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IPA Beer: Everything You Need To Know About India Pale Ales

1st Jun 2016

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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 specifically brewed in or from India. 

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

A Brief History of the IPA Beer Style

The story behind the exact birth of the IPA beer style is often debated, with one myth common to the styles' origin.

Origin of IPA Beer Myth

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. Great.....except it is wrong.

The True History of the IPA

Beer begun being exported to India as early as 1711. There was not one set style that was exported but rather a wide range including PortersStoutsPale Ales and others.

Pale Ales were one style that was well received amongst those living in India. At some stage the Pale Ale beer bound for India started being marketed as being prepared for export to the Indian market (this was at least 40 years after Pale Ales were first exported). From here it appears the abbreviated name India Pale Ale (IPA) slowly took hold.

Key Characteristics of IPA's

Modern US Style IPAs 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. 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?

Brewers have developed a scientific scale called International Bitterness Units to measure bitterness. 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 120 IBU's. An average IPA will have approximately 40 - 60 IBU's, with a high IBU level around the 100 - 120 mark.

Mikkeller 1000 IBU

Beyond 120 IBU's it is suggested that the rating is merely for marketing purposes. Mikkeller, a crazy Danish gypsy brewer has a Double IPA called 1000 IBU! This did cause some backlash amongst the beer community, with the brewer admitting that the name was indeed a marketing stunt, although it was a beer that did have a very high bitterness count.

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 their sleeves to brew a beer that has a high theoretic IBU count but is easy drinking, due to the way the beer has been brewed and the malts that have been used.

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, bitter and citrus notes. American IPA’s can be quite resinous. Some hops 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 quite similar characteristics to American IPA’s. Many will also have additions of Galaxy hops (a hop variety developed in Australia), which gives the 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 compared to American IPA’s and can have more of a malty profile. Some hops traditionally used in English style IPAs include Fuggle, Challenger and Goldings.

IPAs by style:

Pirate Life IIPA

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 7.5-10%.

A great example of a Double IPA is Pirate Life's IIPA

Triple / Quad IPAs

This takes a Double IPA to the next level and are probably the least commercialised IPAstyle, mostly because of the higher alcohol content.

Triple and Quadruple IPAs typically 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 between 3.5%-5.5%.

New England IPA (NEIPA)

NEIPA's are a style that originated from Vermont, a small state in the New England region of north-eastern United States. They are different from traditional west coast IPA's in that they have very little bitterness and are considered juicy. They are also called hazy IPA's because of their dense, opaque body.

West Coast IPA

West Coast IPA's are known for the bold flavours, bitterness, citrus and piney flavours and aromas. They originated out of the West Coast of America.

Black IPA

Also called Cascadian Dark Ales, Black IPA's use dark malts to give them their 'black' appearance. They differ from the likes of stouts and porters thanks to their use of American hops will strongly contribute to their flavour as well.

Hop Oil IPA

Hop oil IPA’s are were introduced to the market in around 2015, with Sierra Nevada's Hop Hunter Hop Oil IPA being one of the first.

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 used by brewers like Sierra Nevada in the brewing process. 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?

Hops that have specific names like Galaxy and Citra have been commercialised for many years. They are very popular and widely used. 

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.

One brewer well known for its experimental hop beers is Garage Project from New Zealand. They have previously worked with Plant & Food Research New Zealand to create a range of experimental hop beers which they then ask drinkers to provide feedback on, to help assess the commercial potential of the hop.

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.

Dogfish Head

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

For 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, however the brewer decides to do it.

Some very good examples of continuously hopped IPAs 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 release hops at regular intervals.

Single Hop IPAs

Brewers sometimes seek 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 create 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 are 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 hop 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 (normally brewers use hop pellets of dried hops in the brew rather than actual hop flowers).

While hop growers will work to minimise loss of a hops' characteristics during the drying process (a necessary stage to allow harvested hops to be used at a later date), it is inevitable that some of the hop's 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 only really occur during a hop harvest. As a result there are few fresh hop varieties that are available year round. Instead they are a seasonal release during the the hop harvesting season.

Some examples of brewers who release fresh hop beers annually:

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 allows 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 different foods. 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 the IPA’s higher resin character, helping clean 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.

Spiegelau IPA Glass

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 brewery's 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 beer's aromatics which enhance the flavour.

It's an odd looking glass but tests have shown that it improves 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 popular 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)

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