CityScope® magazine Southern Gentleman® – Investigating the IPA Craze
If you’ve enjoyed a frosty, frothy brew at any of Chattanooga’s many craft breweries in the past few years, you know that hoppy ales are America’s sweetheart. Surviving a dormant period, being resurrected and redefined constantly, IPAs have stood the tests of time and evolving markets. So just what is all the hype about hops?
India pale ales, or IPAs, were the solution to Britain’s beer shipping problem in the mid to late 1700s. The British Empire had colonies in India, where it was simply too hot to brew beer. The six month journey proved too long for beer brewed in Great Britain to still be drinkable by the time it reached India. In response, a London brewer named George Hodgson created a heavily hopped ale that required aging similar to a wine. He called it October Ale, and once it arrived in India, tasters found it had greatly improved during the journey. The higher alcohol content and the additional hops both served as preservatives and fostered a brew that could withstand the test of time – literally.
Soon other brewers were imitating Hodgson’s hoppy ale. Eventually, a brewmaster in the Trent Valley named Samuel Allsop created a far superior product. Blessed with the harder water of the English Midlands of Trent, hoppy pale ales brewed here were much clearer, tastier, and more refreshing. The actual hop flavor was able to take center stage. Allsop’s lighter recipe soon crowded Hodgson out of the British Indian colonies’ market, where the hot climate favored refreshment.
In Great Britain, IPAs became less popular, and the invention of refrigeration allowed beers of all types to be easily distributed. As a result, these once sought-after brews died out in the home market. Replaced by more popular pale lagers in Great Britain, ales made a brief appearance in America after following English immigrants over. However, lager’s popularity eventually overthrew American IPAs as well.
Yet history was to repeat itself. With an emergence of microbreweries in the U.S. in the 1970s, old IPA recipes were brought back to life. Ironically enough, British brewers would later mimic American IPA recipes, helping the hoppy pale ales make a full-circle comeback.
The American IPAs quickly evolved to please customers’ eager palates, with brewers adding massive amounts of hops to the recipe and increasing the alcohol content. With a huge array of hop varieties grown in America, particularly the Pacific Northwest, and an endless quest for more, soon American brewers were crafting beers that were so much more powerful, they could barely be called IPAs anymore. As a result, the terms double IPA and imperial IPA were born.
“IPA is a style that’s constantly evolving. Ten years ago, they were all piney and bitter. Today, they’re fruity and citrusy,” says Marc Powell, co-founder and head brewer at Heaven & Ale Brewing Co. Style guides for IPAs are constantly in flux, and they can shift as far as brewers’ creativity will take them. Hop breeders and growers, brewers, and hop contracts all play their part in determining where the styles will venture next. As Melanie Krautstrunk, co-owner of Hutton & Smith Brewing, explains, “One challenge is acquiring access to the many hops that are available, especially for smaller breweries. Hop contracts are often bought out for four years or more, making some varieties not even an option to small brewers. This can limit a brewer’s creative freedom.” Regardless of the challenges, Chattanooga’s brewers are managing to concoct some cutting-edge craft brews that are leading the market’s taste. Currently, the New England style and the double NE style are dominating the scene. But with a promising growth of local breweries as of late, there are seemingly endless style possibilities. As Joe Winland, co-founder of Heaven & Ale, says, “I tell everyone that comes into our brewery that there is an IPA drinker inside everyone; you just need to find the style that suits you.”
Terms to Know:
IBU – International bitterness units. Gauges the isomerized alpha acids from hops in a beer in parts per million.
ABV – Alcohol by volume. A standard measure (the number of milliliters of pure ethanol present in 100 mL of a solution at 68° F) of how much alcohol is contained in a given volume of a beverage.
IPAs are brewed with all the traditional beer ingredients, including malt, hops, and yeast. Traditional IPAs usually have an IBU range of 40 to 60 units, while the double, or imperial, IPAs can be as bitter as 120 IBUs. Often ranging from golden to copper in color, there are red and black IPAs on the market as well. Traditional, English-style IPAs tend to be clear and crisp with a subtly bitter, hoppy finish. Most IPAs use a moderate amount of carbonation, though the more subtle English-style IPA can sometimes be just lightly carbonated.
