IPA Crash Course

January 6,2011 by 16 Comments

It’s hard to argue that there is a more popular craft beer style than the India Pale Ale, or IPA.

You asked for it, so I’m kicking off my beer style crash course videos again. And what better way to start it than with the coolest kid in school.

What does this beer taste like? It’s a bitter beer with a very strong hop flavor. It’s also higher in alcohol content, ranging from 5.5-7.5% for standard IPAs and up to 10% for imperial IPAs.

To better understand this beer which gave birth to the term “hophead”, let’s go into the history.


This is a nugget of history every beer fan should know. In the early 1800’s the British troops in India had trouble attaining beer – a terrible predicament. India was too hot to brew beer and the proper ingredients weren’t available. Beer shipped from England wouldn’t survive the long journey and landed in India spoiled and flat. But you know what they say, necessity is the mother of invention.

Hops are a preservative, and by brewing highly hopped beers the beer would arrive in India unspoiled. Brewers also boosted the alcohol content  to help fight off bacteria. The British troops had their beer, and the demand for these new “India Pale Ales” spread back to England.

When the style came to America, we had to use homegrown ingredients. That meant American hops, which are higher in alpha acids (more bitter) and have intense citrus and pine flavors compared to the more restrained earthy and herbal British hops. American IPAs also tend to use neutral American yeast strains while English yeast strains are known for imparting a fruity character.

The English version is far less common now, especially in its homeland. America really took the style and ran with it. It grew to new heights of bitterness and alcohol and eventually a new sub-style was born, the double or imperial IPA.

Other sub-styles were created as well. Below are some commercial examples of IPAs:

American IPA:

  • Sierra Nevada Torpedo
  • Avery IPA
  • Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA

English IPA:

  • Samuel Smith IPA
  • Left Hand 400 Pound Monkey
  • Goose Island India Pale Ale

Imperial IPA

  • Russian River Pliny the Elder
  • Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA
  • Bell’s Hopslam

Belgian IPA

  • Flying Dog Raging Bitch
  • Terrapin Monk’s Revenge
  • Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel

Black IPA/India Black Ale/Cascadian Dark Ale/Whatever you want to call it

  • Odell Mountain Standard Double Black IPA
  • Victory Yakima Glory
  • 21st Amendment Back in Black IPA

Do check out the video to find out a few things not mentioned in the post. For the foodies, watch my video on what cheese pairs best with an IPA.

Hope you enjoyed this and learn a little something. Let me know if you want to see more of these types of videos.

Talk to you hopheads later.

Hey beer friends, it’s Billy Broas from BillyBrew.com, and you might remember a while back, one of the very first videos that I did was a beer video about the stout beer style. Everything about stouts. So I haven’t done another one of those types of videos since then, but I’ve gotten a few requests, so here it is. I’m going to start it up again, and kick it off with the IPA.

I’m going to dive right into it, because there’s a lot to cover, and by the end you’ll be an IPA expert. So I’m going to go into the background of them, some characteristics about IPAs, some commercial examples, how they’re made, and even some food pairing suggestions.

The history of the IPA—and every beer lover should know this one. It’s also a great story to tell at the bar. So, in the early 1800s, the British troops were stationed in India, and they wanted beer. They couldn’t make the beer in India. It was just too hot, they didn’t have good ingredients, it came out nasty. So they tried shipping the beer from England to India, and that didn’t work out too well. It was flat, it was spoiled, it just wasn’t going to well, and they had to get their beer.

So they had this brilliant idea to load the beer with hops, and hops are a preservative, and also boost the alcohol content to around 7%. So then they even put some hops in the wooden barrels they used to transport it, and lo and behold, it survived the journey, the beer was great on the other end, and it turned into a whole beer style that they loved there in India, and then also back home in England.

So then the IPA came to America, and they were actually brewing it in the late 1800s in America. It died out around Prohibition, along with every other good beer style, and then had a resurgence in the 1980s, and now they’re making it with American ingredients, not these English ingredients, so American hops, which are a lot more aggressive, more bitter, more citrusy and piney compared to the more earthy and herbal English hops. So it became this whole new style of an American IPA, which is like an English IPA but they really upped the ante on the hops.

