Even though I appreciate and enjoy drinking all styles of beer, I have to confess that IPA tends to be my go-to beer of choice. I’m almost always in the mood for an IPA, but I’m not always in the mood for a Saison or an Imperial Stout or a Dubbel – regardless of how much I love those styles.
By far, IPA is the most popular style of beer in America. Last year it accounted for more than one-fourth of the craft beer market. And if you count its closest relatives (i.e., Double/Imperial IPA and Pale Ale) plus all of its variants (e.g., Session IPA, Belgian IPA, Black IPA / CDA, Fruit IPA, NE IPA, White IPA, Red IPA, etc.), you get an even better sense of how much it dominates the market.
Lockstep with all of these hop-forward beers is a surging hop-growing industry. The U.S. now has more hop acreage than any other country on earth.
IPA also dominates beer competitions, when it comes to number of entries. At last year’s Great American Beer Festival, the IPA category received the most entries (336), Imperial / Double IPA was second, and Session IPA was fourth.
Some people are sick of seeing tap lists filled with IPAs, and everything being all IPA all the time, but it has become the king of craft for a reason, and it has been leading the pack for long enough that it’s not a trend. Simply put, IPAs are tasty. Well, a good number of them, at least (we’ve all experienced some wretched IPAs). Well-made versions are crisp, snappy, juicy, aromatic and highly quaffable, with bold flavors and aromas of citrus, pine and flowers that are easy “flavor hooks” to latch onto. To many, IPAs are like the comfort food of beers.
Another reason why IPAs are so popular: Lots and lots of craft beer drinkers demand them, so they sell really well. This is why just about every brewery in America makes an IPA (or 5), and it often becomes the brewery’s flagship beer – whether the brewer wanted it to be or not. Just ask any retailer or distributor and she’ll probably say, “Slap those three letters on a label and the beer is sure to sell.”
No matter how you feel about IPAs, you have to acknowledge the fact that hoppy pale ales (specifically Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) and IPAs really helped to shape and grow the craft beer industry that we cherish today, and they’re undoubtedly a part of why it’s now stronger than ever.
Sure, the style has evolved immensely, from the traditional English style to American-style versions that tend to be drier, less malty, more bitter, and more aromatic. And to this day, creative brewers continue to push the envelope by experimenting with new hop varieties and employing new hopping techniques.
As a result, IPA has exploded into countless sub-styles, some of which truly take the beer into new realms. The hazy, low-IBU, immensely citrusy “Northeast / New England” IPA is one example.
Through all of IPAs changes over the years, the term “India” has been dragged the entire way, which of course no longer has anything to do with India. Subsequently, the term has lost much of its meaning, as it has more or less morphed into a nebulous adjective for “hoppy.” But its spirit is still at the core of craft, and its reign will surely continue for many years to come.