This is my post for The Session #77, aka Beer Blog Friday. Basically a host blog is chosen, they choose a topic of discussion, and others blog about it. Get the full lowdown at Justin’s Brew Review, the host for this month’s session. The question this month – Why is IPA such a big deal?
For quite some time now, I’ve been wondering what makes the India Pale Ale (IPA) style of beer so popular. Don’t get me wrong–I thoroughly enjoy it and gladly participate in #IPADay. I’m just wondering, why all the hype? What is it about an IPA that makes craft beer enthusiasts (CBE) go wild?
I can only theorise the reasons why other CBE’s (I like that acronym) go crazy for this style. For me the reason is simple – it was IPA that led to my first ever “whoa, what the f*ck was that?!” moment while drinking a beer. It changed me…
I remember the beer clearly – the BrewDog Punk IPA. At this point in my life I was just beginning to dabble in craft beer, with my brews of choice being a Golden Ale and a rather weak Pale ale. At the time I thought these beers were the pinnacle of beer creativity and flavour, so it was a real shock when the Punk stepped up and unapologetically punched me in the back of the head with fist full of bitterness. I seriously struggled to finish that first IPA, as it was a huge step up from what I was accustomed too. But by the end of the glass I was totally intrigued by this beer; what made it so intense? What do the letters IPA stand for? And, bizarrely, could I have some more?
So I started searching for more of these mysterious IPA’s. I learnt the meaning of this style, where it sat in the beer spectrum (I didn’t even know there was a beer spectrum until then), what ingredients went into an IPA and how they affected the end flavours. I know, this is the same standard brewing process for most brews, but it was all new information to me. With my new found knowledge I started sampling more IPA’s, and in turn began ‘chasing the bitterness’, seeing how far I could push my palate. I came across some bitter, BITTER beers (Mikkeller 1000 IBU comes to mind here), but I also began to appreciate the other flavours the hops produce, the way these balance with the malt and the bitterness…and I began to fall in love.
So why does my love affair persist today? I think it’s because most IPA’s have quite complex flavour profiles – but it’s a complexity that I get! I understand what different flavours that you can expect from the hops and the malt, making these flavours easy to identify and in turn making me feel clever! I’m sure it’s the same for most beer geeks out there, which makes the good old IPA something that everyone can share on the same level.
As for why it’s so popular with the general craft beer community, my initial thoughts is that it has something to do with craft beers ‘battle’ with the brewing giants. It’s easy to see IPA’s as the antithesis to the common macro-lagers that dominate the market – big, intense, flavoursome brews vs weak, watery, flavourless swill. So by choosing to drink IPA, perhaps we’re all subconsciously showing our support for the craft beer industry? I’m no psychologist though, so this is pure theory…but I do feel like I’m flipping the bird at big business when I drink an IPA.
There’s also a certain ‘extreme’ factor to these beers that appeals to me, as I’m sure it does to other CBE’s. When I see a beer named ‘Palate Wrecker’ or ‘Ruination IPA’ I’m overcome by the need to conquer it. I guess it’s similar to people who go to a restaurant to take on the ‘world’s spiciest something something’; they gain nothing from completing the challenge, but they want that sick sense of pride that comes with beating it. I’ve felt that pride after drinking an IPA that labels itself as being too much for common folk to handle. But I’m happy to say that it’s the well balanced IPA’s that speak to me the most – at the end of the day I’m here for the flavour, I swear.
And I think, at the core of it all, that’s why IPA is such a big deal – the taste. Most beer is drunk for its refreshing qualities…and what’s more refreshing than Citrus, Pine and Tropical fruit?! In fact, I’m off to have one right now.