Monday 15 August 2011

Why PA?

I'm a bit late for International IPA day. Which is perhaps just as well, as you'll be hearing no fawning words from me. No praise of hop showcasing or other such drivel.

I'll get this out of the way first. I almost never drink IPA. I quite like a decent Pale Ale - Harveys Sussex Best springs to mind - but the IPA bug has not stuck its fangs in me yet. I doubt it ever will. I don't like grapefruit, either in fruit, juice or hop form. And as for a beer that keeps whallopping me over the head to get my attention, no thank you. I prefer more polite beers.

But I won't be discussing my own personal preferences. Because, let's be honest, no-one really gives a shit about the likes and dislikes of others. Not unless they're married to them and want to stay that way. (The one thing that more than 20 years of marriage have taught me.)

No, I'm interested in a phenomenon. IPA inflation. Because it tells us something about styles. How they grow, develop and mutate. That I find fascinating.

In the beginning Hodgson created IPA (well, not really, but you'll allow me a little poetic licence, I hope). Pale, hoppy, you know the score. Sent initially to India, later guzzled back in blighty, too. Lacking style guidelines to guide them, Victorian brewers soon started confusing things. Sometimes they'd call a beer IPA, others Pale Ale. When a brewer made beers called both, the IPA might be the stronger, or it might be the PA. Like I said, there were no rules.

Finding the full-on hops and 6% ABV a bit much, some drinkers wanted something less challenging. A nice, light beer to help wash down their supper. An gaggle of beers arrived to fill the hole: Dinner Ale, Light Bitter, AK. Despite being quite different from the original IPA, these beers were still considered to belong to the Pale Ale family. (Family Ale, that's another one. One of my favourite beer names, in fact.) Quite distinct from IPA, yet they probably wouldn't have existed without it. The salt cellar of IPA dropped into the soup of 19th century brewing splashed many ties. The dry cleaning bills must have been enormous.

While Burton brewers remained faithful to the IPA they had married as teenagers, those elsewhere were more promiscuous. They brewed beers called IPA that were more in the Light Bitter vein. There not being any rules, no-one wagged any fingers and uttered the dread words "not true to style". Drinkers really didn't care about such ant shagging and got on with drinking the beers they liked, no matter what label the brewer had stuck on.

(Mmm. That introduction was longer than anticipated. never mind. Feel free to skip bits.)

Let's fastforward to the late 20th century. (Please let me know if any of this is wrong. American beer history isn't my area of expertise.) An early hit in the nascent microbrewing scene in the USA is Anchor Liberty Ale. Not actually called an IPA, but it inspires a string of hop-dominated beers that do. Soon IPA is the crafty drinkers fave.

Success breeds imitation. Everyone wants to share the IPA buzz. And those three letters help sell a beer. No wonder then, that it's not long before beers quite different from the original American IPA acquire them. Suddenly IPA has a whole family of prefixes. And the IPA family has filled its apartment and started looking for a nice big house in the suburbs. But some of the kids don't look much like their father. Are there cuckoos in the nest?

Let's do a roll-call and find out.

Double IPA
Imperial IPA
Black IPA
Belgian IPA
German IPA
Wheat IPA
Triple IPA

These beers could easily be classified in other styles. Double IPA - Strong Ale; Black IPA - Stout; Belgian IPA - Tripel; German IPA - Alt; Wheat IPA - Weizen Bock; Imperial/Triple IPA - Barley Wine. Why weren't they?

Because the name IPA sells. Call your beer Belgian IPA and it'll sell better than if you call it Tripel.

I don't expect IPA inflation to end soon. The whole IPA as favourite thing has to run its course. But when, inevitably, IPA falls out of favour, as all beer styles do, see what will happen. How quickly brewers drop the IPA suffix once it becomes a liabilty rather than an asset.

Here's an example. Many British Milds no longer have the word Mild in their name. Because they sell more that way. Mild conjours up images of old men, flat caps and whippets. Things no 20 year old (other than my younger self) wants to be associated with. The same will happen to IPA. It's a generational thing. No-one wants to listen to the same music as their father and grandfather. Nor wear the same clothes. Nor drink the same beer.

IPA should enjoy its time in the sun. The holiday won't last forever.


Neil, Eating isn't Cheating said...

Black IPA is definately more like Porter than stout. i.e. lighter bodied. A hoppy porter, and not so hoppy black IPA, quite often taste pretty similar.

