IPA: What’s the Big Deal?

Happy Beer Blogging Friday! This month, Justin from his eponymous Brew Review wants beer bloggers to talk about the India Pale Ale, the best selling craft beer style, and have a crack at pinpointing why exactly it is so damn popular. “What is it about an IPA that makes craft beer enthusiasts (CBE) go wild?” asks Justin.

I’ve written about IPAs before, lending my two cents to the “Great Hop Debate” which briefly ignited after a now-infamous poorly written article suggested that “hoppy beers are awful.” I do think the popularity of IPAs is partially at the expense of other styles, a representation imbalance which often gives us many IPAs to choose from but only taken representation from some of the other styles.

But Justin doesn’t want to know whether the style’s popularity is a good thing or not, he wants to know how it got so popular in the first place. There are many valid answers, so it’s a good thing so many beer bloggers will be writing about this.

One answer is historic, stemming from the fact that IPAs were the first craft beer style to reignite American taste buds in the post-Prohibition beer wasteland. American brewers, infatuated with how much more bold and flavourful their hops were than the European varieties, went out of their way to brew styles which showcased the intense New World hops, so they revived the IPA. This in turn inspired the American craft beer renaissance. IPAs were the first ones to the party.

A more contemporary cause is the fact that IPAs are radically different from the big adjunct lagers. To gravitate toward what seemed to be the diametrical extreme, which is what I and many other young craft beer converts did, was like choosing a side.

But I think that both of these reasons are unfair to the style. The IPA is my favourite beer style, and that’s not because of the social context, it’s because of how they taste. IPAs combine qualities that no other styles combine. They are intensely flavoured yet refreshing (unlike, say, Belgian-style ales ). They are complex yet accessible (unlike, say, sours). They are high in alcohol yet don’t seem heavy (unlike, say, Russian Imperial Stouts).

Dark beers are a winter drink, saisons are a summer drink, bitters are for when you want several pints of something. But I can drink as many or as few IPAs as a want, no matter the weather, and be satisfied. What’s the big deal with IPAs? They taste good, any time and anywhere.

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