The IPA is craft brewing’s bitter Godzilla, rampaging across bars, supermarkets, and bottle shops, laying waste to the poor stouts and pale ales crossing its path. IPAs are big business and growing bigger, accounting for more than $800 million in sales last year and counting.
Hit any bar or brewery, and the tap lines are likely dominated by IPAs. Despite its chart-topping dominance, the IPA is massively misunderstood, with myths and misconceptions lingering like a triple IPA’s bitter bite. How can one of the country’s most popular drinks be so misconstrued? Let’s start with the definition: IPA stands for India pale ale, a construct as loose as XXXL sweatpants. IPA is essentially shorthand for any brew with more hops than the average beer.
During the heady days of the early millennium, brewers added ever-more hops to their beer, an arms race of IBUs—that is, International Bittering Units—designed to lay waste to palates and serve as a counterpoint to lagers sold by the 30-pack.
Today, this ghost pepper–like blaze toward intensity has, for the most part, flamed out. Today’s IPA is not just a bitter bomb ready to blow up your taste buds. Just because a brewer uses plenty of hops, it doesn’t mean you’ll wince at first sip. Bitter and hoppy are not the same thing.
The IPA umbrella covers beers that are inky and roasty, gobbed with grapefruits and oranges, barely boozy or tropically tilted, and cloudier than November in New England. The IPA is not a fixed notion: It’s a restless shape-shifter, defying easy definition. But I tried. Oh, I tried. My latest book, Complete IPA, is a headlong dive into a mosh pit of hops and IPAs, covering the latest trends and crucial brewers to know, as well as deflating persistent falsehoods.
Here’s the bitter, and not-so-bitter, truth on eight enduring IPA myths.