So, some more facts about IPAs. They’re typically 5.5% to 7.5% alcohol content. The English varieties are on the lower end of that, the American varieties are on the higher end and even above that. Typically 40 to 70 IBUs or International Bittering Units, and again, the American varieties are usually on the higher end of that. And then there’s even the Imperial, or the Double IPA, they’re the same thing, and those are in the 7.5% to 10% alcohol range or above, and they get as high as 100 IBUs.

So, what do they taste like? Well, the American varieties are more piney, more citrusy due to the hops. They’re a little bit cleaner, a little bit drier, where as the English varieties are more rounded. They have a bigger body, more malt flavor to them, a little more balanced, and they have more yeast flavor, and they get some more fruity esters from the yeast, whereas in the American varieties, the yeast is pretty neutral.

So I want to talk a little bit about how these beers are brewed, because even if you’re not a home brewer, I think as a beer fan you should still understand this stuff. So typically use 80% – 90% of your base malt as a barley malt, usually two-row barley or pale malt. Then you might use some Vienna or Munich malt to provide some body and sweetness and color to the beer, and then the rest is usually a crystal malt. So maybe crystal 40 or crystal 60 to provide a little more flavor. But it’s a pretty straightforward grain build.

But it’s not about the malt, is it? It’s about the hops. You can really use tons of varieties of hops to make IPAs. But what they usually have in common is that they’re higher in bitterness, or higher in alpha acid content.

So you have your west coast sea hops like Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Columbus. You have other bittering hops like Nugget or Warrior, and then you have some like Cimco and Amarillo that go great together. So really, the sky’s the limit, but you want to make sure that you get your IBUs, your bittering units, put there to make sure it’s an IPA, and not a pale ale.

Okay, so on to some different types of IPAs and commercial examples. Let’s start with the one I’m drinking right now, Sierra Nevada Torpedo. So a 7.2% American IPA, 65 IBUs, really great citrus flavor, and typical west coast IPA, and some great tropical fruit flavors from the citra-hops that they use in this.

So then we have the double IPAs or Imperial IPAs, and you guys might recognize this one, it is Pliny the Elder, and I’m pretty happy to have it in my hand right now. It’s probably the most famous IPA there is, and the most highly rated. It’s by Russian River Brewery, it’s 8% alcohol, it is 100 IBUs, so it’s a hop bomb. But it’s amazingly smooth, and it’s just really resiny and oily, great fresh hop flavors, citrusy and piney, a little bit of sweetness. But it’s really crisp and easy-drinking, a remarkable double IPA.

So then we have the black IPA, and this is Odell’s Mountain Standard Double Black IPA. I hesitate to call it that, because there’s a lot of controversy about what you call these beers, and it’s a relatively new IPA style that’s really gaining in popularity. But they really can’t agree. Some call it an India Black Ale, some call it a Black IPA, some call it a Cascadian Dark Ale. I don’t really care what you call it. I call it a Black IPA. All I know is that it tastes good, they use more roasted malts, and it’s really just a black ale that is highly hopped, and this one is fantastic.

Another type of IPA that I don’t have right now is the Belgian IPA, and I love these beers. The difference is they use Belgian yeast. So usually you use a fairly neutral, like American ale yeast. In these they use a Belgian yeast, and Belgian yeasts have a lot of flavor to them. Sort of medicinal, Phenolic flavors and a couple great examples of these are Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch, and Terrapin’s Monk’s Revenge. Excellent beers.

Let’s talk about food real quick. There’s a lot I can do with IPAs and food. One thing I like to do is use it with Mexican food. I think the citrus flavors, the lime and lemon, and cilantro of Mexican food is great at really drawing out the citrus flavors in the IPAs. You could also use the bitterness to stand up to some really big meats and cut through fat, so you can drink an IPA with some prime rib, or a big steak. That would go really well together.
IPAs and cheese are great together. Check out my video on that. But, to sum it up, my favorite IPA/cheese pairing is blue cheese.

So that’s the IPA beer style. Hope I didn’t go too fast; I really didn’t want to bore you. There’s a lot more to these beers, and it’s really worth it to take a lifetime to explore them. At least I think so. So thanks for watching. Let me know if you have any questions down in the comments.
I’m Billy Broas, from BillyBrew.com, and cheers!

About Billy Broas

He is the founder of The Homebrew Academy, a BJCP beer judge, and the homebrewing expert on the Rocky Mountain PBS television show Colorado Brews. He lives in the fine beer town of Denver, Colorado.

