Photo Courtesy of the Merchants
Looking back over the rise of craft beer in America over the last 40 years, the style most responsible for interest and growth is the India pale ale. While much of the focus these days is the hazy double dry hopped versions that rely on juicy flavors, the original is lovingly known as the West Coast IPA, or categorically as the American IPA.
Filtered clear and often deep golden in color, this style of IPA highlights a decidedly hoppy, that is to say bitter, profile. The use of classic hop varieties like Simcoe, Cascade, Amarillo, Chinook, Columbus, and others bring a resinous pine to the forefront along with citrus.
A proper malt bill is also important to this style. The style should exhibit bready malt characteristics, often with a hint of caramel-like sweetness. Malt adds not only flavor but body as well, with a medium mouthfeel acceptable.
As new drinkers flocked to the more modern style of IPA that plays down bitterness, the American IPA took a back seat. That might be changing. On a recent episode of the Steal This Beer podcast Winslow Sawyer, the brewer of Pure Project in San Diego and an early adopter to hazy IPA said the tide is turning back.
He noted that bitterness can be a virtue and add to the overall drinking experience. As newto-craft or younger drinkers become accustomed to aromas and flavors of new varieties of hops that include tropical fruit or other lively characteristics, they are looking to branch out to classics.
There is no shortage of West Coast IPAs on the market these days and brewers are largely sticking with classic recipes with classic ingredients, although sometimes more contemporary hops like Mosiac, Ekuanot, or Nectaron, make it into the mix from time to time.
Bitter can be a scary word for some drinkers, but in this style it is a virtue and can open up a new explorations of beer, just like those hearty drinkers who embraced the style four decades ago.
Industrial Arts Power Tools; $16/16 oz 4 Pack, 100 Points. Delicate aromas of citrus blossom and pressed pine needles emerge from this lightly bitter IPA that not only delights the olfactory senses but also quenches a deep beer thirst. The flavors and aromas build as the glass empties but it never overwhelms and even lets the grain bill shine with a pleasing sweetness and light bready character. This is the beer you’ve earned after a hard day of work. —John Holl
Von Ebert Volatile Substance; $22/16 oz 4 Pack, 100 points. It would be easy to wax poetic about the visual attributes of this beer, from its clear golden color to the cloudlike fluffy head of foam and how it perfectly laces the quickly emptying glass. The grapefruit pith flavors are accented by delicate pine and a caramel malt sweetness that allows just the slightest bit of boozy warmth escape. This IPA doesn’t command attention, it earns it and spending time with each sip reveals the great care and skill on which it was made. —J.H.
Bear Republic Racer 5; $12/12 oz 6 Pack, 98 points. There is something comforting about a well-made American IPA. It needs to be assertive in its hop content, but not harsh, the grain bill needs to be toasted bread, crackery, and a little sweet, but never too full or cloying. Rounded citrus peel, slightly dried, pine, and vestiges of dankness. This IPA has it all along with just a little bit of warming booze character on the finish. It’s a delight, and one that should be followed by a second. —J.H.
Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA; $10/12oz 6 Pack, 97 points. There is a reason that this beer has become a classic and often lands at the top of many “desert island” lists. It’s the moderate of the minute beer done by this old school Delaware brewery, with floral pine forest aromas, perfumy ripe dark fruit flavors, and a nutty, caramel-malt accented body. It finishes easy, with just a little bit of hop bitterness. This IPA has become a trusted friend that is always there in times of need. —J.H.
New Realm Tank Dog; $4/19.2 oz, 97 points. It might take a half a glass for your brain to catch up with this imperial abv, but when it does hang on for a fun ride. The high abv is a feature to this dank, citrus pine combination that delivers on big malt sweetness and moderate bitterness. Served cold it’s refreshing as all get out, the kind of beer where one is enough, especially when it’s served in a stovepipe can. —J.H.
Firestone Walker Hopnosis IPA; $10/12 oz 6 Pack, 96 points. There is great skill involved in having different hops present as individual and collectively in each sip, and this beer pulls it off. The aromas are decidedly tropical with candied citrus, with spikes to fresh pine and an underlying dankess that all come together to enchant the taste buds sip after sip. This is a west coast body wearing an east coast jacket, and it’s fashionable for our times. —J.H.
Wayfinder Retro Gold; $6/16 oz, 96 points. The name says retro and there is a nod to the beers of the past that built this style in every sip, but overall it feels very modern. Threads of tropical fruit mix with citrus peel and pricks of pine. A slight dankness gives the nod to the past as well, but a crispness from the malt keeps the beer fresh and moving along the palate. An enjoyable and well crafted IPA perfectly suited for any occasion. —J.H.
Allagash Swiftly; $14/16oz 4 Pack, 95 points. This sweet caramel malt profile has threads of nuttiness that help boost up the toasted pine and dried citrus peel. It is not overly hoppy letting the bitterness to grow on the palate as the can empties. Comforting to the soul, this is a companion beer for quiet evenings by the firepit or along with an enthralling book. —J.H.
Ecliptic Ligo; $10/16oz 4 pack, 94 points. At first this ale sets itself up to be a full blown classic West Coast IPA with robust pine, toasted citrus peel and a caramel malt essence that verges on nutty. Then the tropical fruit accented hops kick in with dried mango, pineapple, and guava, a bit of a modern flourish on an old school IPA. —J.H.
Fullsteam Rocket Science; $12/12 oz 6 pack, 94 points. For the first few sips there is something pleasingly simple about this IPA, it scratches an itch of old school IPA desire. Then it opens up and becomes so much more. Clear gold, there is a fruitiness caress and resinous slap, floral citrus comes on net and with each sip the taste buds are bathed in pleasingly bitter lupulin. —J.H.
Wren House Spellbinder with Galaxy; $16/16oz 4 pack, 94 points. Peach and guava slam together in this juicy, murky golden yellow IPA that offers a full expression of the Australian hop Galaxy. It’s prickly, with flavors of pineapple, and a semi-dry finish that has just a hint of creeping bitterness. A beer that exposes the full scope of a single hop in a delicious way. —J.H.