What is IPA Beer?

What is IPA? What does IPA stand for? Why is this beer so popular and what are its origins? Read here to get every fact on IPAs.

BEER

Mat Stuckey

10/15/20238 min read

close up of an IPA
close up of an IPA

What is IPA?

Introduction to IPA Beer

India Pale Ale, affectionately known as IPA, has become one of the most popular beer styles in the craft beer revolution. But what exactly is IPA? This hoppy, bitter beer style is loaded with flavour and aroma.

IPA stands for India Pale Ale. It gets its name from the colonial era when the style was first brewed for British troops stationed in India. Today, IPAs dominate the craft beer world with many varieties and interpretations of the style.

At its core, an IPA is a hoppy, bitter pale ale with higher alcohol content. Hops take centre stage providing citrus, pine, tropical and fruity flavours along with a crisp bitter finish. The light malt backbone balances the hops’ starring role. With origins on opposite sides of the globe, IPA has evolved into a diverse family of hop-forward brews.

a pint of IPA on a wooden top
a pint of IPA on a wooden top

Definition of IPA (And What Does IPA Stand For?)

The acronym IPA stands for India Pale Ale. It is a style of beer that originated from pale ales first brewed in England for export to British troops stationed in India during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The long sea voyage required a brew that could withstand the journey without spoiling. By adding more hops and alcohol, IPAs emerged as the solution. The extra hops provided antibacterial protection while the higher alcohol content helped act as a preservative. This allowed IPAs to survive the months-long shipment to India.

Today, IPA has evolved to become a diverse family of hop-centric brews that take the original concept and update it for modern craft beer drinkers.

What is India Pale Ale (IPA)?

India Pale Ale, or IPA, refers to a style of beer first brewed in England in the late 1700s for British troops in India. To prevent spoilage on the long sea voyage, IPAs were formulated with extra hops and a higher alcohol content than typical beers.

This allowed IPA beer to survive the months-long journey from Britain to India. Upon arrival, the beers had distinctly hoppy and bitter flavours compared to mild English ales of the day.

While English IPAs maintain balance between malt and hops, American craft brewers have pushed IPA to new levels of hoppiness. The signature bitterness partners with citrus, pine and tropical hop flavours in this trending style.

IPA in glass in a pub
IPA in glass in a pub

Different Types of IPA

With origins on opposite coasts of the Atlantic, IPA has branched into many sub-styles and variations. Here are some of the most popular types of India Pale Ales brewed today:

West Coast IPA

One of the early Americanised IPAs, West Coast IPA is distinguished by an intense hoppy bitterness paired with pronounced citrus, pine and resin flavours. First brewed in California and the Pacific Northwest, this pale gold ale highlights American hop varieties like Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Amarillo. A crisp, dry finish contrasts the juicy citrus hop qualities.

Session IPA

A lighter take on the style, session IPAs have a lower alcohol content, typically 4-5% ABV compared to 7-9% for regular IPAs. This allows the hop flavours to shine while retaining drinkability for multiple pints. The hopping rates are similar but use lighter speciality malts to reduce the alcohol.

Sour IPA

Bridging the gap between tart sour ales and hoppy IPAs seems unlikely but has yielded some delicious results. Brewers add lactobacillus or kettle sour the wort before fermenting and generously hopping these crisp yet funky brews.

East Coast IPA

Hazy and juicy, East Coast IPA turns up the tropical, citrus and stone fruit hop flavours for a softer, rounded mouthfeel. Oats or wheat is added to create a silky texture and cloudy appearance. Low bitterness keeps the focus on hop aroma and flavour.

British IPA

Staying closer to the original export IPAs, British IPAs balance the signature bitterness against bready, caramelly English malts like Maris Otter. Fuggle, East Kent Golding and other English hops lend an earthy, herbal presence in this more balanced interpretation.

Double IPA and Triple IPA

Sometimes termed Imperial IPA, these amped up versions packs a wallop with alcohol levels reaching 10-12% ABV or higher. Intense hopping provides bitterness to stand up to the big malt backbone. Be ready for an aromatic hop assault in each sip.

Black IPA

Dark malts meet bold hopping in this play on a traditional IPA. Sometimes called Cascadian Dark Ale, the darker, richer malt flavours contrast the bright, resinous hops. Citrus, pine and tropical fruits emerge over a base ranging from deep amber to black.

Imperial IPA

Imperial IPAs are stronger, amped up versions of IPAs with alcohol levels climbing above 7% ABV, and often all the way up to 10-12% ABV. Massive doses of hops counterbalance the boozy, full-bodied malt backbone in this intense experience.

New England IPA

The hazy, juicy darling of the current IPA surge, New England IPA features big tropical, berry and citrus hop flavours without aggressive bitterness. The addition of oats or wheat lends a smooth, creamy mouthfeel.

IPA next to an orange
IPA next to an orange

IPA Vocabulary

Here are some common terms used when brewing and tasting India Pale Ales:

  • Hoppy - Having pronounced hop aromas and flavours. IPAs tend to be very hoppy.

  • Dank - An intense hoppy aroma and flavour, often with pine or resin notes.

  • ABV - Alcohol by volume. Most IPAs range from 6-7.5% ABV but can be higher.

  • IBU - International Bitterness Units scale to measure hop bitterness levels. IPAs often range from 50-100 IBUs.

  • Dry hopping - Adding hops after fermentation to boost aroma and flavour without bitterness. IPAs are often dry-hopped.

  • Malt backbone - The bready, caramelly malt foundation underlying the hops in IPAs.

  • Hop bomb - A very hoppy, bitter beer that really showcases hop flavour. Some IPAs fit this description.

  • Drinkability - How refreshing and easy to drink a beer is. Session IPAs aim for good drinkability.

