IPA Is Dead, Long Live IPA: Why The Beer We Love Or Hate Is Here To Stay

It all started with a single tweet on Friday evening: “Dear microbreweries, Maybe instead of your 12th double IPA, mak[e] damn pilsner.”

By Tuesday morning, that statement had been liked nearly 81,000 times. Comments were inundated with memes about how IPA stands for “if pinecones were alcohol” and the original tweet probably caused a beer nerd somewhere to hit a wall.

As I combed through answer after answer, all I could think of was, “Wait, when does all that arrive?”

Full disclosure: I’m not really a beer drinker. I’m of drinking age in Kentucky, so I usually order bourbon out of habit. I’ll have a gin and tonic if I’m feeling particularly summery or some tequila if I’m feeling frisky (and a woodsy Malbec if I’m not). I probably have a beer or two a year, but the last time I ordered one IPAs were still revered as cool picks.

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Now, I know that anything that is or was once loved — cable sitcoms, Starbucks coffee, sun-dried tomatoes — is likely to be rejected by the public. However, it felt like something different was at play here.

This wasn’t a bunch of coffee snobs who no doubt turned their noses up at pumpkin spice lattes. It was a glimpse into how the craft beer industry is currently and simultaneously looking at one of its most popular, albeit controversial, strains.

Before we take a closer look at this phenomenon, it’s important to understand what an IPA is and how it rose to prominence in the craft beer world.

“IPA stands for India Pale Ale. In the 1800s, when India was under the control of the British East India Trading Company, English brewers made over-hopped versions of their Pale Ales for export to India”, Scott Shreffler, co-founder of Louisville’s Mile Wide Beer Co, said. “The hops act as a preservative in the beer, so the higher hop rates coupled with higher ABVs ensured the beer didn’t spoil on its boat trip.”

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While the style has continually evolved over the past two centuries, the West Coast IPA was the first subgenre, if you will, to really gain popularity in the United States. These IPAs, made with American hops, are loaded with notes of pine, grapefruit and citrus. and backed by a dry body and invigorating bitterness.

According to Lisa Grimm, an Ireland-based beer podcaster and judge on the Beer Judges Certification Scheme, IPAs began to be embraced as “the dominant style among beer nerds – though not necessarily the general public – at first. of the 2000s”.

“There was a real emphasis on ‘aggressive’ bitterness,” Grimm said, “and IPAs like Stone’s Arrogant Bastard made a big deal of their ‘extreme’ character and how only really hardcore people could” manage it “.”

“IPAs like Stone’s Arrogant Bastard made a big deal out of being ‘extreme’ and only really hardcore people could ‘handle’.”

The “us” versus “them” mentality was inherent in this message. Either you were in the club of people who could handle it, or you weren’t. This, however, has not deterred customers from trying the IPAs.

This was also when the concept of craft beer was making its way into the American mainstream. In January 2006, leaders of the new brewers association met to develop an agreed definition of craft beer, and a few months later the first American Craft Beer Week took place. In many ways, the IPA has become synonymous with the craft beer revolution.

As a result, many beer drinkers remember their first IPA vividly. Louisville craft beer fan Dawn Howard is no different.

“I think a lot of breweries are really heavy on IPAs now, and I understand why that can be frustrating,” Howard said. “Back when I was getting into craft beer, it seemed like all a beer bar served you was Belgians – and some are still like that – and those are just off limits to me. But most breweries here have at least several taps of other styles of beer.You probably won’t get three types of Kolsches, but I don’t know if that’s necessary.

From a brewery perspective, IPAs certainly have their merits. Compared to lagers, IPAs have a relatively quick turnaround time from brew to bottle. They’re also notoriously forgiving of “flavor offs,” making them a popular choice for beginner brewers.

The popularity of the style has also accelerated other developments in the world of beer production. As IPAs became more common, more varieties of hops were created through intentional cross-pollination, according to Em Sauter, a brewery employee and cartoonist whose work focuses on beer education. American brewers also began to look further afield for different varieties of hops.

“Once Americans discovered Australian and New Zealand hops with their white wine, tropical and mango flavors around 2010, IPAs really took off,” Sauter said. “I remember when I had my first IPA with Nelson Sauvin hops. Nelson Sauvin came out in New Zealand in 2000 – it was Idiot Sauvin IPA from Elysian Brewing – and it blew my mind.”

Over the next two decades, the IPA footprint continued to grow alongside the explosion of the American craft beer movement. Various sub-styles of IPA, including the love-it-or-hate-it Hazy or New England IPA, have been established and defined – and many small breweries have made it a cornerstone of their brand identity. It finally became difficult to go to a brewery that doesn’t serve an IPA.

“IPAs now make up over 40% of the total volume of craft beers brewed – and that doesn’t happen without them being incredibly popular,” said Scott Shreffler of Mile Wide. “Breweries brew what sells. Period.”

So what about the pushback against IPAs? Their popularity may be contributing to their downfall, with some consumers in the Twitter feed reporting “IPA exhaustion.” For his part, Grimm thinks the tendency towards fuzzy IPAs is what causes fatigue.

“So many breweries make a series of nearly identical beers that it’s hard to find that variety that once existed,” she said. “That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of breweries that make great lagers or stouts, but other styles like bitters, sweets, saisons, etc. are much harder to find than they weren’t even 10 years ago.”

For beer drinkers who would prefer to consume something other than an IPA, this may cause some disdain for the style. Every once in a while it pops up on Beer Twitter like it did late last week as thousands of people piled on the merits (or lack thereof) of IPAs.

“There’s a well-known joke about people making IPA their whole personality, and now we’re having the backlash to that with people making IPA hating their whole personality,” Howard said. “Like anything else these days, speech has gotten incredibly boring.”

“There’s a well-known joke about people making IPA their whole personality, and now we have the backlash to that with people making IPA hating their whole personality.”

In the speech, however, there are some clues about what consumers expect from breweries moving forward — especially since in-person drinking is back on the table for many Americans.

Both Grimm and Sauter pointed to the recent increased interest in German and Czech dark lagers, which are incredibly distinct from IPAs. In a dream world, Grimm would also like to see “bitter or sweet as the next big style” — but that probably won’t happen for a few big reasons.

“First of all, it’s much easier for a new brewery to hide flaws or go down a path that I want to do with a so-called IPA that’s full of ‘other stuff’ than to produce a beer perfectly crafted, more subtle styling,” she says. “There’s no place to hide technical flaws, and there’s no customer demand — at least not yet.”

Matthew Glidden, a Massachusetts-based kombucha brewer who describes himself as an IPA lover, reads the latest kerfuffle surrounding IPAs as “just a call for variety.” Jumping is okay.

“I think it’s a lack of depth in taprooms that makes people burnt out on IPA,” she said. “You have 10 taps, and six of them are DIPAs (double IPAs), two are imperial stouts, two are sours. The brews go, ‘Well, that’s what people want’, but …breweries that showcase depth – that brew many different styles and do it well – are the breweries that rise above.”

In the end, the “next IPA” will likely be just another IPA – but perhaps only those made by skillful, quality-conscious brewers.

“I’ve had this discussion a lot in my 15-plus years in this business,” Shreffler said. “And to be 100% honest, if brewers are constantly pushing the boundaries of style, the IPA will continue to be the ‘new IPA’.”

In defense of beer: