In his 1869 book "Burton-upon-Trent; Its History, Its Waters, and Its Breweries," William Molyneaux incorrectly attributed the invention of India ale to a London brewer named Hodgson. He purportedly solved the problem of pale ale spoiling en route to India by boosting the content of alcohol and hops, which has antibacterial properties. It has become one of the beer world's most repeated fables.
The English had been sending pale ale and other beers to India decades before Hodgson's brewery was founded in 1751. They had been making very strong, highly hopped beers since the 16th century, and advertisements of the era show that these "stock ales," intended for long-term aging, were being shipped to India. There was no need for anyone to invent a new style for the India trade.
There is some conjecture that the motion and heat of the five-month ocean voyage may have started a secondary fermentation in the cask that eliminated some of the sweet residual sugar, making the beer lighter and drier. Together with hops that were likely added to the cask before shipping, this resulted in an ale that was crisp, bitter and refreshing. Brewers eventually learned to make beers with similar qualities for the home market that didn't necessitate the long journey. These beers eventually became known as India pale ale (IPA).
Since then, IPAs have become one of the most — if not the most — popular style among craft beer drinkers, and the term now encompasses nearly any highly hopped ale.
The original, of course, is the English IPA. There used to be several examples available in the Twin Cities — including Summit's much-missed True Brit IPA — but Samuel Smith's India Ale is the only one I've seen lately. (However, they do appear occasionally as special releases or taproom-only offerings.)
English IPA differs from American IPA in its balance, and Samuel Smith's India Ale is true to form. While it is hop-forward, hops are not the only focus. The herbal citrus notes of English hops share the stage with grainy and caramel malt. Hops and yeast impart fresh orange and orange marmalade notes. The assertive bitterness has a sharp, mineral character that lingers into the finish. English IPA is my favorite type. I wish there were more of them.
West Coast IPAs
In the early 1980s, nascent West Coast microbreweries gave the English pale ale and IPA a decidedly American twist with clean-fermenting yeast and resinous, citrusy hops from the Pacific Northwest. Applying the American sensibility of more is more, they used those hops in abundance, creating a true showcase for the bitterness, flavor and aroma of hops.
Hop Kingdom 300 from Fulton Brewing in Minneapolis is a fantastic example of the style. In both aroma and flavor, it bursts with the grapefruit, tangerine, berry and pineapple character of Mosaic hops. Bitterness is assertive and lingers long after swallowing. It's balanced by a sturdy base of toasted malt. Crisp, clean and loaded with hops, this is a beautiful IPA.
Bold and bitter, yet crisp, clean and balanced, Jai Alai from Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Fla., is a beautifully made old-school American IPA. It floods the senses with citrusy hop aromatics — tangerine, orange peel and grapefruit. Hints of resin and caramel also make an appearance. The flavor follows suit with orange, citrus and resin flavors being dominant. Bitterness is high, but smoothly balanced by a sturdy dose of mild caramel maltiness.
Those who want the hop hit with less buzz can turn to session IPAs. While most American IPA comes in at around 7% alcohol, session IPAs are typically less than 5%. Think of them as an American pale ale with IPA-level bitterness and hop character.
All Day IPA from Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, Mich., is one of the most popular of these. Hops take the lead, bringing notes of tropical fruit, tangerine and peaches along with subtle floral and peppery undertones. The body is a bit thin, but there is some malt sweetness to prop up the hops. It has a dry, bitter finish with some lingering fruit.
For a good local example, try Triumphant Session IPA from St. Paul's Summit Brewing. Hops dominate both the flavor and the aroma, with tangerine citrus and mango tropical fruits. Bitterness is assertive but not so strong that it taxes your palate. Although hops lead, malt is not forgotten; grainy malt remains prominent underneath and brings a low, balancing sweetness. The finish is dry with lingering tangerine and bitterness.
