What is IPA Beer? Everything You Need to Know

As a beer enthusiast and lover of hoppy brews, I am often asked, “What is an IPA beer?”

IPA, short for India Pale Ale, is a beer style that has gained immense popularity in recent years.

It is known for its hop-forward flavor profile, refreshing bitterness, and aromatic qualities. In this article, I will dive into the world of IPA, exploring its history, characteristics, popular styles, and the overall IPA experience.

The History and Origin of IPA

The history of India Pale Ale (IPA) is fascinating and dates back to the 18th century. It all began during the era of the British Empire when Britain had a strong presence in India. British soldiers and colonists stationed in India craved a taste of home, particularly their beloved beer. However, traditional beers didn’t fare well during the long sea voyage from Britain to India.

Developing a Beer for Long Sea Voyages

To overcome this challenge, brewers developed a beer that could withstand the journey and maintain its quality. They created a style of beer with higher alcohol content and a generous amount of hops, which acted as natural preservatives. The increased alcohol content helped to prevent spoilage, while the abundance of hops added bitterness and antimicrobial properties, keeping the beer fresh during the voyage.

The exact origin of IPA is often attributed to a brewer named George Hodgson from the Bow Brewery in London. In the late 18th century, Hodgson began exporting his pale ale to India, and it gained popularity among British soldiers and expatriates. The beer became known as India Pale Ale, reflecting its intended destination.

Over time, the popularity of IPA spread beyond India, and it became a sought-after beer style in Britain and later around the world. IPA’s hop-forward character and ability to withstand long journeys made it a favorite among beer enthusiasts.

IPA Beer Today

Today, IPA has evolved into a diverse category with various sub-styles, each offering its own unique twist on the hop-forward experience. From classic English IPAs with balanced bitterness to bold American IPAs bursting with citrusy hop flavors, the IPA has become a symbol of the craft beer movement and a testament to the ingenuity of brewers throughout history.

The history and origin of IPA showcase the inventiveness of brewers in adapting their beers to withstand the challenges of long-distance travel. It also demonstrates the enduring appeal of a beer style that has captivated beer lovers for centuries. So, the next time you enjoy a hoppy and aromatic IPA, take a moment to appreciate the rich history behind this beloved beer style.

Characteristics of IPA

IPA is characterized by its hop-forward flavor, which often translates into a pronounced bitterness. The aroma of hops is also a defining feature, ranging from floral and citrusy to piney and resinous.

IPAs typically have a higher ABV (Alcohol By Volume) than standard beers, ranging from 5% to 7% or even higher. In terms of appearance, IPAs can vary in color from pale golden to amber, with varying levels of clarity and carbonation.

Popular IPA Beer Styles

There are several popular styles of IPA that have emerged over the years.

American IPA, with its bold hop profile and citrusy notes, is one of the most well-known styles. English IPA, on the other hand, tends to have a more balanced flavor with a moderate bitterness. New England IPA (NEIPA) is a hazy and juicy variant, while West Coast IPA is known for its resinous and piney characteristics. Double IPA (DIPA) offers a higher alcohol content and intensified hop flavors, while Session IPA provides a lower ABV option without compromising on hoppy goodness.

Each IPA style brings its own unique characteristics and flavor profiles to the table, offering beer enthusiasts a diverse array of options to explore.

Let’s delve into some of the popular IPA styles:

1) English IPA:

This style pays homage to the original IPAs that were exported from Britain to India. English IPAs feature a balanced malt and hop profile with a moderate level of bitterness. They tend to have earthy, floral, and herbal hop flavors, and the malt sweetness provides a sturdy backbone. English IPAs are known for their smooth and drinkable nature.

2) American IPA:

American IPAs are synonymous with the craft beer movement in the United States. They showcase a bolder hop character, often featuring citrusy, piney, and resinous flavors. American IPAs can vary in bitterness, but they generally lean towards a more pronounced hop bitterness. They have a vibrant and assertive personality that has made them hugely popular among hop enthusiasts.

3) New England IPA (NEIPA):

NEIPAs, also known as Hazy IPAs, have gained significant popularity in recent years. They are characterized by their hazy appearance, smooth mouthfeel, and juicy hop flavors. NEIPAs emphasize hop aroma and flavor over bitterness, resulting in a fruit-forward and tropical profile. These beers often showcase notes of citrus, stone fruits, and tropical hops.

4) West Coast IPA:

West Coast IPAs emerged from the craft beer scene on the U.S. West Coast. They are known for their bold hop bitterness, resinous hop flavors, and dry finish. West Coast IPAs prioritize hop bitterness and showcase a range of hop varieties, including classic American hops like Cascade and Centennial. They offer a crisp and clean drinking experience.

5) Double IPA (DIPA):

Double IPAs, also referred to as Imperial IPAs, take everything about IPAs to the next level. They feature higher alcohol content and an intensified hop character. DIPAs deliver an explosion of hop flavors and aromas, often showcasing an abundance of tropical, citrus, and pine notes. They provide a robust and full-bodied drinking experience.

