What is an IPA? Origin, Flavor Profile, and More

Whether you're into craft beer or not, you've undoubtedly heard of an IPA. But, if you're not a craft beer fan, you may find yourself asking - what is an IPA? In this quick article, we'll break down the origin, typical flavor profile, popular types, and more. This way, the next time someone asks you "What is an IPA?" you can feel confident in your answer!

What is an IPA?

Let's start by cutting to the chase. "IPA" is actually an acronym for "India Pale Ale." An IPA is a type of craft beer that is known for its bright, bitter flavor profile brought on by the large amounts of hops used in the brewing process. We'll get more into the flavor profile, and how the name IPA came to be below.

Where do IPAs come from?

Nowadays, you can find IPAs at every brewery, grocery store, bar, or restaurant in town. In fact, they have quickly become one of the most popular types of craft beers on the market. But, it wasn't always this way.

The IPA style actually has a British origin, dating all the way back to the 18th century. At this time, India was part of the British Empire and there was a need for beer to be shipped from Britain to India. However, there was no such thing as refrigerators at this point in time. So, in order to preserve the barrels of beer in transit overseas to the British Empire in the East, brewmasters had to rely on the preservative quality of a plant called Humulus Lupulus - better known as "hops."

Learn more about hops in our interview with Lion Bines Hop Farm - Episode 26

The alpha acid content of hops actually gives the plant an antiseptic property which helps to prevent beer from spoiling. But, in order for the hops to do their jobs on the six-month voyage from Britain to India, brewmasters had to use large amounts.

The alpha acid content of hops actually gives the plant an antiseptic property which helps to prevent beer from spoiling.

In the end, the addition of copious amounts of hops for the purpose of preservation during the voyage from Britain to India in the 18th century, lead to a bitter, yet enhanced flavor profile, typically consisting of higher alcohol content - a style of beer that we know now as the IPA (India Pale Ale.)

IPA Flavor Profile

The predominant characteristic of an IPA is the strong, bitter taste coming from the large amounts of hops used during the boil and fermentation stages of brewing. It is this trait that will deter many novice craft beer drinkers, but one that many will begin to seek out after more experience with craft beer, working their way into the style.

There is more to IPAs than bitterness

While the bitter taste and aftertaste is quite dominant in any IPA, there are more flavors to be appreciated in this style of craft beer. For instance, brewers now have dozens of choices when it comes to the types of hops used in the brewing process, all with their unique aromatic and tasting notes.

Using a Cirta hop will reveal a citrusy profile while using a hop such as Mosaic will reveal more tropical or berry-like notes. Better yet, brewers will often use different hops during the boiling process, than they will use when the beer goes into fermentation, resulting in a unique combination.

As brewers have started to do more experimenting, there have been many unique combinations of flavors in IPAs. You may find IPAs that have been brewed with real fruit, lactose, or even coffee to keep things unique and interesting!

Do you like IPAs? What would you say are your favorite types of IPAs? Let us know in the comments below, and stay tuned for more informative articles such as these to help get you up to speed on the different types of craft beers!

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