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IPA Beer: Learn Everything About India Pale Ales

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IPA Beer

You may have heard a bit about a beer style called IPA, but what exactly is an IPA beer?

First and foremost IPA is an acronym that stands for India Pale Ale or Indian Pale Ale.

As the name suggests IPA’s are ales (you can read more about the difference between ales and lagers here), but they are not beers that are specifically brewed in India. 

However, the history behind the IPA style of beer does have links to India and this is where its naming comes from.

A Brief History of the IPA Beer Style

The story behind the exact birth of the IPA beer style is often debated but this is the one we have been known to share and is the most widely agreed on story within the beer community.

But first there are a few things to become familiar so that this history lesson makes sense, and will assist in truly understanding the story behind IPA's.

Number 1: IPA’s can be considered an offshoot of Pale Ales, which were brewed by the British and were predominantly characterised by the use of a higher proportion of pale malts during the brewing which resulted in a lighter colour. The term "pale ale" first appeared around 1700 for beers made from malts dried with coke, which resulted in a lighter colour than other ales popular at that time.

Number 2: Over the centuries Britain had successfully colonised various parts of the world, including India and Australia.

Number 3: Hops contain Alpha acids which have a mild antibiotic effect, perfect in assisting to naturally preserve beer.

Now for the history part:

The story goes that during Britain’s colonisation of India (around the 1700’s) most of the beer that was being sent over in ships to quench the thirst of the British troops based in India often arrived highly attenuated (thin), sometimes infected and in less than favourable drinking condition. This was a result of the temperature extremes during travel and the rolling of the seas during the long journey from England, around South Africa and up to India.

To combat this, the brewers started to add hops to the casks before they were loaded into the ships. This extra hop addition meant the beers would travel better on their journey but also have a higher hop character due to the prolonged exposure to these hops.

And so was born the India Pale Ale.

Key Characteristics of IPA's

IPA beers are known for two key characteristics.

1. Bigger Hop Aromatics: IPA’s will traditionally have more hop aromatics. Floral, citrus,fruity, piney and earthy aromatics are synonymous with the IPA beer style.

2. Higher Levels of Bitterness: IPA’s can be polarising for some drinkers who are not used to drinking beer with a higher level of bitterness, which most IPA’s have. This bitterness is imparted into the beer through the use of more hops, and hops with higher Alpha acids (the main contributor to bitterness).

How do brewers measure bitterness?

Like with most tastes its all subjective. What might taste extremely spicy to one person, may be very pallatableby another person. Bitterness is no different.

So brewers have developed a scientific scale called International Bitterness Units. Often referred to as IBU's. It uses a formula to calculate the actual bitterness of a beer based on the hops used and their alpha acid content.

The scale is theoretically endless, although most of our senses won't see the difference after 200 IBU's. An average IPA will have approximately 40 - 60 IBU's, with a high level considered around the 100 - 120 mark.

We won't go into much more detail in this post but there is also a metric called 'perceived bitterness'. 

You see brewers have a variety of tricks up there sleeves to brew a beer that has a high theoretic IBU count but drinks very easily due to the way in which the beer has been brewed and the malts that have been used. More on this in another blog post! 

Different Types of IPA's

IPAs from different countries

American IPA: This style of IPA has taken the world by storm. They are more hop-forward, bringing out piney and bitter citrus notes. American IPA’s can be quite resinous. Some hops that are traditionally used in American style IPA’s are Citra, Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Amarillo & Simcoe.

Australian IPA’s: With Australia’s craft beer scene being largely influenced by the American craft beer scene it is not surprising that most Australian styled IPA’s have similar characteristics to American IPA’s. However, many will have additions of Galaxy hops (a hop variety developed in Australia) which give a beer citrus and passionfruit characteristics.

English IPA: This style of IPA tends to have earthy or woody characteristics with a little spice. They have far less hop intensity when compared to American IPA’s and can have more of a malty profile. Some hops that are traditionally used in English style IPAs are Fuggle, Challenger and Goldings.

Double IPAs

Sometimes referred to as Imperial IPAs, double IPA’s take a regular IPA and amplify all the characteristics, with a bigger malt and hop profile.

The alcohol content is also greater with Double IPAs, usually between 8-10%.

Great examples of Double IPAs are Pirate Lifes IIPA and Stone Ruination IIPA

Triple / Quad IPAs

This takes a double IPA to the next level and these are probably the least commercialised types of IPA’s, mostly because of the higher alcohol content.

Triple / Quad IPAs often have an alcohol content of between 10% - 16%.

Session IPA

Session IPA’s are one of the fastest growing sub categories of the IPA beer style. Session IPA’s are more like a mid strength beer with their alcohol strength typically being around 3.5%-4.5%.

A great representation of a session IPA is BrewCult’s HopZone or Two Birds Bantam Session IPA.

Hop Oil IPA

Hop oil IPA’s are very new to the market, with Sierra Nevada releasing their Hop Hunter Hop Oil IPA in 2015.

Hop oil IPA’s are interesting in the sense that they do not use hops in the brew as such, but instead use extracted hop oils during the brewing process.

How to they do this?

During the harvesting season of hops, farmers take to the fields with both a harvester and an oil press. As the hops are freshly picked they are processed through the oil press and the fresh hop oils are extracted.

