Drunken Speculation

Session #77 – IPA: What’s the big deal?

sessionsA Drunken Speculation post on Friday? Have they gone mad? No, it’s only the Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday: a monthly opportunity for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their unique perspective on the same topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts The Session, chooses a topic, and creates a round-up that lists all of the participants.

This month’s topic, hosted by Justin Mann at Justin’s Brew Review, is IPA: What’s the big deal?

Justin phrases the conundrum thusly:

For quite some time now, I’ve been wondering what makes the India Pale Ale (IPA) style of beer so popular…What is it about an IPA that makes craft beer enthusiasts (CBE) go wild? Is it because CBEs want to differentiate craft beer from crap beer?…[N]ot all CBEs prescribe to the IPA way. The author of a recent article proclaims that “hoppy beer is awful” and that it is allegedly “alienating people who don’t like bitter brews”. I happen to like IPAs and DIPAs, so I’m not going to preach about only non-hopped craft beer, as the author suggests, just to turn people away from overcommercialized yellow-colored water. Besides, maybe the bitterness and hoppiness of an IPA is exactly what some beer drinkers that have yet to be introduced to the ways of craft might want.

I feel the conundrum is actually asking two questions: is IPA popular? If so, why?

We can answer the first comfortably. In Australia, we count down the best hundred beers each year in the Hottest 100 Beers. Last year’s list was dominated by IPAs. If a survey of craft beer enthusiasts (or “beer geeks” or “nerds” as I prefer) isn’t able to tell you what they’re in to, I don’t know what will.

So why IPAs? A few years ago, regular pale ales were dominant. Then, craft beer was just taking off in Australia and pale ales are a common way of weaning yourself off macro-produced golden lager and getting into craft beers.

IMG_20130610_122313As pale ales got very popular among the craft set, brewers made more. The style is now completely saturated with hundreds of offerings. Beer geeks got sick of it, so they started looking elsewhere. In the search for the new style du jour, a sufficiently large enough number of people had been beer geeks for long enough to develop an adaptation to hoppiness, to undergo a Lupulin Shift. Large herds of people move slowly, so it seems natural that they would migrate into IPAs, the pale ale’s hoppier cousin.

While the IPA might be considered fashionable or as a mark of distinction from mainstream brewing, I believe the above explains the underlying dynamics of why the IPA has risen to the top instead of, for example, porters, hefeweizens or pilsners.

Now, the IPA style is being pushed into saturation, not only in the quantity of offerings but also in the degree of hoppiness being offered. If it’s true that you can only taste up to 60 IBUs, very soon, experienced beer geeks will weary of IPAs and start looking elsewhere for interesting beers. In fact, I think it’s already happening because I’m seeing ravings about sour beers. Will sour beers be the next IPA? Sourness is just next to bitterness on your palate…

Besides it being Beer Blogging Friday, this week’s Drunken Speculation post is on a Friday because this morning’s #31 review was our 100th post and this Sunday is the blog’s semi-anniversary. We’re going to take a look back and a glance forward with a special post this Sunday.

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