Difference Between IPA and Other Beers

The key differences between a regular beer like a lager or blonde ale and an IPA are:

  • Hoppiness - IPAs contain far more hops and hop additions during brewing to create very hoppy flavours and bitterness.

  • Malt character - IPAs use a lighter malt bill as a backdrop for hops rather than as a primary flavour.

  • Alcohol content - IPAs tend to be stronger, with ABVs in the 5.5-7.5% range compared to 4-5% for regular beers.

  • Bitterness - With 50-100 IBUs, IPAs are intensely bitter, while lagers and ales have 15-30 IBUs.

  • Aroma - Explosive hop aroma is central to IPAs from dry hopping, while most standard beers have subdued aromatics.

  • Colour - The classic IPA hue is golden to copper. Regular beers encompass a range of colours.

So in essence, hops take the spotlight in IPAs while acting as a balancing player in typical beers.

two ipas in glasses outside
two ipas in glasses outside

Difference Between IPA Beer and Pale Ale

While related, pale ales and IPAs have some key differences:

  • Hop levels - IPAs have around double the amount of hops as pale ales for intense hop flavour, bitterness and aroma.

  • Maltiness - Pale ales tend to have a more pronounced malty sweetness while IPAs let the hops shine.

  • Colour - IPAs range from golden to amber while pale ales also include lighter versions.

  • Alcohol - An IPA will be around 6-7% ABV compared to 4.5-5.5% for most pale ales.

  • Bitterness - With their higher hopping rates, IPAs clock in at 50-100 IBUs versus 30-50 IBUs for pale ales.

  • Mouthfeel - IPAs tend to have a crisp, dry finish compared to the more rounded mouthfeel of pale ales.

So while kin, IPAs essentially feature bolder hopping and a more pronounced bitterness than their close pale ale cousins.

History of India Pale Ale

To understand modern IPAs, it helps to know their historical origins. India Pale Ale was born out of necessity during British colonial rule in the 18th century.

The British East India Company was importing a lot of beer to support thirsty troops overseas. But standard English beers spoiled during the months-long sea journey around Africa in hot, unsanitary cargo holds.

To provide beer that would survive the trip, a brewer named George Hodgson started heavily hopping his pale ale and adding extra malt to increase the alcohol level. This created what became known as India Pale Ale - pleasantly bitter with a sturdy alcohol content around 7% ABV.

The ale not only survived the brutal journey but arrived with an appealing flavour profile. While unremarkable in England, it was prized in India. Soon Hodgson secured a monopoly on supplying IPA to the colonies.

IPA dominated the British beer trade by the early 19th century. But back in Britain, it never gained much traction compared to mild ales and porters. It was the arrival of American craft beer that thrust IPA into popularity.

Drawing on the hoppy English original but accentuating bitterness and aromatics with local varietals, American brewers pioneered what we know as IPA today. The intense citrus and pine of West Coast IPA followed by the juicy, hazy East Coast IPA have come to define the style.

IPAs have deservedly assumed the mantle of most popular craft beer due to their crowd-pleasing hop character. Understanding the history allows drinkers to fully appreciate how IPAs have endured to become flag bearers of the craft beer world.

Be Informed Next Time You Drink an IPA

From humble origins as an export ale, India Pale Ale has taken over the beer universe to become one of the most loved styles around. While definitions vary between old school and new school interpretations, IPAs unite behind bold hop flavour.

The historical survival story of IPA crossing oceans led to heavily hopped and high alcohol brews that now dominate beer taps. Distinct regional variations from West Coast to New England provide plenty of choices for hopheads.

Beyond the lore, at its heart IPA represents a balancing act - intense hop bitterness and aroma playing off a solid malt backbone. Artful brewing maximises this synergy. So pick your favourite flavour profile and enjoy your hoppy brew of choice proudly - you’re part of an enduring legacy!

FAQ

Q: What is IPA Beer?

A: IPA stands for India Pale Ale, which is a type of beer that originated in England during the 19th century. It is characterised by its hoppy flavour and higher alcohol content.

Q: What does IPA mean?

A: IPA stands for India Pale Ale.

Q: What's the difference between IPA and regular beer?

A: The main difference between IPA and regular beer is the hop content. IPAs have a higher hop content, giving them a more bitter and aromatic flavour compared to regular beers.

Q: What is the brewing process for IPA?

A: The brewing process for IPA is similar to that of regular beer. It involves malted barley, water, yeast, and hops. However, IPAs typically have more hops added during the brewing process to give them their distinct flavour.

Q: What are the different styles of IPAs?

A: There are several different styles of IPAs, including the West Coast IPA, New England IPA, English IPA, and American IPA. Each style has its own unique characteristics and flavour profiles.

Q: What's the difference between a Pale Ale and an IPA?

A: The main difference between a Pale Ale and an IPA lies in the hop content. IPAs have a higher hop content and are generally more bitter and aromatic compared to Pale Ales.

Q: How was IPA invented?

A: IPA was invented in England during the 19th century. It was originally brewed with extra hops and higher alcohol content to preserve the beer during long journeys to British colonies in India.

Q: What is a Double IPA?

A: A Double IPA, also known as DIPA or Imperial IPA, is a stronger version of the traditional IPA. It has an even higher hop content and alcohol content compared to regular IPAs.

Q: What is a New England Style IPA?

A: A New England Style IPA, also known as NEIPA, is a type of IPA that originated in the New England region of the United States. It is known for its hazy appearance, juicy flavour, and low bitterness.

Q: Are IPAs only for hoppy beer lovers?

A: While IPAs are known for their hoppy flavour, they are not exclusively for hoppy beer lovers. There are different varieties of IPAs available, some of which have a more balanced profile and lower hop bitterness.