What is an IPA beer? - Definition, history and origin
Any beer lover is familiar with an IPA beer and has at least once tasted this hoppy beverage. IPA beers have become largely popular and are even many beer lovers' favourite styles. But apart from the delicious taste, how much do you really know about IPA beers? The origin story and definition of IPA beers have become a common party discussion topic. In case you are not familiar with this style of beer, read on and get prepared for the next party.
We will discuss the following topics about IPA beers:
- The definition of IPA beer
- The origin story and history of IPA beer
- Who invented the first IPA beer, and what was it?
- How is IPA beer made?
- Why is IPA Indian?
- Different types of IPA beers
- What is the taste and aroma of an IPA beer?
- IPA beer - the bitterness and IBU
- Is IPA stronger than regular beer?
- Buy some of the best IPA beers online
The definition of IPA beer
IPAs are bitter beers, IPA stands for Indian pale ale, it is the name of a style of beer that dates back to the time of the British colonization of India.
IPA beers are generally pale beers that contain a lot of hops. Indeed, hops bring two essential characteristics to today's beer: bitterness and an aromatic dimension.
Unlike fruit beers, some beers smell like pineapple, pine or peach.
IPA style beers generally have a high IBU rate, which is proportional to the amount of hops used in the brewing process.
Some microbreweries have also made it their DNA to produce almost exclusively Indian pale ale style beers.
The origin story and history of IPA beer
The history of IPA beer goes back centuries, to the time when English colonists in British India imported beer from the country, which then contained a lot of hops in order to preserve the beer during the long journey by ship across the ocean.
Before IPA, there were pale ales, but it was complicated to provide them to the British Empire in the east. It was too hot to brew any beer in India, so the beer needed to be brewed in Britain. But then there was another problem. The long journey could ruin the beer. This led to the invention of heavily hopped beers that were a solution to all those issues.
Who invented the first IPA beer and what was it?
The first strongly hopped beer was made by a brewer called Hodgson. He was the one who thought hop would be the solution to make the beers last the journey from England to India. And, indeed, it worked. His hoppy beer was called October beer.
Brewers started to imitate this style of beer. But with the spreading of the refrigerator, the IPA style of beers was fading away.
It was the Americans who popularized IPA and all other hoppy beers.
Although IPA style beers have been widely popularized from the United States, other regions of the world have now taken over, such as Scandinavia or England.
What a story! A beer invented in England to go all the way to India and then to be popularised in the States to become a hit worldwide.
How is IPA beer made?
Beer has always contained aromatics, mainly for preservation, but it is now a century or two since hops became the main preservative in beer worldwide.
In recent decades, the role of hops has evolved. Today, with the cold chain, the role of hops as a preservative is no longer essential, but they now play the main role in the recipe in terms of their ability to determine the taste of the beer.
When brewing IPA beer, hops are dominant in the process. At the start, hops and malts are boiled together. Then shortly after, several finishing hops are added. Dry hops are added for a hoppy aroma. In addition, multiple hops are added to create different variations of taste and aromas. In the making of IPA, all grains are mashed at a lower temperature to enhance the taste of hops. In the end, the brewing process, when various hops are added during different stages of brewing, is the root of making an IPA beer.
However, there is a difference between bittering hops and aromatic hops.
Regardless of the style of hops, those used at the beginning of the boil will always produce more bitterness than hops used at the end of the boil which will produce more aromatics.
Hops are so characteristic of IPA beers that some beers are named after the hops used. Thus we frequently find Citra, Simcoe or Cascade IPAs.
Why is IPA Indian?
Because IPA stands for Indian Pale Ale, some people think that IPAs come from India. It is not true. The name is only related to the origin story of the British exporting beer to their colonies in India.
Different types of IPA beers
Today the IPA style is subdivided into several sub-styles, the main ones often corresponding to different regions of the United States.
One of the best known styles is the New England IPA, there is also the West-Coast IPA. The double IPA or Imperial IPA styles are simply related to the alcohol content of the beer.
There are also other lesser known Indian pale styles such as black IPA or Brut IPA.