(Yes I know stout IS a type of porter)

JessKidden said...

I'd say you basically got it right, tho' I'd disagree a bit with the "soon" of "Soon IPA is the crafty drinkers fave."

Given the "craft era" in the US is only about 35-40 years old, it took awhile for the IPA explosion and hop mania to hit. Anchor's Liberty Ale hit the shelves in 1975 but it was still a very local product into the early '80's (CA and the West Coast with only a few markets in the mid-West and East Coast). Maytag claims he wasn't thinking specifically of IPA when he created LA. It did probably help inspire the equally hoppy but "not-labeled-an-IPA", Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

It wouldn't until 1983 with Bert Grant's IPA that the first craft-era US "India Pale Ale" came along. By then, only Falstaff's dumbed-down version of Ballantine India Pale Ale was left from the dozen or so post-Repeal US IPA's (I keep meaning to make a list).

And it took a while after Grant's for more IPA's to routinelyshow up in many brewers'line-up, and then for the IPA arms race of ever-increasing ABV and IBU's to really hit it's stride in the US.

I'd put it around the mid-late 1990's, but that's mostly based on my memories rather than hard stats. In the Northeast, tho' not the first craft IPA, HopDevil from Victory is notable as becoming that brewery's flagship, much to the surprise of even the brewer (which started as a German-influenced company).

Out west, Vinnie Cilurzo of Blind Pig>Russian River is usually credited (blamed?) for the "Double IPA" in 1994.

Still, it's only in the last few years that IPA's have come to account for more than a single digit percentage of the general "craft beer segment" of the US market. It's now put at around 12%, still smaller than "Pale Ale" and the catch-all "Seasonal" segments.

And that's 12% of the 5% craft share of the US market. So, it's one of those styles that is talked about amoung the geekery much more than consumed by the general public.

Gary Gillman said...

I'd largely agree with this take except that you have assumed IPA, for the purpose of IPA day, meant the American type inaugurated (apparently) by Anchor's Liberty Ale. I would not assume that, since numerous IPAs, even if called bitter or pale ale, are still made in the English style. They can offer quite a bit of taste and bitterness but in a different way to American Pale Ale (APA) of which IPA is just another name in my view. It may well be that IPA day was intended to celebrate the new American model, but if so the name of the day should have been more specific.

I agree basically with Jess's comments but would make the point that early American craft pale ales such as Boulder Pale Ale, or Anderson Valley's pale beers, say, were similar Grant's IPA - not exactly the same in taste or hop level but in overall style. A couple of early American pale ales tended to the English model (e.g. Newman's Pale Ale) but most tasted pretty much like APA/IPA does today.

I think we do need to come back to Liberty Ale as the avatar, whatever the intentions were behind the brand. I would assume northern CA homebrewers were brewing English-style pale ales from the late 1960's and this influenced the early craft brewers in the area. Still, writers should look at this area: as far as I know, one of the greatest styles of beer today (however one views it personally), American Pale Ale, has origins which are largely unexplored.


beer guru, jr. said...

as an american, i look forward to the sunset of "IPA" as a dominant craft beer "style". i too am tired of grapefruit, pine resin, jemson weed, and marijuana in my beer.

well maybe not the marijuana....

Gary Gillman said...

Below is a description, from the well-regarded Anderson Valley Brewing (founded 1987), of the attributes of its Hop Ottin IPA. I believe Hop Ottin first came out around 1990, certainly after Bert Grant's IPA Jess mentioned. But again as one can see from the description, the taste profile is similar, at least in my estimation, to what Liberty Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and some other U.S. pale ales were like which came before.

It should be said though the AIPAS were generally stronger than the APAs and with a higher IBU count (60-100 from what I've read), but at the core of it I'd argue they are a sub-set of APA.

I like the style - AIPA or APA, to me they are basically the same - ice-cold, and not usually in cask form. I like them occasionally, as a change from English-style pale ale or other beers. They can taste great on a hot day, and so suit their region of origin just as pale ale in the English way suits England.


Dan said...

