My craft beer hardcore infatuation began with Blue Point Brewery’s Hoptical Illusion and it was amazing; I had never tasted anything before then that was so bitter and yet so juicy, so sharp and yet so drinkable. It sure didn’t hurt that it was higher on the ABV level, either.
At the time, it meant my hard earned dollar went a good amount further. IPAs became my jam and I’ve never been the same since. But, just like many relationships, attention begins to wane. And, honestly, my attention has been wavering off IPAs for the last year and a half. I still appreciate them, but I have been craving the spicy saisons, mouth-puckering sours and malty, slightly sweet, warm, lovely barleywines.
My IPA tastes have been re-awakened with the new East Coast IPAs coming out of Vermont, Massachusetts and, of course, our very own NY, baby! (Check out the article from BeerAdvocate to read a little more). What’s the difference between supposed East and West Coast IPAs (other than the coast they’re brewed on)? Some people say that West Coast IPAs are bigger, hoppier, bitter fuckers that demand your attention, from first whiff to minutes after that last swallow. East Coast IPAs, on the other hand, while bitter and hop forward, use a more balanced approach between malts and hops, maybe more akin to their English India Pale Ale history (more on the history of IPAs later). This might have been true, and might still be true in some aspects, but today’s East Coast IPAs are way into hops; to me, it’s just when, which and how those hops are used. Bitter hops are nice and all, but these new kids are interested in all the wonderful flavors and aromas that hops, added at different times, and using different varieties, can do to the once ubiquitous style of IPA. Hops are like spices in food – more of this and less of that, added at beginning or end, and you’ve got two dishes that should taste the same, yet taste completely different. This is what is so amazing to me about these new, super fresh IPAs – so much complexity, and a nice happy slapping of the taste buds, as opposed to full out killing. More subtle? Well, maybe, but in my mind way more to sit and think about – way more “there” there. Barrier Brewing’s Money, Newburgh Brewing’s Hop Drop, Ithaca Brewery Box of Hops collection, anything IPA from Other Half – these are IPAs I will choose now when put on the same board with my new farmhouse loves.
ALL WE NEEDED WAS COLONIAL CAPITALISM TO MAKE US LOVE THE BITTER
Most craft beer lovers know the story of the English IPA – while we can’t be sure how accurate the history is, the story is this: England, having begun colonization of far away India, had a problem. Malts, hops, yeast, relatively clean water: these all existed in the Mother Country. But these colonizers were thirsty and in need of relaxation; after all, subjugating a large population was very tiring, and they really just needed a beer. But the brew, having traveled a long time, in bad weather and rough seas, always came tasting like crap. Brewers in England began loading these pale ales with way more hops and upping the alcohol – hops act as a preservative and higher alcohol beers degrade more slowly than their delicate counterparts. These exported beers were so enjoyed by these thirsty, tired subjugators that, even when they left India and came back home to England, they demanded those same exports in their own homeland. Hence, the IPA was born!
While maybe not every part of this story is authentic, it is true that historical IPAs did come from England, but drink one of these beers today, and it might be hard to categorize it as the same style as our modern IPAS – for one, they were not as hoppy, or bitter. They relied more on the malt that most modern versions do (modern AMERICAN versions, that is). And American hops were obviously not in England (hence, their name). English hops tend to be more earthy, less pungent or bitter than, say, Cascade, Amarillo, Chinook, Centennial, etc. Piney, grapefruity, dank – these characteristics are pure Red, White and Blue. Imagine Ballast Point’s Sculpin made with Fuggle hops, and tasting herbal and woodsy – not really our wet dream IPA. But as these OE – Olde English – brews were so new and fresh back then, it made sense how fast it caught on, and how people jumped on the hoppy bandwagon.
Let’s fast forward to the present day craft beer scene: it seems if you want to be considered the cool kid – and vie for handles and shelf space – you have to be an IPA or some derivative therein. And so, the rise of the BLANK-IPAs: Double or Imperial, Triple, Red, Brown, Black, White, Session, all waving the IPA flag high. Some of these have become their own legit BJCP styles, with the pomp and circumstance that comes with it, some are on their way, and some are just a passing fad. How many Black Rye Imperial Biere de Gardes have you seen lately? At first I was kind of skeptical, but isn’t that part of craft beer’s amazement - diversity?
I mean, taste-wise, a Founders Devil Dancer sure doesn’t have much in common with a Great South Bay Misfit Toy or a Blue Point White IPA. But they all want to be in the same family? Well, what’s wrong with a big family!? Heck, I’m an only child, but I would totally be adopted by Bell’s Two-Hearted. So I’ve put down the skepticism. It’s just that hopheads have dominated with their ratings, and their wallets, and numbers for both just don’t lie – and they are both hard to argue with. So let’s stop arguing, and just go back to what’s really important: drinking good fucking beer. And paying homage to the spice of life: the hop.
A MIX-A-SIX OF IPAs FROM THE WORLD OF HOPTRON
Two Hearted Ale: Bell’s Brewery, Kalamazoo MI
Jai Alai: Cigar City, Tampa FL
Falco: Evil Twin Brewing, Brooklyn NY
Flower Power: Ithaca Brewing, Ithaca NY
Industrial: KelSo Beer, Brooklyn NY
Party Boat: Port Jeff Brewery, Port Jefferson, NY