Friday, 5 July 2013

Session #77: What’s the Big Deal With IPAs?

In an attempt to boost flagging traffic, I've decided to take part in this month's Session. :

  • [What] makes the India Pale Ale (IPA) style of beer so popular… why all the hype? What is it about an IPA that makes craft beer enthusiasts (CBE) go wild?
From what I understand, IPAs first became the "fashionable" thing with the American craft brewers.  Fed up with tasteless macroswill like Bud, Miller, Coors etc. they latched on to the India Pale Ale style as one where they could chuck in a load of hops to make beer that was, at least, different from the pumpage from Anheuser-Busch. 

Those brewers did it for love, presumably.  But there had to be more buyers than other beer fanatics for beers rammed full of Cascade and Amarillo.  This is where the Crafties came in.  Like the much documented phenomenon of the "Foodie", these drinkers are constantly seeking new sensory experiences beyond that of slaking thirst and sating hunger.  The taste and smell are the thing.  And you certainly get that with a New World Hopped IPA.  Everyone wins here - the brewers feel happy they're making better stuff than the megafizz merchants, and the Crafties feel superior to those drinkers who consume the products of Big Beer.

This does make me wonder, however, how far the Hop Revolution can go.  A big thing in the whisky world a few years ago was Peat.  Sales of stuff like Ardbeg rocketed when even 20 years previously it couldn't be shifted with monster trucks (Ardbeg was even closed down at one point).  Up and up the peating levels of new whiskies went.  60, 70, 80, 90 parts-per-million they went, eventually reaching things like this.  Then tests found out that most people couldn't taste any more peat above about 120ppm, not to mention the absolute limit of peat smoke that could stick to a grain of malted barley.

So, how hoppy can an IPA get? What's the IBU limit that a beer would become undrinkable to even the Hipsters who buy £4 330ml bottles of Kernel?  Will there be a beer that's little more than hop juice, made by putting a load of cones in a smoothie machine and filtering out the green bits?  I have a feeling we will find out soon.

1 comment:

  1. I think about 100 IBU is usually reckoned to be at the limit of what your tastebuds acn actually detect. Above that beers can become ultrat dry and ultra bitter almost to the point of undrinkability. I like my hops but I struggled with a Steel City "Angel of Death" at 144IBU the other night (in Ye Old Vic, Stockport). A few years back some of us tried a Danish beer (Amager Bryghus was the brewery I think) in Amsterdam. It's IBU was shown using the infinity symbol. It was utterly undrinkable.