The Evolution of the IPA

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The Evolution of the IPA

Note: This piece is the drink Essential in Paste Quarterly #1, which you can purchase here, along with its accompanying vinyl Paste sampler.

A lot has happened to the IPA since Anchor Brewing Co. started using Cascade Hops in the 1970s. The style, which has a murky origin in the British Empire, has evolved significantly here in the U.S. Because we’re American, we took the English IPA (equal parts malt and herbal hops) and threw fireworks and boob jobs at it. We scrapped the notion of balance, increased the ABV, decreased it again and created sub-styles from Red IPAs to Brett IPAs. Blame it on our inclination to experiment or the potent hop strains developed in thePacific Northwest, but the IPA in America looks nothing like it did 30 years ago. Here, we map that progress, calling out the signature beer for each evolutionary leap.

West Coast IPA: Russian River Blind Pig
The first popular IPAs in America came from the Left Coast and used new hop strains from the Pacific Northwest. The West Coast IPA is far less balanced than English versions. It’s heavy on the pine and grapefruit, and often bitter as hell with a dry finish. It took some getting used to. 


Imperial IPA: Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA
Take the American IPA and double it. Double the booze, double the bitterness, double the hop character. Just double it. “Intense” is the most common word used to describe this beer. 


Black IPA: Grand Teton Trout Hop
Here, we’re flirting with “balance” again, in such that the Black IPA (aka Cascadian Dark Ale or Black Ale) has a hefty malt presence playing counterpart to the hefty hop presence. They’re often roasty, usually high in ABV and just as bitter as a West Coast IPA. Oh, and they’re black.


Session IPA: Founders Brewing Co. All Day IPA
A direct reaction to high ABV imperial IPAs? Maybe. Brewers use new, aromatic hop strains like Mosaic to jack up the hop presence while tapering off the ABV. The result is a crisp and light, easy-drinking IPA with less malt presence than pales. 


Fruit IPA: Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin
American IPAs are already fruity by nature, but a few years ago brewers decided to just add actual fruit to the mix. The Fruit IPA has become a nationwide step towards an ever-juicier beer, but few can match the perfect balance of hops/adjunct that Grapefruit Sculpin showcases.


New England IPA: Tree House Julius
On the Right Coast, IPAs have become fruitier, juicier, and above all else, hazy. Forget the notion of a beer’s clarity being a sign of craftsmanship, New England IPAs are as opaque as a glass of juice and carry all sorts of fruity notes on the nose and sip.


Next Leap in Evolution: *Tart IPAs
Not quite sour, but definitely acidic, Tart IPAs allow brewers to showcase the fruity elements that hops bring to the party. We put an asterisk here because it’s early in this evolutionary stage. Anything could happen. Many are experimenting with the style, but nobody’s nailed it yet.


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