Hop to it
My daughter has found a monthly hobby consulting online sources of questionable validity to fill her calendar with “national days” like National Sock Day or National Pancake Day. This seems to be a trend recently—modern Hallmark holidays, the likely love children of marketing firms and social media propagation. So, today, the first Thursday in August, please join me in observing IPA Day, celebrating America’s favorite craft beer style—India Pale Ale.
Favorite is no exaggeration. IPA is the largest category in virtually every beer competition. As the largest category in craft beer sales, it accounts for 26 percent. The number of spin-off and sub-styles is dizzying. Beyond standard American IPA and stronger Double IPA, lower alcohol “session” IPAs are the recent trend. Add in classic English IPA, black, red, white and brown IPAs, Belgian, rye and fruited IPAs, and you realize almost anything with those three letters on the label has potential.
For the uninitiated, briefly, traditional IPA is a highly hopped beer of moderate strength. Beyond that, the variations are many. Typically, the amount of hops lends a characteristic, often intense bitterness that some find unappealing. As the style evolves, many brewers are seeking flavors and aromas of tropical fruit, pine and citrus rather than just bitterness. If the only IPA you know is what you tasted 10 years ago and didn’t like, it’s time to try again—starting with your local breweries.
While some local brewers focus on continental styles or sours, and others pour a satisfying spectrum from blonde to amber to stout, a few are going all-in on hops and looking for that IPA jackpot.
Great Basin Brewing Company: An IPA column would be incomplete without the granddaddy of Nevada IPAs, Ichthyosaur India Pale Ale. These days Icky drinks more like an English IPA, earthier and less bitter than its American cousins—and serves as a benchmark of IPA evolution. The “West Coast” Tectonic Event IPA—at nine percent ABV, really a Double IPA—is a showcase of modern American hops.
Revision Brewing Company: The most prominent “hop shop” in town, Revision’s award-winning IPA is just the start. Hoppy beers are this brewery’s game, and it plays it well, with two Double IPAs, an 11 percent Triple IPA, and a constantly rotating menu of seasonal and experimental brews.
Lead Dog Brewing: One of the newer kids on the block, Lead Dog seems to have found its niche playing with IPA variations. I recently found six different IPAs on tap. I really enjoyed the Citra Solo, both canned and on draft, while the hoppiness in the black IPA took a backseat to the coffee-like dark malt. Amarillo Dayze, a version of the beer geek darling “Northeast IPA” is silky, hazy, and bursting with fruit-juicy hops but has virtually no bitterness.
Pigeon Head Brewery: While Pigeon Head has mainly been focused on lager brewing, the siren song of IPA was apparently irresistible. Recent releases Juicy Smooch and Silky Pillows are easily the best local examples of the Northeast sub-style, like Juicy Fruit gum in a glass. One-off variations with tropical fruit and funky saison yeast were also on tap when I visited.
Of course, every local brewer offers at least one IPA of some kind. From The Depot’s Voyager to Brewer’s Cabinet Dragon Punch, the palette of hop varieties and the flavors and aromas they offer are well represented. Happy IPA Day!