|Fuller's IPA, in the English style.|
But the style was not invented in the US. I'll quickly relate its origins:
IPAs emerged way back when, during the height of the British Empire. To satiate her troops abroad, Britain would ship beer to its colonies, most notably India. Utilizing the natural antimicrobial properties of the hop flower, the ale was aggressively hopped with as much as four or five pounds of hops per barrel so that it may survive the long voyage. The style gained popularity in the mid-1800s, then faded away until fairly recently.
In Michael Jackson's Beer Companion, the author credits brewer and hop aficionado Bert Grant with reviving the style some thirty years ago, making note of Grant's full intention to use local ingredients:
He started his microbrewery in the former Switzer opera house in Yakima, Washington, in the early 1980s. Yakima is the capital of the hop-growing region, and Bert rightly believes in using local materials. Soon after he opened his brewery, I visited him and tasted his range, which included an IPA. Albeit conventional in gravity (1048; 12 Plato) and golden in color, it was the hoppiest IPA I had ever tasted. That early essay was said to have 60 units of bitterness, and that was not difficult to believe. It was full of both the resiny flavor and bitterness of the hops. I have sampled it many times since, and always found it very hoppy, but nothing could match the shock of that first encounter.We've come a long ways since then; 60 IBUs is rather average in IPA terms. Over the past few years, numerous IPA subsets have emerged: Imperial IPAs, Belgian IPAs, Black IPAs, White IPAs, IBAs (India Brown Ales, that is), even a 1000 IBU IPA from that crazy Dane Mikkeller.
Jackson notes one of the properties of hops that I find most fascinating, that consumers tend to develop a tolerance for its bitterness. Many hop-heads can relate to "the shock of that first encounter" with an exceptionally hoppy beer, but will tell you that over time they've become more and more inclined towards that "resiny flavor" and go to great lengths to seek out that bitterness that often sticks to the teeth.
Without any further ado, here are five of my favorite IPAs from my travels:
Das Hopfen IPA - Wrecking Bar Brewpub - Atlanta, GA
Yet another offshoot of the style, the Wrecking Bar makes a flavorful German IPA, featuring a complexity of malt and hops unlike anything else on the market. Five German hops go into this beer: Magnum, Perle, Northern Brewer, Hallertau, and Tettnang. The Wrecking Bar also makes a great Pastrami Sandwich that makes it one of my all-time favorite brewpubs.
Hopsecutioner - Terrapin Beer Company - Athens, GA
The maker of Terrapin Rye also makes a mean IPA. Hopsecutioner is brewed with Warrior, Chinook, Centennial, Simcoe, Amarillo, and Cascade hops, coming out at 7.3% ABV and 71 IBUs.
Northern Lights - Starr Hill Brewery - Crozet, VA
I enjoyed Northern Lights on IPA Day last year. Master Brewer Mark Thompson makes it with Cascade and Willamette, keeping the beer approachable at 52 IBUs.
90-Minute IPA - Dogfish Head, Rehoboth Beach, DE
I have to mention what Esquire calls "perhaps the best IPA in America." This Imperial IPA is continuously hopped for 90 minutes, ending up at 90 IBUs and 9.0% ABV. Find it at a Dogfish Head Alehouse or any bottle shop worth its weight in beer.
El Guapo IPA - O'Connor Brewing Company - Norfolk, VA
One of my earliest posts features an IPA brewed with agave nectar. Hoard it when you see it -- El Guapo is hard to find.
In Panama, I will celebrate IPA Day by paying homage to the style's origins. Fuller's IPA from the UK is the only IPA commercially available in Panama, though that's sure to change before very long.
Follow the #IPADay hashtag on Twitter.