In keeping with our theme of IPA’s this month we are taking a look at some of the different styles of IPA and what makes them unique as well as some of the challenges they present to a brewer.
There is a long and disputed history of IPA in England with many myths perpetuated about it’s origins. In fact, this fabled origin is part of the appeal of the beer for me; brewed at high ABV with large hopping rates to ensure the beer survived the 4 month boat trip to India where it was enjoyed by British troops. In actual fact, the first IPA’s weren’t excessively strong for the time and didn’t need to be strong in order to survive the trip, plus heavy hopping rates were already being used to help preserve beers on long journeys, not limited to India. Also, pale ales were being exported to India long before the term IPA was invented and all evidence suggests British troops much preferred porters. Still, it’s a great story!
An English IPA, in its modern iteration, is dry and hoppy with a good malt base of light biscuit and caramel. The best examples make use of classic British ingredients such as Maris Otter for the grain bill and high rates of British hops which are characteristically earthy, spicy and floral (think Fuggles or East Kent Goldings, though I actually like Pilgrim in an English IPA). Traditional English ale yeasts can lend a slightly fruity characteristic to the flavour too.
The English IPA had begun to die out before experiencing something of a revival in the 80’s and then American brewers made their interpretation with citrus, fruity hops and lots of them which caught on and which English craft brewers began to imitate, meaning a good proportion of IPA’s available in England now are actually American style IPA’s. English interpretations of American interpretations of English beer!
This is a good introduction to IPA brewing as there aren’t too many challenges, the malt bill can be relatively simple (even just one malt type) and English hops have a pleasant and unique (if slightly subdued by modern standards) flavour profile.
Beginning life as an adaptation of the traditional English IPA, the American IPA has come to define the style in modern brewing. The balance shifted even more towards ‘aggressively’ hoppy and with the excellent hops available to American brewers the flavours being produced were unlike anything else – huge floral and citrus character with a biting and lingering bitterness. This was the IPA taken to the extreme.
This style utilises caramel malts in order to provide dextrins in the beer which provide body. When dry hopping in large levels these dextrins can be stripped out, leaving the body somewhat thin so the addition of caramel malts was used to counteract this, though they are normally restricted to no more than 5% of the grain bill as the overall malt character should be fairly neutral and clean.
Similarly, yeast strains were selected for being neutral and not producing any flavours that would interfere with the flavour profile of the hops.
If you are brewing this style, make sure you have a high level of sulfates in your water to dry out the finish and accentuate the hop bitterness and that you mash at a lower temperature for higher attenuation. Sugar additions are also common to improve attenuation levels. Single hop IPA’s do work well but there is a great level of flavour complexity you can achieve by combining multiple additions at various stages in the process (boil, whirlpool, hop back, dry hop etc).
The BJCP guidelines state that the first commercial example of the Black IPA was available in 1990 but the argument over whether or not it is a style was going strong about 2 years ago and is still occasionally raised. Many interpretations have strong coffee and chocolate characteristics that you would expect from a stout which I think is wrong for the style. I was taught that the trick to a Black IPA was that you should look at it and think stout but then drink it and think IPA and for me this is where the skill of brewing them comes into play – anyone can dry hop a stout but a brewer needs a good understanding of various elements to produce a dark beer that is hoppy and juicy without being burnt or acrid.
De-husked, roasted malts such as Carafa III are essential here. They will help provide colour without imparting acrid, roast character in your beer. Keep it under 5% and feel free to experiment with how you add it. The malt can go straight in the mash with everything else or you can add it to the mash at the end and sparge through it or you could even cold mash it separately from the main mash and add the resultant wort to your runnings. Similarly using black or chocolate malts will add some interesting flavour complexities that will vary depending on how you add them to your mash.
Darker caramel malts can add colour and body as well as providing dextrins to support the heavy dry hopping levels typical of this style. Keep the level 5% or below. Feel free to substitute straight pale malt for small amounts of Munich/Vienna too for added malt complexity.
Water provides an interesting challenge for the style. Carbonates help to mellow the acrid flavours of dark malts which you want but there is a negative relationship between carbonates and highly hopped beers. You need to limit your sulfates so that the drying effect they have on the beer doesn’t increase the perceived acrid flavour and ensure you have enough carbonates in their to mellow the dark malts without inhibiting your hop profile. A good target is;
The crossover between an American IPA and an American Amber Ale, this beer still has the aggressively hoppy character upfront but also has a complex toffee/caramel/dark fruit flavour from the malt bill.
The specialty malts used to create the colour can tip the balance towards a cloyingly sweet malt character which can make for a beer that is difficult to drink. To get the colour right keep your caramel malts to around 11% or lower, utilising malts such as CaraMunich.
Using a small amount (2% or lower) of dehusked Carafa or pale chocolate can provide a boost to the colour as well without imparting roasted flavours.
Once your grain bill is decided you can brew this similar to an American IPA, mashing low for improved attenuation and balancing your water towards higher levels of sulfate which will dry out the caramel malt addition and emphasise the hops.
Hopping should still be aggressive, using American or New World hops to create a beer that is full of fruit juice hop character but with a subtle malt sweetness and toffee/caramel character.
So there you have it, a few of the more common variations of the IPA and the challenges brewers face when making them. What’s your favourite IPA style?