The first time I had ever heard of an IPA (India Pale Ale), I was at Sunset Grille in Allston with my older brother and his friends. One of them ordered a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA and proclaimed it the best beer on earth. My brother told me I probably wouldn’t like it, and ordered me some kind of fruit beer instead. I think I might have had a sip and agreed; it was too bitter, aggressive, and unfamiliar.
I share this story just not to showcase my young beer naivety, but in honor of the upcoming IPA Day on August 1.
But wait, you say—isn’t every day IPA Day?
In America, it might as well be. We are a nation of IPA addicts, constantly searching for our next hop fix.
We love the extra hoppy pale ale style so much that a brewery, The Alchemist in Waterbury, Vt., can survive almost solely on the production of one beer—a double IPA in a 16-ounce can called Heady Topper, which people drive hours for and purchase by the case-load. We love IPAs so much that even though Founders, out of Michigan, released a ‘Session IPA” (All Day IPA) as a seasonal offering in March, sky rocketing sales pushed it to become their new flagship beer, according to a recent Brewbound article. We love IPAs so much that when I stopped by the Craft Beer Cellar’s New England Annex, owners Kate and Suzanne were lamenting that they needed more New England-brewed IPAs on the shelves because of customer demand.
I love IPAs because of their obnoxious American-ness (although the style originated in England).
They lack the subtle complexity of a Belgian Quad, the dark richness of a stout, or the mild pleasantness of an English bitter. While an American IPA can be many things—floral or citrusy, balanced or hoppy—I like to think that you can almost always pick an American IPA out of a lineup (taste test to come?).
Sometimes I fear that our IPA-obsession may work against us, our love blinding us to other styles or more balanced, subtle IPAs. IPAs sell consistently, so a brewery might feel like they should include one in their lineup, perhaps limiting variety of styles produced. Every possible interpretation of the style has been done, from brewing with wheat and Belgian wit spices (a White IPA), or dark roasted malts (Black IPA), a session IPA (lower alcohol IPA—or wait, is that a pale ale?), a triple IPA (triple the hops? Or the alcohol?), even an India Pale Lager (which our own Jack’s Abby has helped pioneer). It’s possible that if you add enough hops to any beer, you can call it an IPA.
With a firm grip on the market, other styles—sours, saisons, and stouts—may fight for and receive our attention, but the IPA is never far out of sight or taste. I don’t think America is going to end its love affair with IPAs anytime soon.
We’re in too deep, and we’ve gone too far.
I know I have, at least. After that first IPA at Sunset, I don’t remember the first time I had an IPA and truly enjoyed it—it might have been a Bear Republic Racer 5 at the OtherSide (RIP) or a Wormtown Be Hoppy from a growler. But I do remember the great IPAs of my life, like snapshots in a beer scrapbook: the first time I had a Heady Topper, out of a can at the The Publick House (had I shoved my nose any further up the can to breathe in the aroma, I fear it would have gotten stuck). The liter of Notch’s Left of the Dial after a 5K run on Session Beer Day. The glass of Pretty Things’ Meadowlark shared with friends on a roof on Fourth of July last year.
So, in honor of IPA Day, I raise an unapologetic pint to America’s unofficial national beer.
I hope you do too.
IPA DAY. THURSDAY 8.1.13. #IPADAY. @IPADAYORG