Geoff Griggs runs his eye over the many colours and styles of modern IPA
There’s little doubt India Pale Ale, or IPA as it’s better known, is the poster child of the craft beer movement. Heck, such is its popularity it’s the only style of beer that’s celebrated with its own special day on the calendar.
Although India Pale Ale first emerged in England in the early 19th century as an evolution of the pale ales of the time designed to be exported to the sub-continent, today most IPAs pay homage to a comparatively modern, American reinvention of the style.
Averaging around six or seven per cent alcohol, modern IPAs are exuberantly hopped to showcase the citrus, tropical fruit and pine resin aromas and flavours of modern American, Australian or New Zealand hop varieties. Epic Armageddon (6.66%) is our most awarded example of the American-hopped version of the style, while 8 Wired Hopwired (7.3%) showcases three Kiwi hops, Southern Cross, Motueka, Nelson Sauvin. Bach Brewing’s Kingtide Pacific IPA (7%) features hops from both countries.
Imperial (or double) IPA takes things to the next level. At eight per cent and up, more alcohol and malt weight allow brewers to balance their beers with even higher levels of hop aroma, flavour and bitterness. In this category beers like Epic Hop Zombie (8.5%) and Liberty C!tra (9%) have attracted an almost cult-like following.
Session IPAs are the opposite. Designed to combine the robust hoppiness of an IPA with the low gravity of a session beer, it’s a very tough style to pull off successfully. Too often these beers end up watery, astringent and unbalanced. That said, 8 Wired Semiconductor (4.4%) and Epic Imp (4.7%) are both worth checking out.
But it doesn’t stop there. These days the IPA category is so popular it has spawned an ever-growing generation of sub-styles. While terms like fruit IPA coffee IPA, rye IPA and wood aged IPA merely indicate the use of a specific ingredient or process, others need more explanation.
Red IPA, for example, is similar to a standard IPA but features a grist that includes some darker caramelised malt, giving the beer a candied sweetness and reddish hue. A couple of my favourite Kiwi examples would be Bach Brewing’s Duskrider (6%) and Hop Federation’s Red IPA (6.4%).
Then there’s Black IPA. Once you’ve got past the seemingly nonsensical concept of having a black ‘pale ale’, you’ll find these similar to standard modern IPAs except in a dark brown to black colour. The aroma and palate are typically hop-accented and may or may not include roasted malt and chocolate notes. Croucher Patriot (5.5%) is a reliable and tasty Kiwi-brewed example of this divisive style whose orange (hop) and chocolate (malt) character often reminds me of Jaffas.
A pair of IPA sub-styles have a distinctly Belgian influence. The term White IPA indicates something akin to a Belgian witbier (such as Hoegaarden) but with elevated levels of hop aroma, flavour and bitterness, while a Belgian-style IPA is similar to a standard IPA, but fermented with Belgian yeast to give the beer an extra layer of fruit and spice notes. The seasonal Moa Festive IPA range often includes a fine Belgian-style IPA.
Brettanomyces or Wild IPA is any IPA (or IPA sub-style) which undergoes primary, secondary or other fermentation with wild yeast, resulting in any combination of tropical fruit, funky, earthy and barnyardy aromas and flavours. Examples are rare, but keep an eye out for 8 Wired’s Wireless IPA (6.5%) on your travels.
The ultimate irony is that, unlike the original IPAs, which were brewed specifically to withstand the long sea voyage to India, age is the enemy of this new breed of IPAs. Regardless of sub-style they should always be consumed as fresh as possible.