IPA Sub-Styles: Variants of the India Pale Ale

Ah, the India Pale Ale. Created once upon a time to help British people get drunk on their own supply in India, the IPA is now among the most popular beer variants found in craft breweries. 

(More about the history of the IPA here).

Since those early days of shipping warm beer across oceans, brewers discovered that the IPA is best when distributed locally. As a result, regions have developed distinct styles with some breweries embracing local ingredients to create sub-styles of the IPA.

So, as you might have been anticipating, here are some IPA sub-styles.

Classic American IPA

Ok, a bit of a disclaimer: all the IPA sub-styles here are American. The development of different types of IPAs came from craft breweries, and craft breweries are a distinctly American phenomenon. 

That being said — have you ever had an IPA brewed outside of the American craft brewery yoke? They aren’t quite the same, and that’s likely due to a combination of hops and malts used, brewing techniques, and demand. 

Maybe you’re drinking an IPA while reading this and trying to decide which sub-style it fits under. Maybe none of the following sub-styles match. Remember, nobody can agree on what constitutes an IPA, so if your beer doesn’t fall under one of these umbrella terms, we’ll put it under the “Classic American IPA” umbrella.

Double IPA

The Double IPA, also known as the Imperial IPA, are basically just IPAs but more. More strength, more hop variety, and much more alcohol. As a generalization, any IPA reaching the 7-8% ABV range could be considered a double.

We can thank the crazy brewers of California for the Double IPA. No doubt these brewers were drinking classic IPAs and said to themselves, “DOUBLE IT!” Similar reasoning likely led to the development of the Triple IPA, or IIIPA. 

East Coast IPA

beer in glass on coffee tableOne of my favorite things about craft brewing is how distinct regional beers can be. The East Coast IPA likely originated in the New England/North East area (hence its nickname as an NE IPA), but their popularity has spread across the country. 

Never heard of the East Coast IPA? Perhaps you know it by yet another nickname, the Hazy IPA. East Coast IPAs earned this nickname because of the thick, hazy look of the beer.

East Coast IPAs generally prioritize hop flavor over malt flavor, giving them a juicer taste than other sub-styles of the IPA. This hop-forward, combined with skipping the filtering process (hello, Unfiltered IPA), can also give this style a hazy look.

West Coast IPA

The West Coast IPA is like the East Coast IPA because the style is completely regional. Aside from that fun fact, West Coast IPAs could not be more different than their East Coast brethren.

West Coast IPAs emphasize malts, and when they do draw from hop flavors, they prefer the bitter notes over juicy flavors. No doubt you’ve had one of these incredibly hefty, bitter beers, perhaps even as a Double IPA or IIIPA. Yup, we can mix sub-styles. And the sub-style mixing gets even more complex as we continue adding sub-styles. 

Dry Hopped IPA

Dry Hopped IPAs have an incredibly interesting history (which I’ll write about someday, I promise). But for now, all you need to know about dry hopping is the process.

A Dry Hopped IPA sees hops added to the brew after boiling, as opposed to before boiling (a process traditionally followed in brewing). Originally used as a preservative, dry hopping also adds a strong hop flavor since the brewer doesn’t boil the hops first.

Note that many IPAs dry hop in addition to regular hopping, and some use only dry hops. At this point, it feels like most breweries mention the dry hopping process as an afterthought. 

Fresh Hopped IPA

Fresh Hopped IPAs might sound like Dry Hopped IPAs, but they’re nothing similar. Hops grow on vines and, like all plants, hops have a time of year that they’re best for picking. In America, this season — Fresh Hop Season — occurs between mid-August and late September.

Brewers who use fresh hops to make IPAs label these beers as Fresh Hopped IPAs since they’re a seasonal style. So, keep your eyes peeled for these bad boys in the coming months!

Black IPA

The Black IPA is another sub-style that emphasizes malts. However, unlike other dark beers, Black IPAs don’t get their color roasted unmalted barley. Instead, brewers use dark malts to give the Black IPA their dark color. These dark malts also provide a smooth and delicious flavor, all while keeping the hop flavors found in IPAs. 

Maybe it’s just me, but it doesn’t seem like many breweries make Black IPAs anymore. Is it because brewers/patrons see them as gimmicky? Are they too difficult to make, or not cost-effective? Are they too boring to make? Whatever the reason, I hope we see a resurgence in this classic style. 

Session IPA

When you hear “IPA,” you probably think strong, bitter, juicy, and, most importantly, alcoholic. 

Session IPAs are…different.

Most Session IPAs offer all the qualities of a classic IPA, only less — less bitterness, less juiciness, less strength, and yes, less alcoholic. Most Session IPAs come in with a lower ABV, I’d say somewhere in the 5% and lower range. 

Sour IPA

The first time I ever saw a Sour IPA, I told myself, “these breweries are flying too close to the sun.” And I was right because the beer was terrible. However, these terrible beers were an important first step in the development of a new style.

Nowadays, plenty of breweries make respectable — and sometimes incredible — Sour IPAs. 

You already know what you’re going to get when you order a sour IPA. It’s an IPA, but it’s sour. It’s somewhere around 6% ABV. It tastes like an IPA, but it also tastes like a sour. 

Brut IPA

The final sub-style I’m going to write about for now is the Brut IPA. I covered this style in detail a few years back because I was OBSESSED with it upon its initial release. Then…poof. Breweries tried it out, probably realized that the style offered little room for innovation, and moved on.  

You can still find Brut IPAs on menus, particularly at breweries with 20+ taps going to add a little more variety. No, it’s not the most exciting style of IPA, but I love it, so it takes a place on this blog post. 

Cheers to you, Brut IPA. 

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