A Complete Guide to the India Pale Ale
“I love IPAs. They have so much alcohol in them.”
Those are the two most common things I hear people say about IPAs, and neither of them are really true. Not all IPAs are bitter, and not all IPAs have a ton of booze in them. You can’t throw a blanket statement over an extremely broad style of beer. It’s an unfair simplification. But whether you fall on the love or the hate (check yourself) side of this relationship, there’s one thing we can’t deny: IPAs are here to stay.
But what do you actually know about IPAs? IPAs come in a range of styles, and the modern approach to hoppy beer isn’t a declaration of bitterness, but a beer that explores the world of fruity flavors that can also come from hops. Here’s everything you need to know about the IPA, from vocabulary to style breakdowns to the breweries doing them right.
The IPA Vocabulary
Session: Less alcohol! Which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your lifestyle. Modern session IPAs usually fall below 5% ABV (although historically, the style is 4% and below). With lower alcohol comes a thinner body, so these are the types of beers you can drink on repeat.
Double/Imperial: Double and imperial IPAs are essentially the same thing: IPAs with a higher hop concentration. To balance all that hop flavor, the brewer uses more malt, which results in a higher ABV (usually over 7%). It’s an IPA on steroids, and in the stoic words of Dave Chappelle (as Samuel L. Jackson), “This shit’ll getcha drunk!”
Dry-Hopped: Dry-hopping is the process of steeping hops in fermenting beer, instead of adding them while the liquid is boiling. The process creates an extremely strong aroma, amplifying the fruity/piney/candy-sweet notes of the hops. It makes the beer smell better, without adding any bitterness.
Double Dry-Hopped: A lot of brewers say IPAs are “double dry-hopped.” And while this sounds self-explanatory, it’s actually meaningless. There’s no real definition for “double dry-hopped.” It could be a dry-hop with twice the amount of hops or the addition of a fresh batch of hops halfway through the process. Regardless, it’s more of a marketing ploy to sound like you’re getting an over-the-top hoppy-ness/dose of hops than a quantifiable word, so no one knows exactly what it means.
Triple Dry-Hopped: Seriously. No one knows what this is.
Single-Hopped: Brewers combine multiple hop varieties for the same reason you’d put multiple seasonings in a marinade—to bring different flavors to the table. A single-hopped IPA, however, is brewed exclusively with one hop variety. That means that in a Citra single hop IPA, Citra hops are used in the boil, on the finish, and in dry-hopping (if dry-hopped). This is great news if you’re a member of the Citra Hop Fan Club.
Fresh-Hopped: Fresh-hopped IPAs, also called wet-hopped or harvest ales, only come around once a year, at the peak of hop harvesting season in late August and September. To qualify as a fresh-hopped IPA, the hops have to leave the vine, travel to the brewery, and end up in the boil in under 24 hours. The closer to the brew date you drink it, the more intense the brilliant, fresh flavor of the hops will be.