There is not much to disagree with in this post, so forgive for fingering what I see as the one protruding nail. The centrality of IPA to the North American beer scene — where IPADay was born and where the vast majority of the energy behind its celebration spews from) — should not be considered an inflationary fad, due to billow and collapse like the head on a too-hastily poured saison. Browsing forums and BeerAdvocate and reading the blogs of the so-called "craft beer evangelicals" will demonstrate that IPA is practically deified as the spiritual epitome of North American beer. What you must remember is that the North American beer industry — like its politics — has defined itself on its willingness to exaggerate and "liberate" the old European ways. Bigger, less-compromising, striking IPAs are totemic of this, and play the part of cask bitter in the UK in terms of identification. While inflation exists and may waver (in terms of hype but also recipes) — I will wager that IPA remains a focal style for the duration of the current "craft beer movement".

Can't say I think it's a completely good thing, but as a Brit living over here this is my honest impression.

Craig said...

I just wrote about the "Black" IPA phenomenon. Allow me to reiterate that: "Black" India "Pale" Ale.

The captcha has it right "honestro"

Flagon of Ale said...

There you go Ron, Porters are "lighter bodied" than stouts. You must have missed that attribute of them.

I think the one thing people tend to gloss over when talking about the IPA bubble in America is that it was partially (or maybe largely) fueled by the creation of new hop varieties. Prototypical American hop varieties 1) lent themselves to be used in huge amounts without as much harshness as previous hops and 2) it allowed brewers to perpetually come out with IPAs that have slightly different nuances as new varieties were created every few years or so. It's actually a bit like car makers (this one has a radio, THIS one has a digital radio, THIS one has two radios! etc) and likewise the bottom will probably fall out. However this era in beer drinking is also somewhat different in that niches in the beer industry can exist almost independantly. In fact, based on volumes alone, if someone like yourself were looking back at American brewing logs etc they might not even notice that people were drinking IPA at all in 2011.

Anonymous said...


I Prise said...

At the Brewdog shareholder brewday when we made a black IPA, Martin explained that the difference between our beer and a stout. We used a de-husked roasted malt to give the black colour. When brewing a stout the husk is left on and imparts some bitterness.
Your article may have a bit of a point, but as you say you don't even drink IPA, I think you are critisizing for the sake of it. Does it really matter what a beer is called, as long as the name gives the consumer some idea of it's style and it tastes good.

Ron Pattinson said...

I Prise, you've missed my point entirely. I wasn't criticising, only commenting. I'm fascinated by the way names come in and out of fashion.

Ron Pattinson said...

Jesskidden, thanks for the explanation and details. I didn't realise how small a sharet of the market IPA has. Based on the selection in pubs I've been visited in the USA, I'd the impression it was much greater.

Talking of Ballantine, I've just found another couple of analyses of their beers in the Whitbread Gravity Book. Along with ones from Burke, Dawes, Feigenspan, Foxhead, Frontenac, Hoffman and McSorley. What immediately struck me was how much stronger they all were than British beers. I guess some things never change.

Gary Gillman said...

I found online Lew Bryson's 2000 interview of Fritz Maytag where he talks a bit about the inspiration behind his Liberty Ale. He wanted to make an all-malt beer, finding British cask beers whch used sugar wanting in this respect. He wanted an emphatic dry hop accent, stronger than he found in the English beers where he found the dry-hopping almost "token" (he had been over on a recent visit looking at ale brewing methods).

He tried different hops including some imported, but doesn't elaborate on why Cascades were selected, other than to say he wanted to make an "extreme" taste by the standards of the day. (Interesting early use of the term). He states IPA wasn't a specific inspiration but agrees it applies to what he created. He makes no reference to homebrewing practices current in CA at the time.

I agree on the spirituality of IPA to U.S. craft brewing, Canadian too although in Canada, a strain of it has stayed on the British side of the pale ale/APA divide. You don't need big numbers for something that has acquired a mythic presence.

It all comes from a blending of English and American brewing traditions. It wasn't just Ballantine IPA but Ballantine XXX which arguably had a say in how APA ultimately came out. To this day, Ballantine XXX, still made, tastes like a milder APA, the Cascades it uses are quite evident. Ballantine made other beers back in the 70's and 80's which used various American hops to offer a signature taste. (Yes, there is some argument whether the XXX changed its taste since the early 70's, see the discussion referenced here:

Also, and I've made this point before, Michael Jackson wrote about pale ale and IPA in a way to make them fascinating to the first brewers in the modern craft era. Sometimes, as with Fritz Maytag, the influence of a person can be huge.


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, insisting on brewing all malt is just snobbery.

