“The new IPA” is a phrase you’ll hear in the craft beer community to describe whatever style is currently coming into vogue. It references the enduring and still-rising popularity of India pale ales, undoubtedly the flagship style of the craft beer renaissance thanks to its big flavors and contrarian profile to most mass-marketed brews. Thing is, one typically hears the phrase describing beers without “IPA” already in the title, as in, “”sours are the new IPA.” Like how fashionistas might say, “chartreuse is the new black.” Today though, there’s no denying it—“session IPAs” are the new IPA.
The concept of a session IPA is pretty simple: A lower-alcohol beer that still retains the hop-profiles of popular and well-known IPAs. Perhaps you get to drink one or two more in the course of the night without getting quite as intoxicated. Good idea, right? And it is a good idea, as far as the actual recipes are concerned.
Where I take umbrage is in the label, because “session IPA” is nothing more than sales-driven marketing language. It needlessly attempts to create a marketable new style for a type of beer we already know and love, the American pale ale. Because that’s what a hop-forward beer in the 4% to 5% ABV range is—a pale ale. India pale ales are defined as much by their increased alcohol content as they are by their increased hop presence, and without that booze, calling a product “IPA” is pointless when the pale ale term works just fine. It’s not as if there’s an upper limit on “how hoppy” a pale ale is allowed to be before it transforms into a “session IPA.”
I understand the marketing strategy behind creating this new category of beer. India pale ales are popular and marketable, and have supplanted all other beer styles in terms of their overall sales numbers. Putting “IPA” on just about any beer is likely to boost its sales, even if the term isn’t really accurate. But once you’re doing that, where do you stop? Are we going to see “session imperial stouts” that are the same strength as regular American stouts? How about a British “session ESB” that is the same strength as an ordinary bitter? They’re all equally meaningless labels.
Still, every beer deserves to be judged on its own merits, and Boulevard Brewing’s Pop-Up Session IPA is no exception. The beer displays very pleasant malt character on the nose, with lots of biscuity, bready notes that make it smell almost like an American wheat beer. The hops are fairly mild and are mainly earthy, with a note of lemon. It’s also a little musty.
The malt flavors come through nicely after taking a sip, with lots of bready character that presents in a very crisp, clean way. Bitterness is very light and sweetness is mild, making this a definite “quaffer,” as was intended. The hop flavors are flowery, with a bit of orange blossom and something pleasantly reminiscent of honeydew melons. Unexpectedly though, the most memorable thing about this beer is that tasty malt character.
Pop-Up IPA is a very light-bodied, drinkable beer, well-made and achieving pretty much exactly what it sets out to do—with the exception of reminding any drinker of an actual IPA. Call this beer what it is, a pale ale, and enjoy it.
Brewery: Boulevard Brewing Co.
City: Kansas City, Mo.
Style: “Session IPA”