What is IPA day?
Founded in 2011 by craft beer enthusiasts Ashley Rouston and Ryan Ross, IPA day is a celebration of India Pale Ale, the bitter, hoppy, high-alcohol beer that is super popular in today’s craft beer culture. IPA Day is celebrated at bars, breweries, and beer retailers throughout the world, albeit unofficially.
But wait, what exactly is IPA?
IPA dates back to 18th-century England when breweries started shipping large quantities of pale ale to the growing population of British traders and naval officers stationed in India. The idea was that adding extra hops to a pale ale would make it more suitable for long journeys and consumption in a hot climate. At first it was also called things like “pale ale as prepared for India” and “pale export India ale.”
“IPAs have become synonymous with something very hoppy, and modern American IPAs in particular are characterized by bold hops, though historically that flavor wasn’t as strong,” says Megan Saxelby, the manager at New York City specialty beer shop in Grand Central Station, Beer Table Pantry. “It is an identifiable style, because ‘bitter’ is a super identifiable flavor profile.”
To help you raise a cold pint to IPA day, Saxelby gave us a rundown on 10 of her favorite IPAs.
WHO: Ithaca Brewing Company, Ithaca, NY
WHAT: A classic IPA with a hugely floral bouquet (the “bouquet” of a wine or beer is what it smells like). It’s a little bit fruity, and its hoppy flavor is more mild than in other IPAs.
WHO: Thornbridge Brewery, Derbyshire, UK
WHAT: A super-citrusy IPA with an almost woody finish. Somewhere in between a traditional British IPA and a modern American IPA (traditional British IPAs are less sweet, less hoppy, and less alcoholic), it’s pretty hoppy but also has a little bit of honey malt flavor. Its ABV is relatively low for an IPA.
WHO: Peekskill Brewery, Peekskill, NY
WHAT: A classic, “gulp-able” American IPA made by a small brewery in Westchester, NY. Its availability is limited, but is served at select bars around New York. Strong hops and an almost peachy flavor make it easy to drink more than one.
4. Yang Imperial IPA
WHO: Evil Twin Brewing, Copenhagen, Denmark
WHAT: A very strong Imperial IPA, this is the most alcoholic beer on the list. Originally it was developed by the brewery in tandem with Yin Imperial Stout, and the two were mixed to make a signature “Black and Tan” (black and tan = yin and yang, get it?). It’s a great beer in its own right, though, with strong coffee notes that are balanced out by an herbal bitterness.
WHO: Barrier Brewing Company, Oceanside, NY
WHAT: From a small brewery on Long Island, this beer is hard to track down, but so worth it. It’s marketed as a “session IPA,” meaning that it has a lower alcohol content than other beers brewed in the same style. Its refreshingly crisp, almost grassy taste makes it perfect for a hot summer day.
6. Japanese Classic Ale
WHAT: Bitter with strong black pepper notes, this beer is a departure from the traditional IPA. After brewing, it is aged in cedar barrels traditionally used to hold aging sake. This aging process gives it a spicy, rustic flavor that is extremely unique.
WHO: Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids, Mich.
WHAT: Another session beer, this guy is marketed by Founders is as the IPA you can drink “all day” because of its relatively low alcohol content. It has strong grapefruit notes that balance perfectly with its bitter, grassy hops.
WHO: Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits, San Diego, Calif.
WHAT: Saxelby calls this a “stereotypical west coast IPA” — in a good way. It has a slight caramel flavor, but isn’t overwhelmingly sweet. Dominated by hops, this IPA is extremely bitter with notes of pine, and is a departure from the fruity IPAs that dominate the market.
WHO: 21st Amendment Brewery, San Francisco, Calif.
WHAT: Aged in oak barrels, this beer has a strong woody flavor that masks its extremely high alcohol content. It has notes of pineapple and a malty, not-too-rich body. Still, more than one of these might be too much.
10. Nebuchadnezzar Imperial IPA
Omnipollo Nebuchadnezzar. Say that five times fast.
WHO: Omnipollo Brewery, Stockholm, Sweden
WHAT: According to the brewer, “‘Neb’ is an Imperial IPA home brew recipe that has been scaled up with no consideration to economies of scale… Get fresh or die trying.” Meaning, this is an incredibly good version of what someone can brew at home, not a commercial beer. If that doesn’t sell you, this herbal, hoppy IPA is probably the easiest drinking high-alcohol beer you’ll ever have.
Note: Today (Aug.1, 2013), at Beer Table Panrty, the first six IPAs on this list will be available on tap, in celebration of IPA day. New Yorkers, get some!