What Is An IPA?

If you've ever found yourself staring at a wall of craft beers, wondering what all those letters mean, you're not alone. IPAs, or India Pale Ales, have become a staple in the craft beer world. Let's dive into what makes these beers tick.

The Basics

People often ask what is an IPA anyway? IPA stands for India Pale Ale. These beers are known for their bold hop flavours and often higher alcohol content. The story goes back to the 1700s when British brewers added extra hops to their pale ales to keep them fresh on long sea voyages to India. This extra hopping not only worked as a preservative but also gave the beer a distinct, robust flavour. Fast forward to today, and they have become a cornerstone of craft brewing.

Nowadays there are many different variations of IPAs with the craft beer boom that has taken over since the early 2010s. This article will provide some clarity and give some more information on the different styles and the fundamentals behind what is arguably one of the most popular beer styles in the world.

Full Circle Brew Co Golden Zephyr New Zealand IPA being poured into a tulip glass from the tap

Common Aromas:

  • Citrus: grapefruit, lemon, lime
  • Tropical: passionfruit, mango, lychee
  • Stonefruit: peach, apricot

Common Flavours:

  • Juicy: orange, pineapple
  • Floral: elderflower
  • Bitter: pine, resin, pith

Essential IPAs

How IPAs Have Changed

While they started in the UK, they've gone through some big changes, especially in the craft beer scene. The original British IPAs had a balanced malt profile with noticeable hop bitterness. As craft brewing took off in the United States, brewers started experimenting with new hop varieties and techniques. This led to a bunch of new styles, each showing off different aspects of hops and brewing creativity. Today, you can find IPAs ranging from bitter and resinous to juicy and tropical.

Boiler Room West Coast IPA by Full Circle Brew Co being poured into a glass in their brewery

Different Styles of IPA

There's more than one?

You might be surprised to learn there's not just one type of India Pale Ale. Here are some common ones you might come across:

  1. West Coast: Clear appearance, strong bitterness, with notes of pine, citrus, and resin. These usually have a dry finish that lets the hop flavours shine.
  2. New England (NEIPA): Hazy and juicy, with low bitterness. Expect flavours like mango, pineapple, and citrus. The haze comes from specific brewing techniques that give the beer a soft mouthfeel.
  3. Double (DIPA): Also called Imperial IPA, these ramp up the alcohol content and hop intensity. They're bold, rich, and often have complex hop flavours and aromas.
  4. Session: For those who want the same flavour without the higher alcohol content. These are lighter in body and ABV but still pack a flavourful punch. A good example of this style would be Repeater Session IPA.
  5. Black: A mix of roasty stout flavours with classic hop-forward character. These dark beers offer a unique blend of roasted malt and hop bitterness.
Water Confidence Session IPA by Full Circle Brew Co poured into an allegra glass on their beer terrace on a hot summers sunny day

How IPAs Are Made

Brewing an IPA is all about showcasing the hops. Different hops give different flavours and aromas, from floral and citrusy to earthy and piney. Brewers often use multiple hop additions during brewing to create layers of flavour. Here's a quick look at what goes into making one:

  • Hop Selection: Brewers choose specific hop varieties to get the flavours they want. Popular hops include Cascade, Citra, Simcoe, and Mosaic.
  • Brewing Techniques: Methods like dry hopping (adding hops after fermentation) boost aroma and flavour without adding bitterness. This is common in NEIPAs, where the focus is on juicy, aromatic hops.
  • Balancing Act: While hops are the star, the malt backbone is important for balance. Brewers carefully pick malts that complement the hops without overpowering them.
Head Brewer at Full Circle Brew Co pouring hops into the whirlpool as part of the brewing process

Brewery Highlight

Let's take a break and talk about Full Circle Brew Co. as an example of how breweries approach IPAs. They have their flagship beer which is called Looper, it is a 6.4% New England style IPA. It's won some awards, including Gold in the kegged IPA category at SIBA BeerX in 2022 and 2024 as well as picking up Gold on two more occasions at the Asia Beer Awards in 2023 and 2024.

Full Circle also brew a special Double IPA (or DIPA) called Dooper every November to celebrate their birthday. It's essentially double Looper, with more hops and higher alcohol content of around 8% - 8.5%. This kind of limited release is common in the craft beer world, giving breweries a chance to experiment and offer something special to their customers.

Food Pairings

IPAs can be great with food. Their bold flavours can stand up to spicy dishes, rich meats, and even some desserts. Here are a few pairing ideas:

  • Spicy Foods: The bitterness of hops can cut through heat, making them good with spicy dishes like curries or buffalo wings.
  • Rich Meats: They can work well with a juicy burger or ribs. The hops help cleanse your palate between bites.
  • Cheese: Strong cheeses like blue cheese or aged cheddar can hold their own against the bold hop flavours.
  • Desserts: Don't rule out trying an IPA with dessert. A citrusy number might pair nicely with cheesecake or a lemon tart.
A pint of Rotator Hazy Pale by Full Circle Brew Co in their beer garden terrace on a sunny day served with a vegan pizza

Why Do People Like IPAs?

India Pale Ales have become a favourite among craft beer drinkers. Their range of flavours and styles means there's usually one out there for everyone. Here's why they've gotten so popular:

  • Variety: Whether you like something light and citrusy or dark and intense, there's probably one for you.
  • Bold Flavours: They are known for their assertive flavours. The high hop content provides a unique taste experience.
  • Innovation: Craft brewers often experiment with them, which keeps the style fresh and exciting.
  • Community: Craft beer fans are pretty passionate. There's a whole community of people who enjoy trying and discussing different variants of their favourite style.
A woman drinking Rotator Hazy Pale craft beer from Full Circle  Brew Co in their beer garden terrace in Newcastle upon Tyne on a hot summer sunny day

Wrapping Up Your IPA Journey

Whether you're already an expert or just starting to explore craft beer, there's a whole world of flavours to discover in this style. From classic West Coast bitterness to juicy New England variations, IPAs offer a range of tastes and experiences. Next time you're looking to try something new, why not grab an IPA and see what you think?

If you're interested in diving deeper into the world of IPAs, there are plenty of resources out there. Many breweries offer tours or tasting sessions where you can learn more about different styles and brewing processes. Beer festivals can be a great way to try a large variety all in one place. Don't forget local bottle shops or taprooms – the staff there are often very knowledgeable and can help guide you to the beers you might enjoy.

Remember, the best way to learn is to try them for yourself. Everyone's palate is different, so what one person loves, another might not enjoy as much. The fun is in the exploration. So next time you're out or at the shop, maybe pick up an IPA you haven't tried before. Who knows? You might just find your new favourite beer.

You can always pick up a can of Looper direct from Full Circle Brew Co or if you want to try a range of craft beers you can pick up the Fridge Filler Pack which is always bound to contain an IPA or two!

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