Intro To IPAs, or, Facial Contortions 101

HopsWarm weather seems to be finally getting here, something that I’m always excited and incredibly grateful for.  Included in the countless benefits of spring and summer are the ability to drive comfortably with the windows down, and  being able to go to work in the morning without shivering.  Let us not forget the simple pleasure of soaking in the warmth of the sun while doing most anything outside.  Ok, add to that last one…with a good beer.  No…seriously!  Truly, what’s better than to finally, FINALLY, be able to sit outside comfortably, even late into the evening after a long day, with a favorite beer?  Personally, I believe that any of one’s preferred beers will do while feeling the sun or enjoying the evening’s clear, starry sky.  But there are some beer styles which traditionally gain popularity and perhaps are more suited to warmer weather – fruit beers, wheat beers, generally lighter weight beers than those I enjoyed back in the chill of winter come to mind.  One is the widely available India Pale Ale, or IPA, and although available year round, IPAs seem to always get a mention in warm weather beer discussions.  What began as a variation of the English Pale Ale and has an interesting history and timeline dating at least back to the early 1800’s is now one of the most popular beer styles today.  It also may occasionally seem as if IPA’s have devised a plan for world domination, or at least to dominate every shelf in your favorite beer store.  Simply put, there are bunches of them out there.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, unless perhaps you’ve never tasted a good IPA, because that first taste may be just a bit surprising.

You see, one taste the sometimes very highly hopped IPA for the first time can produce that contorted, twisted, pained, “holy crap, what IS THIS?”.   Generally speaking, IPA’s are a hop lover’s dream.  This high level of hops, which back in the day was meant to help preserve the beer on long, overseas shipments from Britain to troops in India now means that if you’re into a more bitter taste, an IPA is probably your destination beer.  Some beer lovers seem to drink nothing but. However, I think IPAs are among the tougher beer styles for the casual beer drinker to acclimate themselves to, due to that same level of bitterness.

So unless you come with a built in appreciation of IPAs, one’s first introduction can be bracing.  My own introduction into IPAs such as these started on the higher end of bitterness, and years ago, I admit I probably had the same look on my face.  But the more beer I try, the more styles I taste, the wider my tastes have become.  I simply gave hoppier beers a chance to “come around” to me, and now I truly enjoy some of these, though I’m not all the way back yet.  That’s why it’s important to note that not all IPAs are the same.  There are IPAs that are not quite as extreme as others, and can make it easier to get used to the style.  My helpful source of beer info at The Wine Gourmet pointed out that there is a distinction among American IPAs, loosely divided into West Coast and East Coast styles.  West Coast IPAs are the real deal – high hops, and a higher bitter flavor, to oversimplify.  East Coast ones can simply be more balanced than others, featuring more of a malt presence in the beer to run alongside the hops, and this might mean a biscuit like, bread like, or even doughy like taste, which can even out the bitter hop flavor.  As for those hops themselves, and the beers that are not balanced out this way, their flavors are usually described as pine like, or citrus rind, or even “resin” like.  To me, the most flavorful ones that I’ve had so far are IPAs which are a bit more balanced, and that are very citrus-juicy in flavor, and along with the rind like taste, basically they can be like biting into a slice of orange, rind and all.

Under the IPA banner, there are American IPAs, and even Belgian IPAs.  There are also Imperial IPAs, or “Double” IPAs, with even higher hop content.  Oddly enough, several Imperial IPAs also have a maltier backbone for, balancing out those insane levels of hops, making for a very complex beer, in of itself.  For the uninitiated, though, IPAs can be a long road to travel, perhaps not.  But with warmer weather here, they just might be worth a shot.  Myself?  I’m over all the facial contortions.  I’ve been enjoying those evenings with IPAs such as Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA, Bell Brewing’s Two Hearted Ale, and Terrapin Brewery’s Hopsecutioner.  All are delicious, and all go well with the end of a warm day, when the only thing my face is doing is smiling.

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~ by thebeerroad on April 19, 2010.

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