Last modified: Thursday, May 22, 2014
Not long ago the American India Pale Ale (IPA) laid claim to the title as most popular style of craft beer here in the US — and there are a ton of great examples here in the Valley. Nowadays, this hop-forward brew has become a standard offering by most craft breweries and for many it’s the style of their flagship beer.

If you’re a fan of IPAs you’ve likely read a bit about the style’s history on a label or two. Here’s a quick refresher:

The style has its origins with the British who were shipping aggressively hopped ales around Africa to India in the early 1800s. The added hops kept the beer from spoiling and over time a taste developed for the bitter brew. Much has changed since those first barrels of IPA went around Cape Horn; in fact, the IPA family has grown quite a bit and the history of the style continues to be rewritten.

The American IPA, one of over 140 styles of beer recognized by the Brewers Association, could be considered the rowdier, more obnoxious, version of its cousin the English IPA – in a good way of course. The main difference between the two is the types of hops used in the brewing process. That citrusy, grapefruit-y, piney, resin-y aroma and flavor a good many of us love about our American IPAs comes as a result of newer hop varieties such as Citra, Columbus, Cascade, Simcoe and others that are primarily grown in the Pacific Northwest. English IPAs on the other hand offer a more balanced, less intense hop profile that is more earthy and floral and features hops such as Fuggles and East Kent Goldings, which were historically grown in England. Craft beer’s rise in popularity has also led American brewers to do what they do best, experiment. This experimentation has led to quite a few new styles of IPAs on shelves these days.

Of course there’s the big, brash Double or even Triple IPAs with ABV’s hovering around 10 percent and IBUs over 100. But there are also a number of hybrid IPAs that are slowly becoming styles of their own. I’m talking about Belgian IPAs, White IPAs, Black IPAs, Rye IPAs, Session IPAs, and even India Pale Lagers. All of which are examples of styles that came about as a result of brewer ingenuity.

Here’s a quick breakdown and some examples to look for next time you’re shopping for beer:

Belgian IPAs

These are similar in profile to American IPAs but feature a Belgian yeast strain that give the beer a bit of a unique, spicy twist.

Check out: Flying Dog Brewery’s Raging Bitch. Clown Shoes’ Tramp Stamp, Cambridge Brewing Company’s The Audacity of Hops

White IPAs

A cross between the refreshing Belgian witbier style with the addition of juicy, citrus-y American hops. A great summer beer!

Check out: Brewmaster Jack’s HBC 342, Harpoon Brewery’s The Long Thaw, Blue Point’s White IPA

Black IPAs

Officially known as American Black Ales, these are bold hoppy brews that feature American hops and rich, dark roasted malts. This combination gives the beer a nice roasty backbone to go with those citrusy hop flavors. The first example was brewed by Greg Noonan of Vermont Pub and Brewery in Burlington.

Check out: Smuttynose’s Noonan Black IPA, Amherst Brewing’s Black Dog IPA, 21st Amendment’s Back in Black

Rye IPAs

American IPAs brewed with a generous portion of rye malt to give the beer a dry, spicy finish.

Check out: Bear Republic’s Hop Rod Rye, Firestone Walker’s Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA, Harpoon’s Rye IPA

Session IPAs

A style that is rapidly growing in popularity, Session IPAs are American IPAs that are lower in alcohol (normally below 4.5%) but still feature a heavy dose of hop aroma and flavor.

Check out: Sierra Nevada’s Nooner IPA, Founders Brewing’s All Day IPA, and Notch Brewing’s Left of the Dial

India Pale Lagers

This is perhaps one of the newest styles to start gaining popularity with craft brewers. The IPL is a combination of a crisp, dry, pale lager with the aggressive hop profile of an American IPA.

Check out: Jack’s Abbey’s Hoponius Union, Kiwi Rising and Mass Rising, Sam Adams Double Agent IPL

So, whether you’re a full-fledged hophead or a hop novice there’s bound to be an IPA for you! Cheers!