On the opposite end of the scale is the double or imperial IPA. These monsters have alcohol levels topping 8% to 10% and extraordinary loads of hops. Though big, their dry fermentation tends to keep them refreshingly drinkable.
Steel Toe Brewing in St. Louis Park releases its Size 11 Imperial IPA every year on Jan. 11. At 11% alcohol, this is a big beer. Hops are king and bitterness is high, but there's more than enough malt to maintain balance. Caramel, biscuit and toast provide an ample cushion for the overflowing basket of juicy citrus, melon, kiwi and mango. The bitterness has a sharp, mineral character that makes it feel cooling on the way down. That's good, because all that alcohol makes this a belly warmer.
California's Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. was one of the originators of the American IPA style. Theirs are still among the best. Hop Bullet Magnum is their current limited-release imperial IPA. Loads of Magnum hops highlight the citrus and pine resin character of classic American hop varieties. The flavor is a rich melding of grapefruit, orange, peaches and pine. The bitterness is very high, but well offset by malt sweetness. At 9.5% alcohol, it's warming but never comes off alcoholic.
One of the newest and most popular entries to the IPA catalog is the New England-style or hazy IPA. These murky concoctions often resemble orange juice in the glass. To make them, brewers add the bulk if not all of the hops very late in the brewing process, often after fermentation is complete. This gives enormous hop flavor and aroma while lessening bitterness.
Hazer Tag from Odell Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colo., is a great example. This is all about squishy, tropical fruit hops. Passion fruit is prominent, along with mango and pineapple. Citrus is there, too, in hints of fresh-squeezed orange juice. There's just enough bitterness to give it some structure. It has a rich, oaty texture, but malt flavor is nonexistent. It finishes dry and juicy, if that makes any sense at all.
Dual Citizen Brewing Co. in St. Paul calls its Good Good a hazy oat IPA. It's not the full-on hop assault of many beers of the style. The fruity notes are deeper and darker, focused on tangerine, mango and ripe melon and apricots. The slightly creamy mouthfeel delivered by oats gives the fruit a silky luxuriousness. The fruit brings sweetness, but it's more than balanced by a higher than usual level of bitterness.
Barrel Theory Beer Co. in St. Paul is well-known for hazy IPA. With It'll Leave You Breathless, they give hazy the imperial treatment. This whopper comes in at 10% alcohol, but the thick, chewy mouthfeel is the only hint of its heft. Hop flavor is intense and juicy. Lemon, orange and grapefruit citrus are the main flavors, with hints of tropical guava and passion fruit close behind. The finish has a slightly vinous note. Bitterness is low, leaving an impression of sweetness that comes mostly from the juicy, fruity hops.
IPA takes a yeasty turn with the Belgian IPA, basically a Belgian-style ale with heaps of extra hops. Duvel Tripel Hop is a great example from across the pond.
With Dank 7, Boulevard Brewing Co. of Kansas City gives the IPA treatment to its fantastic Tank 7 farmhouse ale. Is this a hopped-up saison or an IPA fermented with saison yeast? I don't know. I only know that it is delicious. The already-fruity citrus and stone fruit flavors of saison are amped up and supplemented with low tropical notes from the extra additions of hops. It melds beautifully with the spicy pepper and puffy banana of saison yeast. There is malt sweetness up front, but the finish is dry, dry, dry.
Houblon Chouffe from Brasserie d'Achouffe in Belgium is basically a hopped-up Belgian Tripel. It has the bready malt, banana/pepper/clove yeast character, high alcohol and dry finish of a tripel. Tomahawk, Saaz and Amarillo hops add zesty bitterness and a big load of floral, spicy orange and herbal hop notes. Add a faint touch of honey and citrus and you end up with a beer that is assertive, strong and yet delightfully delicate.
Other IPA styles that have come and gone include dry IPA, rye IPA, white IPA, red IPA and black IPA, also known as Cascadian dark ale. These occasionally reappear as special releases or on taproom menus.