American versions utilize American ingredients, and the American Pacific Northwest now grows one of the largest varieties of hops of anywhere else in the world. In conjunction with this amazing variety of available flavor profiles, American IPAs typically have a more pronounced malt flavor than their British predecessors. Of the American styles, West Coast IPAs follow suit of traditional brews, but lean even more heavily on the hops. An American style which has recently grown in popularity – the New England IPA – has a fruitier flavor and juicier mouthfeel.
Essentially, beer is made by combing and balancing the sweet liquid called wort, which comes from boiling grains, with the bitter and flavorful qualities produced by boiling hops. This solution is then fermented with active yeast, and sometimes aged in wooden barrels for added flavor and body qualities, though more often kept in stainless steel tanks for serving. At this point, distributed beer is bottled or canned with added carbonation.
IPAs are also brewed by this basic method; however, as the key component, hops play the largest role. As Jay Boyd, owner of Oddstory Brewing, explains, “The most challenging and rewarding part of brewing IPAs is the hops. Plain and simple. There are so many varieties from so many different regions that can contribute wildly different flavors and aromas.” What makes IPAs unique is the amount of hops used, the flavor profile of the chosen strains of hops, and the timing throughout the brewing process when hops are added.
“Bittering” hops are the hops put in on the front end of the brewing process and boiled for their bitter qualities, which come from the oils produced in hop cones’ glands. The longer the bittering hops are boiled, the more bitter qualities will be pulled from them. Next are what are known as “finishing” hops, and these are added mostly for their unique flavors. Finishing hops are added very late during the boil, after the boil, or quite often by “dry hopping.” Dry hopping is when hops are added once the beer is already in the tank and done with the boil. These hops contribute little to no bitter qualities, but large amounts of flavor.
“IPAs have been the most popular style for a while, and I don’t see that trend changing anytime soon. There are endless possibilities with hops – different combinations can yield an almost infinite amount of flavor, aroma, and bitterness profiles,” says Krautstrunk.
As many local brewers will confirm, their taprooms and distribution are telling them loud and clear that they still need to be creating hop-heavy recipes. IPAs fly off the shelf and flow at bars, but how has this trend been sustained for so long? As Boyd says, “We see IPA drinkers in our taproom constantly! I think one of the reasons for the IPA outcry is the fact there are now more styles than ever available to consumers. There are incredible breweries throughout the Southeast that are creating IPAs that weren’t even around three years ago. With this, you see people venturing out of their comfort zones and discovering beers that they might have never tried, just because it falls under a familiar category.”
If you think of IPAs as a fleeting trend, Winland can set that notion straight, saying, “IPAs have rooted themselves permanently in craft beerdom.” Like any successful survivor, IPAs have learned to adapt to changing market trends and regions. Powell agrees, saying, “I think the sky is the limit with hops, hop breeders and growers, and brewers. They provide the foundation to constantly evolve this style.”
Hopped Up IPA
A West Coast-style IPA with a hop forward flavor and aroma.
Walnut Street IPA
A copper or gold-toned IPA
that delivers full body with heavy-hop flavor of cascade and centennial hops.
A black American-style IPA with a bold and unique flavor from an enormous amount of galena hops.
House Brand IPA
An American-style IPA with classic citrus character from American variety hops.
Hill City IPA
An American-style IPA brewed with rye and caramel malts and four styles of West Coast hops.
An American pale with orange and citrus notes, created by an abundance of citra and mandarina hops.
A drier West Coast-style IPA with citra hops on the nose.
The polar opposite of Soul Citra, this is a hazy and super fruity New England-style IPA.
A well-balanced traditional IPA.
A New England-style IPA with a hazy appearance and a juicy and pillow-y mouthfeel.
An American-style IPA with 6.8 ABV and an 80 IBU.
Unbalanced 2.0 El Dorado
An American-style IPA and updated version of the original, boasting El Dorado hops.
Not a typical IPA, this dark red brew is abundantly hoppy but has a smooth finish thanks to its firm malt backbone.
Big Boss Man Pale Ale
A pale ale with fruit aroma, intensely dry hopped and creamy.
A single hopped pale ale brewed with lactose and hallertau blanc hops.
Monkey’s Heart IPA
A West Coast-style IPA with pronounced piney and fruity flavors courtesy of the rigorous hop schedule, and a softer mouthfeel from the flaked oats used in the boil.
A West Coast-style IPA that blends magnum hops with cascade hops to harness the more subtle, bitter finish of
a traditional IPA.