According to a romantic and vaguely factual legend dating back to the early 19th century, brewers invented a new beer style called India pale ale (IPA), designed to withstand the long voyage from England to India. They did this by fortifying the beer with lots of hops and a higher alcohol content to preserve it. There’s only a wee bit of truth to the legend, but it does explain how this style of beer got its name. After the sun finally set on the British Empire, IPA was all but forgotten for most of the 20th century, and it wasn’t until the American craft beer revolution of the past 30 years that IPA slowly stepped out of obscurity.
Today, the modernized version of this traditional English ale is hands down the most popular style of craft beer in America. There are dozens of beer styles out there, but according to the Brewers Association, a not-for-profit trade group that represents small independent breweries, IPA accounts for one-third of all craft beer sold in the U.S., and consumers in this country spend more than $1 billion on the stuff each year.
IPA was once a singular style, noted for its bitter, hoppy character and its higher alcohol content, but in recent years, some interesting, creative subcategories of IPA have emerged. That is, there are now several different types of IPA. Three of these IPA variations, in particular, are getting a lot of attention these days.
Right now, hazy IPA is very popular. Brewers always use malted barley, but the addition of wheat and/or oats lends these brews a hazy appearance; the haze is caused by suspended particulate (hop) matter in the beer. The prominent fruity, citrusy aroma and flavor imparted by the hops are what attract people to these turbid, juicy brews.
Brewers add lactose (milk sugar) during the brewing process to create milkshake IPAs. Because lactose does not convert to alcohol during fermentation, it adds a milky sweetness, a cloudy appearance and a thick, lush mouthfeel to the beer—literally, it’s adding a spot of cream to your beer. Along with plenty of fruity hops, ingredients such as strawberry, orange and vanilla are often used to create a beer that is oddly reminiscent of a milkshake, in an abstract way, at least.
A counterpoint to these two IPAs, brut IPA usually looks clean and clear, with no haze whatsoever. As with brut sparkling wine, expect brut IPA to finish bone dry. Brewers employ an enzyme that helps convert starches and residual sugars into fermentable sugars, resulting in less sweetness once fermentation is complete. This allows the hop flavors to steal the show in a beer that is less filling and extremely easy to quaff.
Here are some recommendations to help you navigate this trio of newfangled IPAs.
Hazealicious IPA (6 percent ABV)
Reuben’s Brews (Seattle)
As advertised, this straw-yellow brew is indeed hazy, with a foamy white head that releases a mimosa-like aroma. The flavors will also make you think about brunch, with familiar citrus notes of orange, passionfruit and kiwi. Available in 12-ounce cans ($1.99) at better grocery stores and beer retailers.
Pair with: Spicy Indian curry dishes, such as a rich tikka masala or a fiery vindaloo.
Axis Brut IPA (6.9 percent ABV)
7 Seas Brewing (Gig Harbor/Tacoma)
Bright, clear and sparkling gold, with a fizzy white head, this IPA has an aroma rich with mango, tangerine and pineapple. There are a lot of fruity hop flavors, but the beer is so dry that it catches you by surprise as it evaporates on your palate; you keep waiting for the sweetness to arrive, but it doesn’t, which allows the hop character to dominate the experience. Available in 12-ounce cans ($1.99) at better grocery stores and beer retailers.
Pair with: A three-star pad thai, so the hop flavors amplify the spiciness.
Malted Milkshake–style IPA (6.8 percent ABV)
Full Sail Brewing (Hood River)
Imbibing this medium-gold, hazy (though not opaque) IPA, you’ll notice a wallop of fruity aromas combined with vanilla, which is actually used in the beer. The brew’s flavor is subtler, with just a bit of sweetness combined with the vanilla. It’s a bit like scooping up that last bit of melted vanilla ice cream from the bottom of the bowl. Available in 12-ounce bottles ($1.65) at better grocery stores and beer retailers.
Pair with: Dessert, like Mexican chocolate ice cream.