India Pale Ale – Probably the Most Important Style in the Craft Beer Scene

beer being filled in a glass
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Once the drink of choice for British soldiers, IPA has a long history and is still evolving even now.

India Pale Ale (IPA) is considered the mother of all beers within the international craft beer movement, but it only came about as an emergency solution. In the late 18th century, the British wanted to ship their ale to the Indian crown colonies in order to provide their officials and soldiers with a reasonably sensible alcoholic drink. However, it first needed to survive a long sea journey as it made its way from the northern to the southern hemisphere. The drink was initially transported in wooden casks, but this proved problematic: During the journey around Africa the beer became undrinkable. Brewers set their minds to how they could make their beers more durable, eventually deciding to give them a higher alcohol and hop content in order to prevent them from spoiling before arrival. And that’s how India Pale Ale finally made the successful journey around Africa unharmed, giving those in the colonies a truly delicious drink to enjoy. However, the drink was initially diluted with water before ordinary soldiers and officials were allowed to drink it, to ensure that the originally high alcohol content wouldn’t cause any lasting damage to the thirsty Brits. Only officers were afforded the privilege of enjoying the high-alcohol beers.

With the loss of the colonies in the 20th century, IPA found its star on the wane. Only in the 1980s did it start to experience a resurgence, as craft brewers in the US breathed new life into this originally English ‘hop-bomb’, albeit in their own style. They conjured up a high level of bitterness in their brew, combining it with a distinctly fruity note thanks to the first aromatic hop varieties. Today, India Pale Ales are largely produced by craft-oriented microbreweries. Inspired by the successes in the US, German brewers started experimenting with this style of beer around five years ago. In order to further increase the hop aroma, these ales are often dry hopped: This means that, during the maturing process, even more aromatic hops are added to the brew. These hops do not add to the bitterness of the beer, but instead lend it their own individual flavor.

The range of India Pale Ales has continued to grow, with the category now including black IPAs, which, as the name suggests, are often jet-black in color, and double IPAs, which have a higher alcohol content.

Anyone wanting to find out more about this style of beer and experience a real flavor adventure will find plenty to interest them at drinktec 2017. For example, the European Beer Star, one of the best known beer competitions in the world. Here, the three best beers are selected in 57 different categories. The jury is made up of master brewers, industry journalists and beer sommeliers from 30 countries. The public tasting session, to be held on September 12, will offer every drinktec attendee the opportunity to test and rate top-quality beers from around the world.

Mareike Hasenbeck

Mareike Hasenbeck is a freelance journalist with her own craft beer blog (Feiner Hopfen), she is also a beer sommelier and an international expert for beer sensory certified by the DLG (German Agricultural Society).