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Three little letters dominate the beer world: IPA. This now prolific style hasn’t always been the king of craft beer: just a few decades ago, the India Pale Ale had nearly slipped into oblivion. So how did this bitter ale become such a behemoth?
Popular myth says that IPAs were invented to survive shipping from England to India, but this isn’t the whole story –porters and ciders were already making the trip, but as anyone who’s tried to power through a pint of porter on a hot day can attest, lighter beers are more refreshing in the heat. Brewers were quick to adapt to the demands of overseas drinkers, creating an extra hoppy pale brew for export.
Hops add bitterness to beer, but they also contribute lovely fruity, floral, and herbal character. Those piny, citrusy, and dank aromas you pick up on a West Coast IPA? All the work of U.S. grown hops. On top of adding flavors and a bitter bite, hops also keep beer-spoiling microbes from growing, helping preserve the desired taste of the beer. These hoppy, flavorful pale ales were all the rage in England and abroad, then nearly disappeared between WWI and WWII. The rise of mass produced lagers and a growing, vocal temperance movement that paralleled Prohibition in the U.S. nearly doomed IPAs.
As craft beer in the U.S. gained steam, fledgling brewers looked to European styles for inspiration, ultimately saving the IPA from extinction. Anchor Brewing’s Liberty Ale is credited as being the forefather of modern IPAs, and when it was first released in 1975 its hoppiness was unmatched. This single-hopped brew spawned a whole new set of styles. Today we have sippable, low ABV session IPAs brewed to be refreshing and light, to the bigger, maltier, hoppier, and boozier double and triple IPAs like the famous Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger.
Since the Bay Area is the birthplace of the modern IPA, it’s no surprise that some of the most tasty and inventive examples of this style can be found here. Proving Ground IPA (7.0% ABV) by Magnolia Brewing in San Francisco calls back to IPA’s origins with English Maris Otter malt and more restraint than expected from a West Coast IPA. It’s pleasantly bitter and floral and infinitely drinkable, and hopheads will love the balance between the U.S. grown Columbus and Cascade hops with spicy Czech Saaz.
Ale Industries’ East Bay IPA (7.75% ABV) is the quintessential example of a Bay Area IPA. This Oakland brewery has balanced citrusy and mango-y hop flavors and aromatics with malty sweetness for a beer with just the right amount of tropical fruit, hoppy bitterness, and alcohol warmth.
You just can’t talk about hoppy Bay Area brews without bringing up Faction. These guys are great at highlighting the best of hop characteristics, and aren’t afraid to play with new varieties. Western Cape (6.3% ABV) is all about South African-grown Southern and J-17 hops. Every continent’s hops yield a different set of characteristics, and these super aromatic African varieties are heavy on berry and blackcurrant notes as opposed to the resiny, citrus-like character of American hops.
You can browse our IPA selection here.