6) Session IPA:

Session IPAs offer a lower alcohol alternative to traditional IPAs without compromising on hop character. They aim to deliver the hop-forward experience of an IPA while maintaining a more sessionable ABV. Session IPAs exhibit bright hop flavors, often with a lighter body and crisp finish, making them perfect for extended drinking sessions.

7) Brut IPA:

Brut IPAs are a relatively new addition to the IPA family. They are characterized by their dry and effervescent nature, similar to Champagne. Brut IPAs feature a bone-dry finish with minimal residual sweetness, showcasing hop flavors in a crisp and refreshing manner. They offer a unique twist on the IPA style, focusing on lightness and drinkability.

These popular IPA styles represent the breadth and diversity within the IPA category. From the classic and balanced English IPA to the hazy and tropical NEIPA, each style offers a distinct experience for beer enthusiasts. Whether you prefer the traditional hop bitterness of a West Coast IPA or the juicy hop bombs of a New England IPA, there’s an IPA style to suit every hop lover’s palate.

The IPA Experience

To fully enjoy an IPA, it’s important to consider the overall experience. Using the right glassware, such as a tulip or IPA glass, enhances the aroma and allows you to fully appreciate the hoppy bouquet. Serving IPAs at the proper temperature, around 45-50°F (7-10°C), ensures the flavors are balanced and not overly muted or harsh.

When it comes to food pairing, IPAs are versatile and can complement a range of dishes, including spicy foods, grilled meats, and flavorful cheeses. As you savor an IPA, take note of the complex flavors and aromas that the hops bring, from tropical fruits to pine forests.

Finding the Right IPA for You

With the wide variety of IPA styles available, it’s worth exploring different options to find the ones that suit your taste preferences. Try local and craft IPAs to support smaller breweries and discover unique flavor profiles.

Understanding your personal preferences, whether you enjoy a more balanced or intensely hoppy IPA, will guide you in selecting the perfect IPA for your palate. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try new breweries and styles. You may find hidden gems that become your go-to IPAs.

IPA’s Impact on the Beer Industry

IPAs have had a significant impact on the beer industry, especially in the context of the craft beer movement. The rise of IPAs has brought attention to hop-forward beers and has sparked creativity among brewers.

IPAs have become a catalyst for experimentation, leading to the development of new hop varieties, innovative brewing techniques, and unique flavor combinations. The popularity of IPAs has also influenced consumer preferences and shaped beer trends globally.

Common Misconceptions about IPA

There are a few common misconceptions about IPAs that are worth addressing.

Firstly, while IPAs are often associated with high bitterness, not all IPAs are extremely bitter. There are variations in bitterness levels, and some IPAs offer a more balanced flavor profile.

Secondly, IPAs can have varying alcohol levels, and there are low-alcohol IPAs available for those who prefer a milder experience.

Thirdly, IPAs are not exclusively for seasoned beer enthusiasts. With the wide range of styles available like most types of beer have, there are IPAs suitable for every palate, including those new to craft beer. Lastly, while IPA is a modern beer style, it has roots in historical brewing practices.

What is IPA Beer Conclusion

In conclusion, IPA beer is a captivating and dynamic style that has captured the hearts of beer enthusiasts around the world. Its history, distinct characteristics, and wide variety of styles make it an exciting category to explore.

From the hop-forward American IPAs to the balanced English IPAs and the hazy NEIPAs, there is an IPA for every taste preference. Find out how to make any beer taste better here.

So, next time you’re at a brewery or beer store, don’t hesitate to grab an IPA and embark on a flavorful journey through the world of hops.


1. Can IPAs be enjoyed by non-hop lovers? Absolutely! While IPAs are known for their hop-forward nature, there are variations in bitterness and flavor profiles. Some IPAs offer a more balanced and approachable experience, making them enjoyable for non-hop lovers as well.

2. How do I determine the bitterness of an IPA? The bitterness of an IPA is typically measured using the International Bitterness Units (IBUs) scale. Higher IBU values indicate higher bitterness levels, but it’s important to note that perceived bitterness can vary based on factors such as malt sweetness and hop flavor.

3. Are there low-alcohol IPAs available? Yes, many breweries offer low-alcohol IPAs, often referred to as “session IPAs.” These beers provide the hoppy flavors and aromas of an IPA but with a lower alcohol content, making them suitable for extended drinking sessions.

4. What foods pair well with IPAs? IPAs pair well with a range of foods due to their bold flavors and hop characteristics. They complement spicy dishes, grilled meats, bold cheeses, and even citrus-based desserts. Experiment with different pairings to discover your favorite combinations.

5. Is there an ideal serving temperature for IPAs? IPAs are best served at a slightly cooler temperature than standard lagers or ales. Aim for around 45-50°F (7-10°C) to allow the hop aromas and flavors to shine while maintaining a refreshing quality.


beer your way

Michael Wilson

With over 15 years of experience in the beer industry, I love sharing both my own and other beer experts knowledge on everything beer related. I've always loved the fact that beer has brought cultures and people together for thousands of years and the tradition only continues to grow.

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