America's Craft Favorite

Bob Barnes - What are IPA’s and Why Do We Like Them So Much?

We all know the story of how the IPA style originated, named for the long trip ships had to make around the horn of Africa to arrive as liquid ration for the British troops stationed in India in the 18th century. Extra amounts of both hops and malt (and hence added alcohol) were added to the brew, both of which are natural preservatives that prevented the beer from spoiling during those times before the invention of pasteurization.

When the style was first gaining traction in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the American palate was only beginning to appreciate increased amounts of hop flavors and those early IPAs would today be more aligned with the current Pale Ale style. There’s no doubt that the majority of today’s IPAs, many with IBU (International Bittering Units) counts above 100 (the highest level the human palate is believed to be able to taste) would only vaguely resemble those made centuries ago, and are also quite bolder than those currently being produced in the UK. Now the IPA style has become the top selling craft beer style in the US and with its popularity has brought innovations and variations to the style.

It’s worth noting that, in addition to its preservative qualities, hops impart three attributes to beer and the amount of time the hops spend in the boil and type of hops used result in specific variations. Hop strains are measured by their alpha, or bittering strength, and the longer a hop is boiled, the more bitterness is extracted. Consequently hops added towards the end of the boil will impart more flavor than bitterness. And hops added at the very end or dry hopped during fermentation will deliver pleasant aromas, allowing more of your senses to be involved in enjoyment of the beer.

As to why IPAs are so wildly popular, I have two possible explanations. The citrus and tropical nature of most hops brings forth a flavor that is quite refreshing, and the potent flavors provide a powerful punch to your taste buds, making IPAs a style you can enjoy virtually any time of year, whether it’s in the hot dog days of summer or chilly days of winter.

Types of IPA Styles

American IPA…These tend to be dark golden or amber in color and log in at around 6-7% ABV with robust hop flavor. (Examples: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and Ballast Point Sculpin)

English IPA…A toned down version of the American IPA with a bit milder hop character. (Examples: Goose Island IPA and Samuel Smith’s IPA)

Session IPA…Developed especially in recent years, it seems that every major brewery is now offering an IPA that is scaled back in the alcohol strength, but still big on hoppy goodness. Session IPAs are named for being able to drink more of them in a session and usually fall within the 4-5% ABV range. (Examples: Full Sail Session IPA and 21st Amendment Down to Earth)

Double/Imperial IPA…The other end of the spectrum is for those wanting even more of a malt punch to back up the bold hop character. Double doesn’t necessarily mean twice as much, but the ABV is bumped up to around 8 on up to 14%. (Examples: Russian River Pliny the Elder and Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA)

Cascadian or Black IPA…Lovers of dark beer don’t have to be left out. Think of a porter or stout that’s loaded with hops. (Examples: Firestone Walker Wookey Jack and Uinta Dubhe Imperial Black IPA)

White IPA…Those who like a hoppy wheat beer will appreciate this style, which uses a wheat base with spices added. (Examples: Deschutes Chain Breaker White IPA and Sam Adams Whitewater IPA)

Red IPA…This is just a few shades darker than the traditional IPA with deep ruby hues. (Examples: Midnight Sun Sockeye Red IPA and Green Flash Hop Head Red)

Rye IPA…A popular ingredient finding its way into beers these days, rye adds a subtle spiciness and dryness. (Examples: Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye and Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye IPA)

Belgian IPA…Lovers of the funky flavors of Belgian styles can enjoy the best of both. This sub style is pretty much a traditional IPA brewed with a Belgian yeast strain (Examples: Stone Cali-Belgique and Green Flash Le Freak).

This bevy of variations of the IPA style means there’s something out there for most everyone. The only requirement is that you must love hops.

The Author:

Bob Barnes is editorial director of The Las Vegas Food & Beverage Professional, regional correspondent for Celebrator Beer News and writes the Top 10 Beer lists for He welcomes your inquiries and can be reached via e-mail at

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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