It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
II can’t take it anymore. I refuse to read or write anymore beer articles that use the words
sheltering, curbside, home delivery,and talk about new rules for reopened bars and breweries.
Stop! So today let's just talk about beer. How's that for a topic that is both refreshing and unique?
And let's swing for the fences and discuss everyone’s favorite style - IPA.
Though many beers have been created out of “happen-stance”, none is more accidental than the
IPA, with it's inviting flavor driven by hops. When brewers originally added hops to the beer as a
preservative for the long boat journey to then-colonial India little did they realize they were creating
a new flavor packed style.
IPAs are easily the most popular beer style in the United States and quite possibly the world.
American drinkers prefer to have the hops to tell the flavor story instead of the malts, like
Porters/Stouts or ESB’s tend to do. Hops are the common denominator to what everyone is
generally looking for in an IPA. No one can deny it, the hops tell this beers’ story.
Over the years, the IPA has seen a fair share of various style variations like the White IPA, Black
IPA, Triple IPA, Milkshake IPA, and of course the incredibly popular New England/Hazy/Juicy IPA.
And I see the room for experimentation in the style as being a wide-open field. More hops, rarer
hops, assemblages of hops with flavors that don’t make sense on paper, adding crazy adjuncts like
breakfast cereal, donuts, pizza, King Cake, peppers, oatmeal…it seems the means are only at an
end when brewers' imagination runs out.
That brings me to my question to you Bill. The brewing world tends define styles by BJCP and BA
guidelines. .With this in mind, as experiments continue to happen and new ideas surface and beer
evolves, I sometimes question where the barriers are and at what point can you define a “branch-
off” style, that is potentially far enough away from the universally agreed upon style perimeters in
which you can still define that beer as an IPA or not. Basically I'm asking is an IPA still an IPA when
you add various adjuncts, into the recipe? When is an IPA no longer an IPA?
Of course I know the real answer, Bill, but will let you flounder around with it for now.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time!
Hello Gina -
You actually raise an interesting question or at least one that's interesting after being in this
near lockdown for months .My first though is how accurate is it to calll an extreme IPA like
Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute an IPA? It's aggressively hopped in a 120-minute boil cycle,
resulting in an 18% ABV. Obviously that's not accepted IPA territory. Of course you know that
an IPA is traditionally not a beer that ages well, but many people (including us) age Dogfish 120
for two, three or even more years which results n a beer that arguably transforms into a Strong
Ale or something reminiscent of a Barleywine. And it tastes darn good.
My point is if everything about an accepted IPA flavor profile and officially regarded style guides
say that beer isn't an IPA anymore. Do call 120 Minute IPA an IPA simply because it started life
as one? Does its bottle fermentation or flavor evolution count as part of how we categorize the
style of this beer?.
It seems to me that the beer style field is so wide, you can find that IPA can mean so many
different things to different brewer. Ask professional brewers what makes an IPA and
regardless of who you are asking you'll get a different answer.
You can say that an IPA is hop-forward which might mean you are talking about a west coast
IPA. You might say that an IPA can be malt-forward, too, and you’d be talking about an English
IPA.. But that English IPA could also be a regular west coast IPA that uses English malts. You
could also say that an IPA should be tropical fruit-forward because of a particular hop flavor, or
because a tropical fruit puree had been added to it for a huge presence of that fruit. As it
stands, each time you’d be right; it’s still an IPA. To me these are all variations on a theme.
I do think there is a marketing side as to why IPAs are so varied and so hard to pin down. The
designation itself sells product. The same beer will sell more when labeled as some sort of
variant IPA than if it's not. Couldn't one make an argument that what we call the New England-
style IPA could have been named something else; creating a new category. Would it have
gotten the same initial traction it received if it didn't start out as an IPA?
My question to you Gina is at what point an IPA so far removed from the original accident or
intent, that you should remove the acronym completely and put the beer into another category
Here’s what I do know. Styles matter, marketing names matter, and taking creative license
matters, too. It's logical to name and categorize things. It simply makes sense that in the end,
we have to come back to some point of recognition. Because of that I think we can best be
served by fewer beers using the IPA label. Frankly, the modern-day IPA might just be the
greatest drink catch-all since the food industry figured out how to market the Gastropub or
Here's looking at you, Gina