Gary Gillman said...

Well, I know you feel about it, Ron. It is interesting to read Maytag's remarks on English cask beers in the 1970's. He found them almost light in character, as a result of using adjunct, he felt. He knew sugar's use did not go back (legally) to before about 1848 - he cites that year - so he did have some historical knowledge about it.

It is difficult to know what he tasted exactly on his circa-1973 trip to England. It sounds like some of it might have been fairly low gravity and maybe some were milds.

Given that the mass of U.S. beers at the time had far less character than any English cask beer - even his own steam beer is not a highly characterful beer I would argue - it is surprising to me that he found English real ales something that could stand improvement. Perhaps more information will emerge in time on these subjects...


Gary Gillman said...

Ron, you once commented that research in malts and malting might prove as revealing as research in brewing and its methods. I believe the same is true, in the U.S. at least, in terms of hops. This brief summary of some of the hops used by craft brewers shows that many, perhaps most, were developed only in the last 40 years.

Cascade was released only in 1972. Centennial, Simcoe, Wilamette, Citra (hot currently), Amarillo (ditto) were only developed in this four-decade period, some quite recently.

I suspect Anchor chose Cascade for Liberty Ale because it was a new, therefore resistant variety, a good flavouring hop, and probably less costly and more available than European flavouring varieties then available. I would suspect although I can't be sure that its specific differences from Goldings in England, say, were not carefully noted or were regarded as secondary, but I could be wrong.

A number of beers in the 1970's including Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve (an early super-premium beer from an old-line brewery) used Cascade, so it was "in the air". But as far as I know, Liberty Ale came before Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve. It did not come before Ballantine XXX, but I am not sure the latter was using Cascade in 1974, a variety which was virtually new on the market.

To be sure, the hops mentioned in the link above have different flavours. Some notably have a pine-like flavour, especially Simcoe. But I would suggest they all share broadly a "house" characteristic, the product of being grown in the same soils in the same region in the U.S. Even Amarillo, reminds me of Cascade albeit more nuanced and orangey I would say.


Flagon of Ale said...

That last comment seems terribly ironic, Ron. You write off entire segments of beer-flavors and brewing styles yet a personal choice to make an all-malt beer is snobbery? It might be snobbery if he had said that beers made with sugar were inferior, but he didn't.

Ron Pattinson said...

Flagon of Ale,

"You write off entire segments of beer-flavors and brewing styles"

Er, don't remember doing that. I said certain flavours weren't my favourite. Didn't say they were bad.

I don't like grapefruit, never have.

I don't like mustard and I don't like avocado.

I don't like peanut sauce.

I didn't write off beer styles. I was making an observation on the naming of beers.

RudeBoyBrewing said...

I love the point you make about beer styles being generational. Baggy jeans and big shoes have been replaced by skinny jeans and skinny shoes. The same will happen with beer. I bet the next generation of american craft beer drinkers latches onto something "organic". Its amazing how different the latest generation of young adults differs from my own.

Personally I am annoyed by the abundance of IPA's in every single bar holding itself out to be a beer bar. The taps are dominated by them. The general beer drinking public also identifies "craft" beer as IPA. Its all they know, because its all that newspapers, tv shows, and other mainstream media ever notices.

I like great IPA's occasionaly. But I'd like to see a bar with 50 beers have 50 different styles. Not 25 light lagers and 25 IPA's.

American citrus hop beers are also so popular due to the vast difference in flavor from our standard light lagers. They have zero in common. That gives the contrarian something to latch onto. "This beer doesn't taste anything like a Bud, that means it MUST be good."

Opinions are like math degrees. Everybody's got one.

Ron, I'd love to see a recipe for the champion beer of britain. I love mild and it is IMPOSSIBLE to find in the US.


Flagon of Ale said...

Fair point Ron, I guess I also made assumptions about what you were saying.

Obviously good beer can be made with all-malt or with sugar or with American hops. I don't think ingredients should get the blame for their misuse.

Adrian Avgerinos said...

"I don't think ingredients should get the blame for their misuse."

Agreed. If mid to late 20th century British beer was crappy it wasn't due to the use of sugar.

Jason Harris said...

Double IPA - Strong Ale; Black IPA - Stout; Belgian IPA - Tripel; German IPA - Alt; Wheat IPA - Weizen Bock; Imperial/Triple IPA - Barley Wine. Why weren't they?

