Berrong on Beer - Now's the time to be drinking IPAs

Sunday, September 16, 2012 - 6:56pm

(CNN) -- Certain beer styles just taste better at different times of the year. Give me a big Stout or Quadrupel in the dead of winter. I'll take a Saison or Hefeweizen on those 90+ degree summer days in Atlanta. And as college football begins and fall is on the horizon, all I want to drink are IPAs.

Beer styles tend to have hot streaks and become the must haves of the moment. Currently, sour and barrel-aged beers are all the rage, but those will someday lose their popularity and a new flash-in-the-pan style will have its moment to shine. One style though, has remained tried and true since its inception and has become the unofficial staple American craft beer: the India Pale Ale.

The IPA traces it roots back to the 1700s when British ships bound for India were stocked with beer that contained enough hops and alcohol to endure the six month journey for the crew of the boat. The large amount of hops and extra alcohol would be enough to stave off bacteria from forming in the barrels and help the beer retain a desired flavor.

The style quickly caught on and breweries began producing IPAs all over England. American brewers later adopted the style and used our indigenous hops, which have a more pronounced bitterness and robust flavor than the English varieties. The earliest American version is considered to be the Ballantine Pale Ale from the 30s but it was the Sierra Nevada Brewery that popularized the style as we know it today, in 1980.

The Brewer's Association recognizes 84 different beer styles but when you factor in the sub categories of those 84, you get a total of over 150 various styles. There's truly a beer style for everyone. If you're one of those "I don't like beer" people, keep trying different styles. There's bound to be one that you'll enjoy.

I'm currently enjoying the heck out of IPAs. I'm always seeking out new ones and revisiting the classics that first turned me onto the style. But talk to me next month and my beer style of the moment could very well be a Bourbon Barrel Aged Pumpkin Ale. But for now, I'm all about the IPAs. I've listed the different varieties of IPAs below, along with my favorites of each and I'd love to know yours. Let me know in the comments below.

Pale Ale

The Pale Ale is the mildest and most balanced of the hop-heavy style. Bitterness is subtle and the appearance of this beer ranges from a pale to deep golden color. ABV is relatively low, usually around 4 -- 6%. This has been my favorite style as of late mainly due to the balanced flavors and drinkability of these beers. Three of my favorites are:

Three Floyds -- Zombie Dust

Half Acre -- Daisy Cutter

Founders -- Pale Ale


The IPA is a bigger version, both in terms of hop bitterness and ABV, of the Pale Ale. It's the most popular beer style in America with over 3000 different IPAs currently in production. The bitterness of the IPA is medium to high and golden to deep copper in color. The ABV for this style is mid-range, somewhere around 6 -- 8%. I'm loving these IPAs right now:

Firestone Walker -- Union Jack

Green Flash -- West Coast IPA

Odell -- IPA


The Double (or Imperial, depending on who you ask) IPA is the style hop-heads are willing to wreck their taste buds over. Bitterness is usually out of control with many brewers pushing the limits of how many IBUs they can cram into a single beer. Alcohol is detectable in the taste of this style and the ABV can go as high as 18%. These beers are not for the faint of heart but when a brewery does it right, and balances all of the components out, like the ones below, it makes for an incredible brew.

Russian River -- Pliny the Elder

The Alchemist -- Heady Topper

Bell's -- Hopslam

Fresh Hop

The Fresh Hop IPA is a lesser known IPA style and is being judged for the first time at this year's Great American Beer Festival a.k.a. the Olympics of beer. Brewing a Fresh Hop Ale is a tedious brewing process. The hop harvest happens once a year (right about now) towards the end of summer/beginning of fall and in order for a beer to be considered a Fresh Hop, the hops must go into the "boil" within hours of picking them off their bines. Since the majority of hops are grown out West, this means an East Coast brewery would have to ship their hops immediately and add them into the brewing process right away.

Because of the high cost and work involved, many breweries largely ignore this style and instead opt for dried whole cone hops or hop pellets. Fresh Hop beers run the gamut in color, bitterness, and ABV, with the only true requirement being the use of, well, fresh hops. This year's Fresh Hop Ales should be hitting the market soon and if you can get your hands on one of these, do it, the aroma and clean taste of the hops is unlike any other style. Here are three breweries that do it exceptionally well:

Great Divide -- Fresh Hop

Sierra Nevada -- Northern Hemisphere Harvest

Deschutes -- Fresh Hop Mirror Pond

Black IPA

The newest style of the IPA bunch is the Black IPA. As the name suggests, this is an IPA that is dark to black in appearance but still has a very hop-centered aroma and taste. Much like the Fresh Hop IPAs, ABV and bitterness vary with roasted malts being the only distinguishable requirement of the beer. Some Black IPAs can taste a little burnt or too roasty, but when done correctly, it's a unique and delicious beer. I personally love:

Victory -- Yakima Glory

21st Amendment -- Back in Black

Clown Shoes -- Hoppy Feet 1.5

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