Having had the discussion on pale ale, we can move on to its big brother, India Pale Ale, a once rarely found style that now is in the forefront of the beer world.
The history of India Pale Ale takes us back to the days of Britain's imperial rule of India. The troops in the country there could not find a decent beer and turned to the motherland to provide a solution.
The long sea voyage and tropical temperatures would spoil every shipload of beer that was sent to Asia so they decided to try something new. Knowing the preservative properties of hops, they heavily hopped the new style and increased the amount of malt to extend the length of fermentation during the trip, making it a much fresher beer upon arrival.
Of course, that also increased the alcohol content, which I'm sure was rarely complained about by the thirsty troops.
The style also caught on in England and became its own designation, now known commonly as IPA. Of course, as the present popularity increased and innovation became the norm, this style has morphed into several other subcategories - Imperial IPA, Double IPA, Triple IPA, etc. - depending on the amount of hops that the brewer wants to use.
The American breweries have taken it to these new heights and now almost every brewery has jumped onto the hop bandwagon and is making an IPA of some shape or form. A number of breweries have utilized many of the new species of hops in single hop IPAs or found tasty combinations of the lupulins to enhance flavor and aroma.
Leading the charge years ago was our local brewery, Dogfish Head of Milton, Del. Sam Calagione and crew began experimenting with adding hops on a regular interval throughout the whole boil and thus 60-Minute IPA, 90-Minute IPA and 120-Minute IPA were born. 60-Minute quickly became their premiere seller and so began the hop wars. Every year there are even competitions for the best IPAs in the world.
On the other side of the coin, the British version of this style is not palate numbing, but is usually citrusy and grassy and only a little stronger than a pale ale. For those who are not big hopheads, stick to the pale ale or choose this style.
So, what do you look for if you are seeking to find a drinkable beer to your liking? Look at the label and see if they state how many IBUs (International Bittering Units) there are in the beer. This is the level of bitterness you may find in the beer, but it does not always reflect the true taste. Many of the extreme beers say that they will have 120+ IBUs, but science says we can't distinguish difference much more than 100.
Next, you want to look at the alcohol content. The higher the alcohol, many times will decrease the amount of bitterness. For example, if you tasted a 90-Minute IPA and a 120-Minute IPA side-by-side, you would see that the 120 is a much sweeter beer at 18 percent than the 90 at 9 percent.
Finally, if you find that you do like hops and can't get enough, you have a countless number of choices today to make your tongue cry for mercy. Although becoming a bit repetitious, this style is now firmly entrenched as one of the most popular in the United States. Enjoy the journey!
Tuesday, May 14: Endless Summer in the Oyster Bar with Tuckahoe Brewing at Steve and Cookies in Margate, 5 p.m. to close.
May 17: Firewater's 10th Anniversary Fest at Tropicana, 6 to 10p.m., $25 in advance, $30 at the door.
May 18: Jersey Shore Fest at The Headliner, Route 35, Neptune, Monmouth County, 2 to 6 p.m., $49 for beer and food.
May 18: Dueling Randalls with Dogfish Head beers at Fitzpatrick's Crest Tavern in Wildwood Crest, 4 p.m.
Mark Haynie is a craft-beer expert who lives in Somers Point and travels extensively to find new beers. He is a contributor to the Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and is the co-author of the book New Jersey Breweries with Lew Bryson. His column runs every other week.