chips.

Keep in mind that the abv was 7.5.

Burton, I wouldn't now. Those IPAs were hard to find when I lived there.
 

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Oaking beers is largely a reinvention by American craft brewers. I suspect it was a case of people making a misassumption, being that as they used to use oak casks the beer must have been oak flavoured... Rather than that the casks were all routinely pitch lined. If you dig up the plans for some old breweries you will find a pitching shed on most of them, usually well separated from the rest of the brewery as it was quite a fire hazard.
Worth noting that every brewery abandon oak casks as soon as an alternitive was available.

Not saying that Oak isn’t an interesting ingredient and can be used to advantage (personally I like it in Porters and above, especially RIS). We just have to be careful drawing historical inference from limited information.
Mark
 

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Worth noting that every brewery abandon oak casks as soon as an alternitive was available.
Oak casks were not that bad Mark! They were not really abandoned by every brewery as soon as an alternative was available.

It was a relatively slow transition with most breweries. The transition was mostly because trades like coopers became more scarce as aluminum and stainless steel casks became cheaper to buy and maintain.

It was similar with cask ale dying out. Skilled cellarmen became more scarce as keg beer was cheaper and easier because it didn’t really need any skill to look after and serve in the pub, Anyone could do it with very little training.
 

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OK "nearly every brewery"
Mark
Ha Ha, not "nearly every brewery" either! It was a relatively slow progression. Times and ways just changed. Not as quickly as things are changing these days.
 

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It’s a debate that been going on for longer than the 20 years or so that I have been following it, personally I doubt there is a single "right" answer, but it’s a lot of fun to follow.

Love the article and Mark's response. He's dead right about casks and beer. The wood never, ever came into contact with the beer. A layer of "brewers pitch" (a kind of tarry semi-solid) lined the inside of the wooden barrels and formed a neutral intermediary barrier.

My understanding of British IPA differs slightly from the article above. But in the main it seems roughly right.

Clipper ships ran from India to Britain to deliver tea. Relatively fast. Why go back empty? Fill 'er full of barrels'o beer and supply the British Army in India. What ho! Wear a monocle and a pith helmet, suppress the natives, and have loads of colonialist fun!

1. Hops were a big factor. But not just any hops. My reading indicates that hop "plugs" (compressed discs of dried hop flowers sized suitably for insertion into the spile (bung) hole of the cask) were added to the casks after fermentation, as a preservative. There you go, the invention of dry hopping. Most often EKGs.

2. Alcohol strength was also a known preservative factor. 4-5% would have been piss-weak. The bottom of the range was more likely 7%. (Matter of fact, prior to the First World War, most beers in Aus and internationally generally tended towards very high (by modern measure) ABV.)

India Pale Ale. Exploitative beer at its very best.

Pretty sure no American beer ever travelled to India. I can accept that American IPA is a "style" of beer, but really, gotta be a token homage at best. There's more that its not like (when compared to a true IPA) than it is like.

Personally, I hate the grassy effect from dry hopping. I'd rather add lawn clippings. But a hop-back - now, there's a bit of wizardry.

Debate will follow...
 

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The wood never, ever came into contact with the beer. A layer of "brewers pitch" (a kind of tarry semi-solid) lined the inside of the wooden barrels and formed a neutral intermediary barrier.
This is not correct. It is true that commercial breweries mostly pitch lined their casks but not all. Small breweries and home brewers often did not. Even these days wine and beer casks are not pitch lined.
 

MashBasher

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Didn't I say debate would follow.? Love it!

I do not agree, SE.

No such thing as stainless steel in the late 18th/early 19th century. Beer went off very quickly in an unlined wooden cask, in a hot ship hold, on the way to India for several months.

Oaky bullshit is a modern conceit.
 

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Didn't I say debate would follow.? Love it!

I do not agree, SE.

No such thing as stainless steel in the late 18th/early 19th century. Beer went off very quickly in an unlined wooden cask, in a hot ship hold, on the way to India for several months.

Oaky bullshit is a modern conceit.
For sure oaky bullshit is a modern concept or at least trend. But are you suggesting the key to preserving beer in a hot ship hold, on the way to India for several months was pitch lined casks?
 

MashBasher

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That's what they had. Brewers pitch is a neutral, inert material that effectively turns a wooden cask into a beer impervious, oxygen impervious container.

Remember the beer was live - still fermenting - outgassing via wooden spiles inserted into the bung-hole, maintaining a positive internal pressure.

Bloody genius, or loads of empirical experience.

As for the bloke who worked out how fish guts would clarify and fine beer, now that defies logic...
 

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That's what they had. Brewers pitch is a neutral, inert material that effectively turns a wooden cask into a beer impervious, oxygen impervious container.

Remember the beer was live - still fermenting - outgassing via wooden spiles inserted into the bung-hole, maintaining a positive internal pressure.

Bloody genius, or loads of empirical experience.

As for the bloke who worked out how fish guts would clarify and fine beer, now that defies logic...
Not sure if you are winding me up? Actually am fairly sure you are. The wooden spiles inserted into the bung-hole were usually only inserted a few days before serving to release pressure ready for serving.

Nothing to do with keeping a positive pressure before the cask was due to be tapped and consumed.
 

MashBasher

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In the ordinary course, from the brewery to the pub in bloody cold old Blighty, what you describe is no doubt true.

Pretty sure that when you put beer on a long voyage you had to maintain it along the way. But I am not a hundred percent on this point so you may be correct.

In my mind, a cask full of beer, pitching and rolling in the hold of a ship, in all sorts of temperatures, would require some sort of pressure relief. But maybe the casks were stout enough?

MHB probably knows.
 

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Well hopefully MHB will chip in and explain it all to you.
 

MashBasher

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Well hopefully MHB will chip in and explain it all to you.


Thanks for that condescension. Charming to have this interaction with you.

We are lucky though to have someone as knowledgeable as Mark on the forum and like a lot of us, I value his willingness to share.
 

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We are lucky though to have someone as knowledgeable as Mark on the forum and like a lot of us, I value his willingness to share.
I have already explained above that spiles were used a few days before serving to release pressure ready for serving and nothing to do with keeping a positive pressure before then.

There are no safety valves. Soft spiles can let in air and would spoil the beer if fitted in the hold of a ship for pressure release.

Casks are completely sealed. If they start leaking or blowing keystones or shives they would need to be vented and a new shive fitted immediately.

If you don’t want to accept this unless Mark tells you that is fine by me.
 

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