|An ongoing series of reports about
the beer world froma variety of
award winning writers.
In the decades prior to Prohibition, the beer made in the United States was very different from that brewed by
the national brewers today. Beer was stronger in both flavor and alcohol content. Prohibition changed that.
Only a few breweries survived, and those that did made beer very differently than before. At the end of
Prohibition, due to shortages in barley malt and changing tastes, corn and rice were used in increased
amounts as fermentable grains in the production of beer. These grains lightened the flavor and body of this
post-Prohibition beer and made a thinner, blander and more uniform brew. This new beer reality became the
definition of beer for the generations of Americans that lived in the wake of Prohibition. Habits reinforced by
effective and ubiquitous advertising are hard to break, thus this mere shadow of its former self became beer
for the generations that followed.
With this trend toward uniformity in beer came the consolidation of the beer industry so that we now have
three large national brewers who make fairly similar products. Beer enthusiasts frequently bash the products
of the Big Three (Anheuser-Busch, Molson Coors and SABMiller). They are right but the fact is the Big Three
have incredible brewing skill. They make products that are remarkably consistent and free of faults. The sad
fact is that the Big Three make products that appeal to the lowest common denominator of beer consumer.
Consequently their beers are fairly bland, inoffensive products that are refreshing but not interesting and
without any complexity.
This blandness of the mass-market beers contained the seeds that spawned the rise of craft brewing. In the
1970s, the desire for more flavorful beer motivated many to become homebrewers and some of these
pioneers were instrumental in leading the craft brewing revolution that we are enjoying today. Today, the
microbrewery industry is enjoying continued strong growth while big beer has little or none. The reason is
simple: Blandness is boring. Flavor is interesting. Multiple flavors that work together are very interesting. This
is real beer. A flavorful, complex beverage that complements and enhances food or suits any mood or
occasion. The great news is there are more than 20 recognized beer styles, more than 60 sub-styles and
hundreds of interpretations of each sub-style. In other words, there is incredible diversity to explore and enjoy
in the world of real beer.
By far the most popular style of craft beer is India Pale Ale (IPA). The oft-told tale that IPA, was developed by
British brewers who supplied beer to the East India company for the consumption of English expats during the
British colonial rule in India is fairly accurate. English pale ales were all the rage in late the 18th and early
19th centuries and brewers of those beers discovered that the preservative qualities of a little extra hops and
alcohol helped keep the beer fresh during the long voyage to India. By some accounts, the beer was meant to
be watered down upon arrival but eventually folks just started drinking it “straight.” Somewhere around the
1830s the first print reference to “India Pale Ale” appeared. No one could have known then what a
transformation IPA would undergo.
The popularity of IPA waned in the 20th century until the American craft beer movement was revived in the
latter part of the century and the beginning of the 21st. Once American brewers got a hold of IPA, they
immediately began to take it in multiple directions. New American hop varieties gave IPA a bright citrus quality
and before long, brewers got into an escalating hop war. International Bitterness Units, or IBUs, became part
of the craft beer lexicon as breweries tried to out-bitter each other.
The human taste bud isn’t sensitive enough to identify more than 80-99 IBUs but brewers still boasted of 100
IBUs for their IPAs—and they weren’t even shipping them across an ocean! Myriad innovations ensued until
the development of more aromatic hop varieties ushered in a pendulum swing in the opposite direction. New
England brewers started brewing softer IPAs that emphasized fragrance rather than bitterness. It just so
happened that they used a low-flocculating yeast that left particles suspended in the beer. The New England
IPA, sometimes called hazy IPA, was born. It continues to dominate the market.
The three main styles are
New England IPA (NEIPA)
Hazy, and brimming with tropical flavors and aromas, New England IPAs belie their region of origin. Their
decided lack of bitterness lies in stark contrast to the crusty stereotype of your typical New Englander. The
style is most approachable but beware of its well hidden alcohol content.
West Coast IPA
Going from the East Coast to the West Coast is a tasting adventure. West Coast IPAs were part of the great
IBU war. Bold and bitter westies are characterized by pine and lemon zest flavors—not the least bit juicy like
their New England cousins. Some of the more traditional versions carry just a hint of malt sweetness to at
least give a nod to balance.
These are the heavy hitters of the IPA world. Bigger in alcohol with an ample wallop of hops and a sturdy malt
base, they are quite popular. Imperial is borrowed from Russian Imperial Stout, which was a high-gravity stout
exported to Russia in the 19th century (the style is still around). ABV ranges from 7% to 10% and up. They
are also known as double IPAs, which is perhaps derived from the Belgian tradition in which a Dubbel, or
double, is a beer with more alcohol—made with twice the ingredients (or thereabouts). Imperials are packed
with flavor. There are also triple and quadruple IPAs for the really strong of heart.
|History 101 - Beer & IPA
Submitted By Gene McKenna
|BeerNexus does not
validate authorship of