Most beer drinkers can’t decide what an IPA actually is. Typically, an India pale ale is a hoppy, bitter beer that has a higher ABV than most types of brews, and often is higher on IBUs (international bittering units). Easy.
But the beer people up top decided that one form of IPA wasn’t enough. Nope, there need to be even more types of the pale ale offshoots because…well, why not. Enter the West Coast and East Coast IPA.
When I say West Coast and East Coast, I’m talking about American coasts, so American brewed beers. While IPAs are brewed all around the world, these specific styles hail from the far regions of the US (which is probably the best nation in the world at producing IPAs).
Both styles are technically India pale ales, but they are very different brews, further complicating the whole “what is an IPA” question.
Since both styles are relatively new (as in last century), it’s hard to pin down exactly what they are. But I’ll give it my best shot.
The West Coast Style IPA
The West Coast IPA is known for being as bitter as bitter gets. Over the past 5 years or so, west coast brewers have been competing to make the hoppiest, bitterest, alcoholiest brews the world has ever seen.
Look at brewers like Sierra Nevada, Stone and Lagunitas. These guys have been thriving off their IPAs, and many west coast breweries launched in the past decade opted to use an IPA as their flagship beer.
It all comes back to west coast taste. Something about super bitter IPAs goes well with the west coast – at least recently. Tastes change, and many brewers are starting to feel bored with trying to make the bitterest IPAs in the world.
But the West Coast IPA has carved out its niche. These bad boy IPAs are heftier than hefty, suppress the malty flavor of beer and embrace the flavor of hops.
While not every West Coast style is going to be the most bitter beer brewed, we can make a sort of a generalization: bitter = west coast.
The East Coast Style IPA
The East Coast IPA is a bit more complex than the West Coast variant. While the West Coast styles force the hops, NE IPAs look for the complex flavors that come from each ingredient in the beer, particularly the malt.
This isn’t to say that East Coast IPAs aren’t hoppy – they very well can be. But the flavor sought in an East Coast IPA isn’t going to make your head explode with the bitterness.
You can find this type of complex flavor in the current fad: hazy IPAs. Sometimes referred to as New England IPAS, hazy IPAs are notable for their generally juicy flavor and hazy look (buzz words, baby!), these are going to be sweeter and less bitter than the western brethren.
No, NE IPAS and East Coast IPAs aren’t the same, but we would have never had the NE IPA without the rise of the classic East Coast IPA. That makes the hazy IPA something of a son to the East Coast IPA. Or step-son? …someone who is like a son? One of those.
Anyway, these are super popular in New England, and the flavor is starting to spread nationwide…just as people on the east coast might want a West Coast style India pale ale.
As with West Coast, we can sort of generalize NE/East Coast styles: juicy, non-bitter = east coast. No, it isn’t perfect. Get over it.
Related: Beer Buzz Words and Terminology
Which Is More Popular Today?
The West Coast IPA has been the go-to beer for a while, but the popularity is waning. People get tired of drinking the same thing, and there’s only so much you can do with a West Coast IPA. That being said, the style is timeless, and West Coast IPAs will continue to be mass-produced worldwide.
Hazy IPAs have been making a huge impact on the craft beer scene. It seems like every new craft brewery opens with some hazy IPA that they can and sell a four-pack of for $20.
In terms of total market exposure, West Coast IPAs still remain supreme. They’re distributed more widely, probably because brewers have the recipe nailed down.
But you should expect to see East Coast style IPAs continue their steady rise toward “most common craft beer style.”