Saturday AM – India Pales Ales


Introduction –

There are many different styles of craft beer.  Of all of these, the style of craft beer that people are most likely to recognise is India Pale Ale or IPA.  IPA’s are the beer of choice for ‘hopheads’ – craft beer drinkers who love the taste of hops in their beer.  To-day, Beer Sommelier, Dean McGuinness is going to guide us through a tasting of three IPA’s from around the world.

India Pale Ales –

Any time one wants to understand a classic beer style, there are two questions to ask – where has the style come from?    … and where is it now?  Answers to these two questions can allow a person to understand what to expect from a particular style of beer.  Matching the beer (or beer style) that you are asking for to the flavours that you like is the key to enjoying craft beer.

Styles can evolve over time, and sometimes styles can morph and adapt to become something quite different from what they were when they started out.  This can cause confusion sometimes.  Reading a book about what an IPA tasted like in 1850 might not fully help you understand what an IPA is going to taste like today.  Likewise, tasting one IPA today might not let you understand the range of possibilities with IPAs – knowing a little of the history of the style can give the foundations for this fuller picture.

History of the India Pale Ale, or “IPA” –

India Pale Ales (IPA’s) first came about as a style in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.  Brewers in England shipped beers to the English colonies in India.  While a wide variety of styles of beer were shipped, brewers came to realise that IPA’s were particularly suited to the long journey – a journey of around 12,000 miles by ship that involved crossing the Equator twice.

IPA’s were pale ales – lighter beers tend to be more refreshing in the hot weather of India.  IPA’s have an above average level of bitterness.  This bitterness in beer balances the sweetness that comes from malted barley making the beer less cloying and more refreshing – again, beer characteristics that work particularly well in a hot climate.

The long voyage to India for these beers was detrimental in two ways.  Firstly beer deteriorates with age, so a long journey would not help.  Secondly, when a beer warms up (as it would as it travels across the Equator – twice), the aging process can accelerate.  Historically, IPA’s had two characteristics that help them in this respect.  With a larger proportion of hops used in the brewing of IPA’s, these beers benefit from the preservative quality that hops can deliver in a beer.  Likewise, IPA’s were usually higher in strength – this alcohol also acted as a preservative.  Putting both of these factors together, IPA’s had a greater likelihood of arriving to India in a ‘palatable’ condition – despite the challenges of the trip, they still tasted wonderful.  No wonder they grey in popularity.

As IPA’s grew in popularity in India, word of their success in the colonies came back to England.  While the beers were more expensive to brew – more hops and more malt meant more cost per beer – the flavour more than compensated for the higher price.  The style grew – with the Bow Brewery in London credited as the first brewer to brew this style of beer, and many other brewers designing their own version of the style.

IPA’s To-day –

The Craft Beer Revolution came about because some beer drinkers became tired of what they perceived to be blandness in the flavour of mainstream beers.  These beer drinkers started seeking beers with more flavour.  As many of the pioneers in craft beer were homebrewers, they decided that they would brew their own beer – and they looked into history to find styles of beer that would deliver more flavour.  If a beer style was popular with the aristocracy in times past, it was more likely that more information would be available about it.  No surprise that beer styles that had been popular some centuries ago with the aristocracy – such as wheat beers in Germany and India Pale Ales in England and the colonies – were chosen as models upon which these home brewers based their recipes.

History showed that India Pale Ales had three basic, common characteristics – they were pale in colour (which could mean anything from golden to dark amber in colour), they were brewed with an above average amount of hops, and they were brewed to an above average strength.  These three characteristics form the foundation for classic IPA’s.

IPA’s grew in popularity within the craft beer movement, and with this popularity, craft brewers started experimenting.  If an IPA of between 5.5% and 7.5% gave a good amount of flavour, then wouldn’t a stronger IPA have more potential for flavour?  What if an IPA was brewed to a lower strength – wouldn’t this allow a person to have a second beer without being concerned about the amount of alcohol that they were drinking?  The “Double” IPA (or Imperial IPA) and the Session IPA was born.  Stretching creativity a little bit beyond the point of common sense, some brewers asked “why does an IPA have to be pale?” (aside, of course from the fact that it is an India PALE Ale).  Undeterred by the contradiction, the Black IPA was born.  Further hybrid styles came about – Red IPA’s and Brown IPA’s – each brewed by changing the balance of malts used in brewing the beer.  And if you can change the mix of malts in the malt bill, why not use other grains.  Rye IPA and White IPA (brewed with wheat) were born.

With all of this morphing of the India Pale Ale style, two things happened within beer culture.

Firstly – a change – brewers recognised that the India Pale Ale style family (all of the different styles that could be grouped together as India Pale Ales) had grown well beyond the parameters of the original classic style.  As a consequence of this, the style’s name was changed to ‘IPA’ – giving a nod to its origins in the classic India Pale Ale, but recognising how the style family had changed from its roots.

Secondly – maintaining some level of consistency – IPA’s as a style became recognised as a style that centred around the use of hops in the recipe.  Brewers varied the types of hops used.  American IPA’s are brewed with American hops.  English IPA’s are brewed with English hops and so on.  Not limiting themselves to this, some brewers brewed IPA’s with a blend of hops from different countries.  Some brewed using just a single hop (Single Hop IPA’s) to explore the range of flavours possible from that hop alone.  Brewers varied the way in which hops were used in the brewing process.  They varied bitterness – a flavour that is achieved from hops – by either increasing bitterness (sometimes beyond the point of common sense), or decreasing it to make the beer more accessible.  They looked for flavour from the essential oils in hops by adding hops late in the boil, or by ‘dry hopping’ – adding hops to the beer after fermentation.  They explored more innovative ways of using hops – such as, for example ‘wet hopping’ (the practise of using hops in brewing that have just been harvested only a few hours before being used in the brew.

