IPA, Competition Style
IPAs have attracted such a following that some might say IPA drinkers are an entirely separate group from your typical craft beer enthusiasts. While hops are an ingredient in many different brews, they are the essential (and potentially addictive) flavoring element of IPAs. Not all hops are alike, however, and the variety of hops, method of hopping, and amount of hops can drastically change the final flavor of an IPA—and is what separates the three main IPA styles: American, English, and Double/Imperial.
The history behind the IPA is fuzzy, but one of the known facts about this unique beer style is that it originated in England as a variant of Pale Ale. IPA was shipped to India with the British troops in the 1700’s, thus the name India Pale Ale. Adding extra hops and increasing the maltiness and alcohol content were the supposed methods used to ensure that the barrels would survive the long trip at sea—but the IPA flavor was likely developed for some other reason, as many other beer types were shipped to India as well and survived the trips too.
English style IPAs do not currently reflect the original style, as they have a lower alcohol content (5-7%) and the hoppiness has been toned down. Relative to the American style, English style IPAs have a mildly fruity flavor with a balance between malt and hops. As you might guess, these characteristics arise from the use of English hops varieties and yeast strains! The IBUs (International Bittering Units) on a typical English style IPA run between 35-65 IBU.
American style IPAs, on the other hand, are the product of hop-loving American craft brewers, and run between 50-70 IBU—but there are many American beers called IPAs that run far higher than 70 IBU! You have likely heard of Stone Brewing from San Diego, whose hoppiest IPAs are sold without an IBU rating. These are likely Double/Imperial IPAs. American style IPAs tend to showcase the hop flavor alone, and can have a wide range of flavors, from floral to piney. They tend to have a slightly higher ABV content, ranging from 6.3-7.5%, and have been one of the most popular craft beer sellers in the US for many years.
Double, or Imperial, IPAs jump right up the ABV scale, to 7.5-10.5%. Not only do they have higher alcohol content than the other two types, but also in IBUs—these typically have 65-100 IBUs! This style highlights the freshness and intensity of the hops used, and are like a concentrated version of American style IPAs. Double/Imperial IPAs can be a bit strong for those who are not big fans of hops, and the biggest fans of this style often point out that hops are “addictive” by nature—even if science disagrees.
There are many other IPA styles brewed, but the three listed above are considered the standard set for competitions and brewing. Can you guess which style our house IPA falls under? If you participated in the New Mexico Brewers Guild IPA Challenge judging, you may have noticed that it was one of the few English style IPAs entered this year.
In the NMIPAC, any style of IPA can be entered, and the public-blind-taste judging tends to favor American IPAs and Double/Imperial IPAs, as the folks who turn out to judge a public IPA contest are, well, IPA aficionados (we aren’t complaining by any means—we knew that going into the contest!). As we mentioned above, American style IPAs have been one of the best-selling American beer styles for years, and have become the standard for IPAs in the USA. Not only that, but the bitter flavor that comes from hops becomes less noticeable the more hops one consumes, so IPA lovers tend to continually pursue more and more hoppy IPAs—kind of like how kids progress from Tootsie Rolls to Hersheys milk chocolate, and then find themselves perusing the Lindt and Ghiradelli dark chocolate section once they are older (and can’t stand the waxiness of a Tootsie Roll). We are by no means comparing our house IPA to a Tootsie Roll, to clarify…
While we are thrilled with our top ten finish in the NMIPAC, we have been working hard towards entering our house IPA into the Great American Beer Fest this September. The Great American Beer Fest takes place in Denver and holds the Guinness World Record for most beers on tap! Not only is there a boat load of beer tasting going on in the visitor areas, but there are also professionally judged beer competitions. These contests assess each entry for style-correctness and quality, and winning a medal or ribbon at the GABF is very prestigious.
You read that correctly—a medal or ribbon. There are 90 different style categories, including individual categories for the three IPA styles discussed above, and within each category, the judges can award a gold, silver, or bronze medal for excellence—but they do not necessarily award ribbons for the top three beers in each category, although they may. You can check out more about the beer competitions at the GABF website.
In addition to our house IPA, we will also be entering our Milk Stout and ESB into the competition this year. Tickets to the GABF are sold out for 2015, but we plan on returning in the future and welcome you to join us then. New Mexico breweries took home numerous awards last year, and we can’t wait to join their ranks!