A Bold Summer Choice
By Kevin J. Gray
While some beer drinkers settle into wheat beers, pilsners and similar lighter fare for the summer, others go big and bold, looking for beers with a generous malt flavor and an even larger hop profile. Enter the IPA, or India Pale Ale. Brewing lore traces the history of this beer back to British colonial days. In the 1700s, British troops were stationed in India and hankered for a pint of familiar ale. English brewers obliged, making amped up versions of pale ales. These beers were higher in alcohol than traditional beers and also had a much more aggressive hop presence. Both the alcohol and the hops acted as preservatives, helping the beer survive the long, arduous journey by sea. According to BeerAdvocate.com, the beers were watered down upon arrival for the British troops, but officers and other VIPs would enjoy the full-strength brew.
Eventually, the English IPA was dialed back, with lower malts and hops. This was largely due to British tax law–the lower the malt, the lower the taxes on the beer. And the lower the malt, the fewer hops a brewer needs to maintain a balanced end product. Today’s English-style IPAs range from 5-7.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) and tend to retain some of the malt character, especially caramel malt. They are usually between 40-60 IBUs, a unit derived to measure the hop bitterness of a beer (IBU stands for International Bittering Unit). The hops tend to be floral, earthy or fruity in nature.
As with many contrasts between the Brits and their upstart breakaway colony, the American IPA is a much more assertive, in-your-face type of beer. The BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) offers guidelines on each beer style. When describing American IPAs, they have this to say: “An American version of the historical English style, brewed using American ingredients and attitude.” These beers focus on American grains, and more importantly, American hops. Many are brewed with the “C” hops–Cascade, Centennial, and Columbus, which all impart citrusy flavors. Some American brewers also use hops to create pine or resin flavors in their IPAs. In all cases, these beers should have a lower malt flavor than their English-style counterparts. American IPAs tend to range between 5.5 and 7.5% ABV and between 40 and 70 IBUs.
Big American IPAs really took off on both of the coasts, with West Coast IPAs being famous for dominant hop profiles and robust citrus and pine aromas. However, for those looking to drink locally, there are several regional IPAs to chose from that are on par, or better, than those beers brewed on either coast. Below is a listing of readily available IPAs from brewers in Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan.
India Pale Ale
(Goose Island; Chicago, IL; 5.9% ABV, 55 IBUs)
Some of Goose Island’s classic beer styles tend toward the English ale side (their Honker’s Ale is an excellent stateside rendition of a British Bitter), and the India Pale Ale is no exception. The beer is bourbon in color, and pairs well with chicken or pork. Some drinkers note floral and earthy hops against the caramel malt flavors.
(Great Lakes Brewing Co.; Cleveland, OH; 7.5% ABV, 70 IBUs)
This English-style IPA is ironically named after the naval officer who bravely battled the Brits in the War of 1812 on Lake Erie. Brewed with a mix of British and American hops, this malty ale packs a punch. Expect to taste fruity or herbal notes, with some mix of citrus hops.
(Bell’s Brewery; Kalamazoo, MI; 7% ABV, ~50 IBUs)
Bell’s IPA offering is very much in the American West Coast IPA style, with a huge citrus aroma achieved through dry-hopping, or hops added to the fermentation stage or later. Two-Hearted is hopped exclusively with Centennial hops (and lots of them), imparting citrus and pine flavors against a malt backdrop.
(Founders Brewing Co.; Grand Rapids, MI; 7.2% ABV, 65 IBUs)
Like Two-Hearted, Centennial IPA is hopped exclusively with the Pacific Northwest’s Centennial hops. The bitterness from the hops rounds into citrus flavors best described as grapefruit. Look for some lower-profile hints of pine from the hops. Surprisingly drinkable given that the ABV is near the high end of the style.
Crooked Tree IPA
(Dark Horse Brewing Co; Marshall, MI; 6.0% ABV, 50 IBUs)
As with several of the other American IPAs, the brewers of this beer note that it is “Inspired by West Coast I.P.A.s, but brewed with Michigan style.” This means you can expect more big citrus and pine hops in the nose and on the palate. However, expect a bit more malt character than some other West Coast-style IPAs. The lower than average ABV makes this beer very drinkable.
(Brew Kettle; Strongsville, OH; 6.8% ABV, 70 IBUs)
This citrusy IPA is quickly earning a name for itself. Brewed outside of Akron, the beer is assertive, but balanced. It is also brewed in the West Coast style, with big, assertive tropical fruit and citrus in the nose. The malt character is present, but takes a backseat to the huge hop flavor.
Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com.