These hop oils are then stored under cold condition and then used by brewers like Sierra Nevada when brewing beers. One of the main reasons Sierra Nevada uses hop oils is to try and get the freshest characteristics of hops throughout the year, even well after the harvesting season.

Experimental IPA’s

Some IPA’s use experimental hops during the brewing process. 

What are experimental hops I hear you ask?

Hops that have specific names like Galaxy and Citra have been commercialised for years, are very popular and readily available for brewers to use. 

In contrast experimental hops are are just that, experiments.

On average it takes a hop variety 8 - 10 years to become commercialised. This period of time allows hop growers to ensure that the hop variety is sustainable, reproduces the same yield harvest after harvest and is a hop that brewers will want to use.

Experimental IPA's can be interesting as they are often one off beers where a brewer is testing the waters so to speak, with the resulting beer often being quite different to other IPA's on the market.

Continuously Hopped IPAs

Hops are traditionally added at 3 different intervals during the brewing process.

First at the start of the boil, approximately 5-10 minutes in. These hops are the bittering hops.

Second half way through the boil, approximately 30 minutes in. These are the flavouring hops.

And third at the end of the boil or at “flame out”. These are the aromatic hops.

With continuously hopped IPA’s brewers are continuously adding hops at a set interval during the entire boil. This could be every 5 minutes or every minute, what ever the brewer decides to do.

Some very good examples of continuously hopped IPA beers are Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA and their 90 Minute IPA.

Dogfish Head are credited with creating the continuously hopped IPA sub-style and have even invented a hop canon that is used to time the release of hops at regular intervals.

Single Hop IPAs

Brewers sometimes want to highlight a specific hop variety in a beer, so that drinkers can distinctively know what a particular hop tastes and smells like. To do this they release what are called Single Hop IPAs.

With single hop IPA's, brewers will use just one hop variety at all stages of the brewing process. Mikkeller is probably the world’s most famous brewer for releasing Single Hop IPA's, having released over 30 different Single Hop beers.

Single Hop IPA's is a trend that has caught on with the rest of the world, and not only with IPA’s. Some brewers have released Single Hop Pale Ales and Saisons.

Fresh Hop IPA’s

Fresh hopped IPAs (also known as wet hop or green hop IPA’s) are IPA's that are made with hops that have been freshly picked off the bine and which have not been dried or processed before being used in the brewing process.

While hop growers will work to minimise losing some of the hops characteristics during the drying and processing of hops (a necessary process to allow harvested hops to be used at a later date) it is inevitable that some of the hops fresh characteristics will be lost.

As a result, some brewers will brew fresh hop beers to truly showcase a specific hop variety.

Fresh hop releases can be a logistical challenge to co-ordinate between hop growers, brewers, distributors and retailers. They can also only really occur during a hop harvest. As a result there are few fresh hop varieties always available, however, annually the following brewers release fresh hop IPAs / beers

Sierra Nevada: Northern Harvest AleSouthern Harvest Ale and Celebration Ale

Bridge Road Brewers: Harvest Ale (not specifically classified as an IPA, uses experimental hops)

Bridge Road Brewers / Mikkeller: Dark Harvest Ale (classified as a black IPA)

Dry Hopping

Dry hopping is a brewing technique that while not limited specifically to IPA’s, is mostly used when brewing IPA beers.

What is dry hopping?

As previously mentioned, hops are traditionally added in intervals during the boiling process of brewing. With dry hopping, hops are added after this, between fermentation and packaging.

Dry hopping at this stage allow the hops to impart greater hop aromatics in the beer.

The term dry hopping originated centuries ago with British brewers and was used to refer to adding hops to the cask shortly before it was shipped off.

Hops get very wet when they are used in dry hopping, so the name is a little misleading!

Matching an IPA with Food

IPA's can be matched with a variety of food, here are out top suggestions:

Blue Cheese

Match a highly hopped and bitter IPA with some blue cheese. The intense bitterness of the IPA will cut through the intensity of the blue cheese.


Burgers and IPA's are awesome together. Burgers are traditionally salty and somewhat oily, which is perfectly offset by and IPA’s higher resin character assisting to cleans the palate after every sip.

Spicy Food

Whether it be a spicy Mexican dish or Thai takeaway an IPA will be a great compliment to a spicy dish.

IPA Glassware

IPA beers are most typically served in Pint glasses (Nonic pint or Shaker pint).

In recent years, German glassware maker Spiegelau has released a series of different beer glasses designed for specific beer styles.

In 2013 Spiegelau teamed up with American breweries Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada to design a beer glass specifically made for IPA’s.

The result is a beer glass that looks a little like a stemmed tulip beer glass with a wide ‘stem’ that also holds some of the beer. The wide ‘stem’ has ridges in it which assists to agitate the beer with every sip and thereby release more of the beers aromatics and taste.

It's an odd looking glass but tests have shown that it enhances the drinking experience. 

So there you have it, an in depth guide into the history and different styles of IPA's. A beer inspired by the English and now a popular beer style world wide. 

Interesting in tasting some great IPA’s?

Why not either browse all the India Pale Ales we stock (available online or in our Sydney store)

Or buy yourself our IPA mix pack, perfect for sampling different IPA’s from different breweries. The perfect way to get your head, nose and mouth around the IPA beer style!

What's your favourite IPA? Let us know in the comments below.

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