16 responses to “IPA Crash Course”

  1. Jimmie the Mum says:

    Another excellent educational video. Billy, you should post this video and others on our cigar forum.

  2. Sheppy says:

    Well done video and writeup. I would assume that your blog audience would already know everything you covered here, but maybe I’m wrong about that. Either way, it is still good information. Excellent job.

  3. Jorge says:

    Great video…

    I’ve also heard a variation of the story that trade ships loaded with spices and silks were going to England, and since India didn’t “need” anything coming from England, the ships were returning empty…

    Because of this freight rates from England to India were low, and the Bow Brewery in East London took advantage of this to start exporting their beer to India…

    Regardless… beer was going to India and it’s one of the best styles ever created…

  4. Alex says:

    Another great video! Wish I had seen this a few days ago. One of my roommates from California brought a Pliny the Elder back to DC for me and I wasn’t sure what to pair with it! This video would have been perfect! Went with a steak so at least I was on par. Thanks again for the great post!

  5. Ryan Conklin says:

    Great info on pales, the food pairings and history of this style with some great informational nuggets peppered throughout, served as a great last minute refresher for my cicerone test tomorrow. Looking forward to sitting, drinking and chatting beer and beer culture. Keep up the good work, hopefully next time will gather, it will be to celebrate.


  6. Billy Broas says:

    @Jimmie Why thank you. I’ll share it over there with the stogie guys.

    @Sheppy I’m sure many of my readers and the more frequent commentors know this stuff but I hear from a lot of beginners behind the scenes that are trying to get the basics. Considering 90% of people still don’t drink craft beer it will be useful for them when the leave the dark side. Thanks for the comment!

    @Jorge Ah hadn’t heard that story yet. Definitely interesting and thanks for sharing. I would kill to try one of those original IPAs.

    @Alex Yea I love a big IPA with a steak. It’s more of a contrast than a compliment like a roasty stout would be, but I think it’s refreshing. You have a good friend bringing you Pliny! What I love about this beer is that it’s so good and only $5. Glad you liked the post!

    @Ryan That’s right the big cicerone test is tomorrow! Hope I gave you the final push you need. Good luck buddy. I’m sure I’ll see you soon and we’ll be celebrating.

  7. Andy says:

    Hi Billy,

    Very nice educational bit–as expected. While I’m not an IPA lover at all (being 100% malthead, not hophead), you’re doing things right to enlighten us all. You know me: I’d love one on Scotch (or at least Scottish–you surely get the difference) ales, though I’ve read as much as anyone on them. Maybe one on English barley wines (Hardy’s, Lees Harvest Ale, Skullsplitter, et al.)?

    Cheers, keep it up, and happy new year to ya.

  8. Billy Broas says:

    Thanks Andy. A few people have asked about seeing a video on Scotch/Scottish ales so that will be the next one. I’m going to try to do one of these per month. I also love English Barleywines and would love an excuse to stock up on those. Not sure if you’re on the beer bucket list newsletter but the one I sent out today is actually one of the ones you listed. Thanks for the ideas. Cheers!

  9. Hi Billy,
    I just picked up an Odell Mountain Standard Double Black IPA and am looking forward to reviewing it. Odell is putting out some good beers (still looking for the Avant Peche). Another nice episode!

  10. Billy Broas says:

    Thanks Dale glad you liked it! I was really impressed with this beer at the beer bloggers conference and had to try it again. It’s still in my fridge, but maybe tonight? They really do put out some great stuff. Avant Peche is something I’d love to try too. Thanks for the comment!

  11. Julia Herz says:

    Billy thanks for taking the time to put this together. Great quick hit and comparison of the IPA styles! I’ll search for the stout video you mentioned too. Cheers.

    • Billy Broas says:

      Thanks Julia. Hopefully it’s a good balance of information and brevity. In fact it’s about time I break out the video camera again for one of these.

  12. Jimmie the Mum says:

    Anyone going to the Dogfish Head Brewery tour on Nov 12th in Reoboth Beach.?

  13. Jimmie the Mum says:

    This will be a game time decision for me.

  14. Josh says:

    Great video! I’m on a mission to learn everything there is about IPA’s and this is the best find so far. I’ve heard white IPA’s are gaining in popularity. What make a white?

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