If there is a household craft beer term it is “IPA”. The term has become synonymous with craft beer in the minds of many. In the modern era there is no other beer style that has been as continuously redefined, argued over or just plain reinvented nearly as much. In the US and hence the global craft beer scene, IPA continues to splinter and evolve at breakneck pace.

It is also possible that the majority of people who toss around the term do not realize that “IPA” is shorthand for “India Pale Ale”. Originally a British style, IPA came to be out of the necessity to supply homegrown ales to British troops in India following colonization. Once initial shipments of beer spoiled on the voyage to India, brewers understood empirically that a stronger ale with a higher hop content would be better suited for the long journey. Hence, the India Pale Ale was born.

Fast forward a century or so to the US craft brewer. In the early days of craft brewing during the late 1980s, virtually all craft brewers, then known as “microbrewers,” started off brewing British style ales, mainly Pale Ales. It wasn’t long before IPA entered the picture but not until the late 1990’s did the style became de rigueur. With typically American zeal, US craft brewers took the style and systematically amped it up, adding more and more hops and elevating the alcohol levels in a kind of “space race” with one another. This created a chasm of difference between typical American IPAs and modern British IPAs (themselves subject to considerable reinvention over the years). Thanks in large part to the Internet, the world took notice and thus “American-style” IPA became a much imitated global phenomenon.

The style has split into seemingly endless subsets. Not necessarily in this order, there are British IPAs, West Coast IPAs, Session IPAs, Double IPAs, Triple IPAs, New England-style IPAs, Hazy IPAs, Black IPAs, Juicy IPAs, IPLs, Double Dry Hopped IPAs and most recently the burgeoning “Brut IPA”, among others. The latter, which was influenced in part by extra dry “brut” sparkling wine or “Champagne” as it is more widely known. It is said to be the West Coast’s response to “New England style” IPA but it has very quickly become adopted by brewers across the US and soon worldwide (Shameless plug: you can try our interpretation of this style on tap as Pilot #28 in our tasting room).

With Brut IPAs and hazy “NEIPAs” there has been a seismic shift away from hop bitterness (remember IBUs?) and an emphasis on hop aroma and flavor. Call it the American “Coca Cola” palate but there has been a clear consumer preference for very low bitterness IPAs commonly known as “Juicy IPAs”. In just a few short years emphasis has shifted away from upping the IBUs (International Bitterness Units) to reducing IBUs to threshold levels or lower and “double” even “triple” dry hopping.

Time will tell where we are in another couple years. The last few years have been a particularly wild ride for IPAs so buckle up, the ride is by no means over! Thank you for taking this IPA ride with us and on behalf of myself, and everyone here at Two Roads Brewing Co., we’d like to wish you a Happy National IPA Day!

Phil Markowski
Master Brewer, Two Roads Brewing Co