Throughout all of this experimentation, most brewers understood that the essence of the IPA was centred on hops.  Understanding the flavours that can be present in beers that result from hops will help somebody understand whether they are likely to enjoy IPA’s, and which IPA’s they are likely to most enjoy.

The three IPA’s that we are tasting to-day come from three different countries – New Zealand, the U.S.A. (Hawaii) and Scotland.  These three beers (almost) all fall into the ‘classic IPA’ range of 5.5% to 7.5% a.b.v. – they are three steps on a ladder at 5.4%, 6.0% and 7.0% respectively.  When it comes to describing IPA’s, ‘American’ refers to the type of hops used in the IPA rather than where the beer is brewed.  Mac’s Green Beret is an IPA brewed in New Zealand – because it is brewed using a blend of hops (from America and New Zealand), it is probably best described as a ‘New World’ IPA.  Kona Castaway IPA is an American IPA brewed with American hops in America (Hawaii).  Brave New World from Tempest is also an American IPA – despite being brewed in Scotland, because it is brewed using American hops, so it qualifies as an American IPA.

Mac’s Green Beret Bottle Size 330ml
Alcohol by Volume 5.4% a.b.v. Retall Price €2.59
Beer Style (New Zealand) IPA Brewed by Mac’s Brewery,

New Zealand

IPA’s can range in alcohol by volume, but the style guidelines range for a ‘classic’ IPA is from 5.0% to 7.5% a.b.v.  The alcohol content of the beer is an indication of the amount of malt that has been used in the beer relative to the water and other ingredients – the higher the a.b.v., the bigger the malt foundation in the beer.  While IPA’s are beers that are balanced towards hops, the malt foundation is important to provide balance in the beer.  In IPA terms, 5.4% a.b.v. is at the lower end of the range for classic IPA’s, so this IPA is a little lighter than many.  Despite this, there is an abundance of hop flavour in this beer.

Simcoe, Amarillo and Nelson Sauvin hops are used in Mac’s Green Beret.  Hops can give two main types of flavour in a beer – hop bitterness (which balances the sweetness in the beer), and ‘hop flavour’ (which can cover a broad range of flavours.  Mac’s Green Beret has a bitterness level of 47 IBU’s – much more bitterness than would be present in a mainstream lager (about twice as much).  Despite this, the perceived bitterness is lower than one would suspect.  Sweetness from malt in the beer provides balance for the beer, and the result is that the bitterness is not perceived to be as strong.  It provides a nice balance to make the beer crisp and refreshing.

Hop flavours that are in evidence in Mac’s Green Beret range from tropical fruit to citrus, with a touch of pine suggested in the background.  Guava, papaya, cantaloupe melon, pineapple are all in evidence in the fruit flavours in this beer.  This hop flavour rests on top of a foundation of caramel and biscuit malt flavours that provide a soft base to the beer.

Kona Castaway IPA Bottle Size 355ml
Alcohol by Volume 6.0% a.b.v. Retall Price €2.99
Beer Style American IPA Brewed by Kona Brewing Company,

Hawaii, U.S.A.

Kona Castaway IPA takes a step up in a.b.v. – 6.0% a.b.v. – putting it in the centre of the range for a classic IPA.  Despite being higher in alcohol than the previous beer, the malts used are lighter, so the foundation is also a touch lighter.  The result of this is that the 50 IBU’s (bitterness units) some through a touch more distinctively.

The light base of this beer is particularly appropriate to the hop fruit character of the beer.  Galaxy, Citra, Simcoe and Millenium hops deliver a bright, juicy array of fruit flavours.  Passion fruit, mango and pineapple come through, and give a particularly refreshing, lively fruit character to the beer.

While the bitterness is more distinctive, this is not the only source of balance in this beer.  Pine character – another classic flavour associated with North American hops – is also in evidence, and provides further balance to the malt and fruit flavours in Castaway.  The bitterness and pine provide a subtle, lingering finish to the beer.

Brave New World (Tempest Brewing Co.) Bottle Size 330ml
Alcohol by Volume 7.0% a.b.v. Retall Price €3.80
Beer Style American IPA Brewed by Tempest Brewing Company,


Pine is immediately evident on the aroma of Brave New World.  Brewed at Tempest Brewing Company – an award winning craft brewery in Scotland – Brave New World is a classic North American IPA.  7.0% a.b.v puts the beer firmly in the alcohol strength range for a classic IPA, and the hop flavour in this beer reinforces its standing as a superb IPA.

Citrus, grapefruit and tropical fruit (papaya, melon) flavours merge with distinct pine flavours.  The malt foundation is biscuit.  As the flavour of the beer develops, the pine flavour develops into a soft spicy finish which provides further balance in the beer – with 60 IBU’s bitterness, and distinct pine flavour and spice balanced against biscuit malt sweetness and fruit hop flavour.

This is a superbly satisfying IPA – full of hop flavour, complex in its flavour and layered in its complexity.    Tempest Brewing Company Brave New World IPA is rated at 98% on consumer rating site Ratebeer, and is winner of a Gold Medal at both the 2015 International Beer Challenge and at the 2016 Scottish Beer Awards.