Because while they may be technically accurate, the entire point of styles is to give someone who is unfamiliar with the beer an idea of what the liquid in the bottle tastes like.

Taste a popular beer of any of the styles you listed next to a popular beer from any of the "Why not call it this?" styles and you'll realize they taste very, very, different.

Depending on how much you want to just overlook, you could start mashing all sorts of styles together. But pretending a black IPA should just be called a stout....sure, you could do that, but it doesn't TASTE like a stout. It may share a color and some flavor, but the overall profile is madly different.

Some people when I talk to them about beer ask me if I like light beer, or dark beer. To them, those are the only categories. As one looks more into the vast variety of beers out there, it's handy to have categories to help define new things. But just lumping Belgian IPA with a Tripel, despite them tasting massively different, doesn't make much sense. Why would you want to be deliberately inaccurate? What's the problem with using more specific terms to describe beers?

IPA has come to define a particularly hoppy, aromatic, bitter flavored beer. It's a popular enough category that is has sub categories. We could complain that a Dry Stout, Oatmeal Stout, Sweet Stout, Imperial Russian Stout, Porter, Baltic Porter, Robust Porter, Brown Porter are all extraneous and just for marketing....but nobody seems to do that.

Ron Pattinson said...

Jason Harris, you've missed my point entirely. Which was why is specifically IPA used in the names of these styles? There are other words which could have been used to describe them, but IPA was chosen.

And as for Black IPA being nothing like a Porter or Stout: many who've drunk Pretty Things EIP think it tastes like a Black IPA.

Ron Pattinson said...

Oh, and Robust Porter is the most ludicrous made-up construct. Anyone who calls a beer Robust Porter needs good slap around the head with my book "Porter!".

Anonymous said...

I love grapefruit, in all forms, and I love drinking well-made American IPAs. I did not fall in love at my first taste, any more than I loved spicy Mexican food, or Cantillon Gueuze, the first time I had them. But with each bottle more of that initial shock wore off and what remains, for me, is appealing. Certainly this is not so for everyone.

It's easy to spot excess in the American craft beer scene, especially the internet version as opposed to what's really on the street. But foreign critiques, informed too much by ratebeer, often miss some key points:

- IPA is by no means the dominant category (and sales of extreme beers are downright miniscule).

- Ratebeer is very far outside the mainstream of American craft beer drinkers. If you think that statement goes too far, compare membership to American craft beer volume and see what fraction they can drink, or read reviews of the best-selling U.S. craft beers (say Fat Tire or Sam Adams).

To some, International Beer Geekery based in America appears as a powerful threat to traditional beer cultures in Europe. But call me when any brand with 60 IBU outsells even Tripel Karmeliet in Belgium--I'm not holding my breath.

Sorry--some of these points have little to do with Ron's post.

Jason Harris said...

Which was why is specifically IPA used in the names of these styles?

Most likely because their brewers consider them a ____ Variant of an IPA. This beer is similar to an IPA, but with a Belgian Twist, etc. I'm all for suggestions of more appropriate names for certain beer styles, but just cramming them into other (older, so apparently OK) styles that they don't fit into to take the three letters "IPA" out of the name serves only to inaccurately describe the beer and confuse the buyer.

Again, this seems like saying instead of having a Dry Stout and an Sweet Stout, we should either make up new names without the term stout, or shove them into another style that is decreed more suitable.

Ron Pattinson said...

Jason Harris, you're still completely ignoring the point I was making. Try reading the introductory paragraphs.

Nowhere do I say they shouldn't use IPA in these style names. Just making the observation that while there were other alternatives, IPA was chosen.

Derek Hyde said...

Dan said it well:

"IPA is practically defined as the spiritual epitome of North American beer. What you must remember is that the North American beer industry — like its politics — has defined itself on its willingness to exaggerate and "liberate" the old European ways."

But although it has a strong American backbone, it is also a bit trendy right now as well.

Some people think that sours may be the next fad:

But the hops in a (North) American Pale Ale and IPA are perhaps the only 'terroir' we've got, and I think it'll continue to lead/define the craft beer segment in the new world.

Additionally, there's probaby more beer drinkers that have an aversion to sourness than bitterness.

Personally, I think we're lucky to see such a diversity of styles.

Think global, drink local.

PS - I REALLY hate the BJCP Robust Porter category!