Here’s a comprehensive list of all the different types of IPA beers:
- New England IPA - NEIPA
NEIPA beers are usually not described as bitter, but with juicy happiness, fruity flavours and a creamy mouthfeel.
- West-Coast IPA
This IPA style beer is characterised by high bitterness, citrus and piney notes, and a strong hop aroma.
- East-Coast IPA
Compared to the West-Coast IPA, this style is less bitter, has some tropical notes and is very smooth.
- English IPA
This stronger version of a pale ale is characterised as earthy and floral. The English yeast adds fruitiness to the beer flavour and aroma.
- Belgian IPA
The Belgian IPA was inspired by the American and double style IPAs. Belgian yeast is used to add fruitiness and spiciness to the beer. The colour of Belgian IPA varies from golden to amber.
- Double IPA
Double IPA means a bigger malt and hops profile than the regular IPA. It usually also has a stronger alcohol level. This is due to the more fermentable sugars coming from added malts.
- Triple IPA - TIPA
A Triple IPA, also called a TIPA, gets even stronger than a double IPA. This is all because even more hops and malts are added to the beer.
- Imperial IPA
This is a different name for a double IPA. The two beers are the same, but just some use a different names.
- Session IPA
If you are looking for a lower alcohol content beer, then a session IPA is a good choice. It combines an IPA and a session beer.
- Dry Hopped IPA
A dry-hopped Indian Pale Ale is when hops are used to add a more hoppy aroma to a beer.
- Single Hopped IPA
Normally a range of hops is used to create an IPA beer. Single Hopped IPA is a rather new style when only one hop is used.
- Double Dry-Hopped IPA
A double dry-hopping method means that hops are added post-fermentation on two separate days. This adds more complexity to the beer flavour and aroma.
- Fresh Hopped IPA
For making a fresh-hopped IPA, undried and whole flower hops are used instead of dried or processed hops.
- Hazy IPA
As the name suggests, this relates to the appearance of the beer. A hazy IPA literally has a hazy, cloudy look that you cannot see through the beer.
- Citrus IPA
When making citrus IPA fruit peels, zest or juice are often added to add fresh tastes and aromas.
- Black IPA
The black IPA is a beer dark in colour that has roasted flavours due to the darker malts used.
- Brut IPA
Brut IPA is a new beer in the market that is made by combining champagne with an Indian Pale Ale.
- White IPA
Wheat has been used to brew a white Indian Pale Ale. It is often light in colour and a bit hazy.
- IPA sans alcool
Lastly, you can even find some non-alcoholic Indian Pale Ales in the market. It is perfect for anyone who likes the hoppy tastes but prefers not to get tipsy.
What is the taste and aroma of an IPA beer?
As you can guess, you can taste hops in IPA beers which are combined often with other tastes, like fruity or floral flavours. It also depends on the style of an IPA, but you can find earthy, piney, citrusy, and, of course, bitter notes.
The IPA beers are also very diverse in aromas. But one thing you can count on is hoppy aromas.
Hops are the essential element of IPA style beer. Hops are available in both cone and pellet form. When we talk about a cone, we are talking about the whole flower, while when we talk about a pellet, we are talking about the crushed hop flowers.
IPA beer - the bitterness and IBU
When it comes to IPA beers, you should be also familiar with the abbreviations IBU. IBU stands for International Bittering Units. The IBU reflects the bitterness of the beer. The higher the IBU, the more bitterness you can taste. The average IPA can be between 40 to 60 IBUs. Berliner Weisse, for example, is a beer style with one of the lowest IBU that can go down to 6.
Is IPA stronger than regular beer?
Many people actually ask this question. Especially people new to drinking beer. IPAs are generally not the strongest beers in the world. The winners for that title are mostly stout style beers. Nevertheless, most IPAs do fall between the 5-7% ABV range. It depends on the person what they consider regular beer, but we know that IPAs are generally not very light. 5% is considered the average alcohol level in a beer, and IPAs often reach that or more. Although, there exist alcohol-free IPAs, as mentioned above.
Buy some of the best IPA beers online
After reading all this information about IPA beers, you might be thirsty for an IPA beer. Head to our IPA beer collection above.