This was a big week for beer! Friday, August 7, was International Beer Day, and Thursday, August 6, was National IPA Day. Let’s take a look at that.
One could make the argument that IPA doesn’t need a national “day.” A quick look around at your favorite retailer will reveal a mind-boggling array of IPA descriptors. Black, white, hazy, West Coast, East Coast, New England, Belgian, English, American, Imperial, double, session, and even milkshake. We don’t need a National IPA Day. It should be at least a week—maybe even a month!
A Brief History of IPA
The oft-told tale that India Pale Ale, or IPA, was developed by British brewers who supplied beer to the East India company for the consumption of English expats during the British colonial rule in India is pretty accurate. English pale ales were all the rage in late the 18th and early 19th centuries and brewers of those beers discovered that the preservative qualities of a little extra hops and alcohol helped keep the beer fresh during the long voyage to India. By some accounts, the beer was meant to be watered down upon arrival but eventually folks just started drinking it “straight.” Somewhere around the 1830s the first print reference to “India Pale Ale” appeared. No one could have known then what a transformation IPA would undergo.
The popularity of IPA waned in the 20th century until the American craft beer movement was revived in the latter part of the century and the beginning of the 21st. Once American brewers got a hold of IPA, they immediately began to mess with it. New American hop varieties gave IPA a bright citrus quality and before long, brewers got into an escalating hop war. International Bitterness Units, or IBUs, became part of the craft beer lexicon as breweries tried to out-bitter each other.
The human taste bud isn’t sensitive enough to identify more than 80 IBUs but brewers still boasted of 90 or 100 IBUs for their IPAs—and they weren’t even shipping them across an ocean! Myriad innovations ensued until the development of more aromatic hop varieties ushered in a pendulum swing in the opposite direction. New England brewers started brewing softer IPAs that emphasized fragrance rather than bitterness. It just so happened that they used a low-flocculating yeast that left particles suspended in the beer. The New England IPA, sometimes called hazy IPA, was born. This continues to dominate the market.
What About Jersey IPA?
Well, the Garden State doesn’t exactly have its own IPA style. (Someone should start working on that.) What it does have is a wide selection of very good IPAs representing all of those descriptors we mentioned above. It would take a book to walk you through all of those styles, but here are a few popular ones to get you started.
New England IPA (NEIPA)
Hazy, and brimming with tropical flavors and aromas, New England IPAs belie their region of origin. Their decided lack of bitterness lies in stark contrast to the crusty stereotype of your typical New Englander. Maybe they help to mentally escape a New England winter if only in your mind. Jersey can get hit by old man winter, too. Here are a couple Garden State hazies:
Magnify Brewing Vine Shine 6.5% (Fairfield): There’s no way to talk about IPA in New Jersey without mentioning Magnify. They cover all of the bases but their flagship is a great beer to dip your toes into the NEIPA water. It’s piney, dry, and very drinkable.
Brix City Heady Jams 8.0% (Little Ferry): Perhaps named in homage to one of the beers that started it all, Heady Topper, it packs a boozy fruit punch. At any given time you’ll find various of this beer at the brewery. Try them all.
West Coast IPA
Going from the East Coast to the West Coast and from the yin to the yang, West Coast IPAs were part of the great IBU war. Bold and bitter westies are characterized by pine and lemon zest flavors—not the least bit juicy like their New England cousins. Some of the best ones carry just a hint of malt sweetness to at least give a nod to balance.
Cape May IPA 6.3% (Rio Grande): Classically bitter, featuring spicy lemon zest and floral notes, it’s a great example of the style. It’s available statewide so there’s no excuse: Give it a try.
Carton Brewing 077XX 7.8% (Atlantic Highlands): The assertive hop character leans toward orange rather than lemon and it also gives that nod to malt sweetness. It’s really a Jersey classic with a West Coast inspiration.
These are the heavy hitters of the IPA world. Big, boozy with an ample wallop of hops and a sturdy malt base, they are not for the faint of heart. Imperial is borrowed from Russian Imperial Stout, which was a high-gravity stout exported to Russia in the 19th century (the style is still around—and popular). ABV ranges from 7% to 10% and up. They are also known as double IPAs, which is perhaps derived from the Belgian tradition in which a Dubbel, or double, is a beer with more alcohol—made with twice the ingredients (or thereabouts). Imperials are packed with flavor, but swim at your own risk, folks!
Kane Brewing Overhead 8.2% (Ocean Township): You can’t talk about IPA without mentioning Kane. Overhead is their Imperial version of the very popular Head High IPA. Brewed with pale malts, it’s light and dry with plenty of pine and citrus hop notes. It’s also very drinkable.
Flying Fish DoubleFishted 8.3% (Somerdale): One of New Jersey’s most venerable breweries, Flying Fish isn’t known as a hop forward brewery but with DoubleFishted they show they are up to the task. It’s a bit of hybrid. There are all the citrus characteristics of a classic double IPA but it carries a relatively low IBU count.
Many of the breweries I’ve mentioned have a fairly large distribution footprint so you may see them at your local retailer. There’s also a good chance that your local brewery has the best kind of IPA of all: fresh! Hop-forward beers, especially delicate New England styles, taste best fresh. Some might argue that certain IPAs benefit from aging but in these uncertain times, why wait?