What Is A West Coast IPA?

Quick — when you think of an IPA, what comes to mind?

If you said bitter, bitter, and bitter, then the West Coast IPA has made an impression on you.

West Coast IPAs are known for being, well, bitter. They’re also known for being incredibly hoppy, though you shouldn’t mistake hoppy and bitter to mean the same thing. Lastly, West Coast IPAs are nice and boozy, usually somewhere in the 6.5-7.5% ABV range.

The West Coast IPA holds a fun spot in popular culture where it became a global force only to turn into a memeable product to poke fun at beer nerds like me. Regardless of how you feel about the style,  there’s no denying that the beer changed the entire brewing industry in the US. 

Alright, enough introduction. Let’s learn about the West Coast IPA!

West Coast IPA: A Bitter History

Editor’s note: There’s nothing bitter about the West Coast IPA’s history.

The West Coast IPA was born the same way modern day Hollywood films are: recycled ideas. Basically, early era craft brewers (think 1990’s-2000’s) were looking for fun, non-lager beer styles to riff off, bringing a bit of variety to the beer industry. So, they tried out old IPA styles that had fallen out of favor.

At the same time, hop growers up in Yakima were finding ways to make the most out of the regional hops. For those who don’t know, Yakima Valley is essentially the bread basket for craft hops, and many of the hops provide tons of flavor.

The result? Brewers began experimenting with US-grown hops by adding them to existing beer styles — like the IPA — to create something old, but new. 

All of this was happening on…wait for it…the West Coast of the US. Voila! That’s how the West Coast IPA got its super original name.

From there, the popularity of the West Coast IPA boomed, stretching across the country and eventually the world. Today, pretty much everybody knows what an IPA is, and it’s all thanks to the West Coast.

If you want to learn more about the rise of the East Coast IPA, may I recommend West Coast vs East Coast IPA: What’s the Difference?

West Coast IPA Flavor

Flavors in the West Coast IPA style vary — trust me, they do! — depending on the hops used. These IPAs will use an array of hops, including some of my favorites like Simcoe, Cascade, and Citra. The hops flavor shines through in a West Coast IPA because the brew style uses a relatively low amount of malt flavor. Of course, there are exceptions because broadly defining beers correctly is about as easy as herding cats.

This hop-forward flavor makes the beer incredibly hoppy. It also happens to make West Coast IPAs bitter which, again, is not the same as hoppy. (Side note: write an article about what makes beer bitter).

In terms of color, West Coast IPAs are nice and clear, unlike their Hazy counterparts.

Are West Coast IPAs Making a Comeback?

Not even 10 years ago, it seemed like the West Coast IPA was dominating the world. Then, suddenly, it’s like the entire beer community was done with them. The IPA was dead (unless it was Hazy). “No more bitter!” chanted the beer drinkers, pitchforks in hand.

But life has a funny way of coming right back at you.

Today, tons of craft breweries are carrying one, maybe even a few, West Coast IPA styles. Some breweries even held firm during the anti-West Coast IPA revolt and continued to brew their brews, much to the joy of even-keeled brewery patrons.

So, is this classic style of IPA making a comeback? Sure, why not. The truth is that the style got so popular that it probably did burn itself out a bit. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the style! Variety is the soul of wit, and it’s perfect that the West Coast IPA occupies one or two taps at your local brewer — no more, no less.

Thomas Short
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