• Eric Palm

Drowning In Beer (What a way to go)

Even the most intrepid liver is going to be struggling to keep up with what is going on in the craft beer world. There are stouts and porters, sours, wheat ales, Belgian Doubles that don’t really double anything and American versions of Beligian Triples that don’t really triple anything. The biggest category by a pretty significant margin, however, is the India Pale Ales. A long time ago in a choice selection of galaxy hops very close to home, when a brewery came out with an IPA, the consumer had a pretty good idea what it was going to taste like: not too heavy and full of pleasant (often bitter) hop flavors. That’s an IPA. Different breweries had their own versions. Some were a little stronger, a little darker, some were more or less hoppy, but they all fit that same general mold.

This is no longer the case. As craft beer itself has been growing by leaps and bounds over the past several years, the breadth of what constitutes an IPA has exploded. This is due in part to the popularity of IPAs leading breweries to tag their beers as IPAs even if they would have otherwise fit into another category. One fairly well known example would be beers that once upon a time would have been called Pale Ales (no India) that have been dubbed as session IPAs. Pale ales still exist, but the distinction between a classic Pale Ale and a session IPA would seem to have more to do with branding than anything else. Given the popularity of IPAs, it was just too tempting for breweries to rebrand their Pale Ale as a session IPAs and (hopefully) watch it fly off the shelf.

But the problem remains, when navigating a craft beer menu how do you really know what you’re getting? What’s the difference between the single hopped session from one brewery and the dry-hopped imperial from another?

I’m going to try and help you out with that.

First let’s talk about ABV. A typical IPA these days will be between 6 and 7 percent alcohol. A session IPA, however, is going to be between 4% and 5%, an imperial IPA 8% or higher, a double 8% or higher and a triple is going to have you looking back at 10% (be careful with those fellas).

In the absence of other information the session/imperial/double/triple modifiers will also tell you how bitter you can expect your beer to be with sessions being relatively mild, perhaps a little citrusy as opposed to bitter and very light and refreshing. Triples on the other hand are still fairly rare, but their bitterness profile will not be subtle with some clocking in at over 100 IBU (international bittering units).

There are also stylistic modifiers to consider. In the absence of other information your hop flavors are going to be more or less bitter. But what about a New England IPA? West Coast? East Coast? Unfiltered? Northeast? White? Black? Belgian? Dry-hopped? Single-hopped? Citra? Tropical? Brut? Milkshake? What do these things mean?

I’m not entirely sure myself. It looks like I have some drinking to do…

(To be continued)

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