Some styles fade away into the history books after a while, while others evolve into something new. In some cases, new styles emerge on their own. In an effort to continue to bring in customers and try to stay relevant, have we gone too far with some styles? India Pale Ales, or IPAs as they’re known, might be one such victim. For a style that began in England as early as the 1860’s, it is a far cry from its early beginnings, evolving into a piney hop bomb here in the United States, much to the delight of craft beer drinkers everywhere.
Today we see Mango, Pineapple, Grapefruit, White, Red, Black, even session IPAs and 2017 has seen the IPA continue to dominate beer sales, as well as retain its title as the most entered style in the industry. The variant IPA has almost taken over a straight up traditional American or English IPA, causing many to wonder if in our efforts to give consumers what they want, while at the same time distinguish ourselves from other breweries, have we run out of ways to keep the IPA party going?
The Beer Judge Certification Program, the official beer style guidelines in U.S. as set forth by the Brewers Association, define an American IPA as “A decidedly hoppy and bitter, moderately strong American pale ale, showcasing modern American or New World hop varieties.” The Brewers Associations goes on to say the IPA acronym isn’t spelled out since most beers that use the IPA moniker these days never went to India and many aren’t pale. IPA has come to mean any beer style that has a strong hop profile.
So, what of the beer purists who look to an IPA as that which only meets strict style guidelines? Either IPA is evolving much as it did in the latter half of the Twentieth-Century, or many of these variations are mere fads, temporary trends if you will. “I mean in some instances they are,” says Les Locke, head brewer at San Antonio’s Southerleigh Brewing Co. “In some cases, I don’t think IPA experimentation has been pushed far enough.”
While many of these IPA variants now considered sub-styles of the India Pale Ale, is the India Pale Ale, whether American or English, falling by the wayside? “I think guidelines are important, but there is room to create and blur, probably much to the chagrin of the purists out there. Without that willingness to blur, where would be?” Says Locke. With so many new hop varietals emerging each year, credence is certainly lent to Locke’s viewpoint and most brewers are working to keep up with what appears to be never-ending flavor profiles, giving the impression that our favorite hoppy style is certainly here to stay.
With IPAs dominating over 50% of some bars taps in many instances, will we eventually get tired of the IPA and begin to crave more of other styles? If recent data in the last few years has anything to say about it, that will not happen anytime soon. According to Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association, IPAs accounted for only 8% in 2008 and just seven years later in 2015, reached 27.4%, growing more than 10 times its size back in 2008. If we consider all the variants, or sub-categories, that number is probably much higher.
Watson went on to say that we will not likely see another style phenomenon as we have with IPAs for quite some time, due to that massive IPA growth which has reached a ~3.6 share of overall beer sales. It is simply too much for other styles to overcome at this point. So regardless of which side of the hop fence you sit, it appears IPAs in one form or another will be with us for a little while longer.