The “Next IPA” is, of course, IPA itself. While everyone loves predicting what the next dominant beer style is going to be—“Pilsner! Sour! Pastry stout!”—the industry itself has decided that no matter what the next innovation is that captures the imagination of drinkers everywhere, it will be called “IPA” whether it bears any resemblance at all to the IPAs that have come before it.
It’s understandable, too—that three-letter acronym sells a lot of beer, despite how polarizing it is for some. It has become synonymous with “hops,” which, depending on your point of view, can mean bitter, floral, tropical, citrusy, grassy, oniony, wine-like, and more. As a result of that shorthand use, it’s not surprising that you can find beers in the market like “sour IPA,” “black IPA,” or more recent developments like the ultra-dry and minimal-IBU “brut IPA.”
I’m going to withhold judgment as to whether that’s a good thing—ultimately, the entire concept of beer styles is based in the need of companies to sell you beer, and there’s nothing fixed or real to the definitions that marketers have ascribed to various styles over the past century plus of industrial beer production. Ron Pattinson has expounded on that enough times in our pages to relieve you of any romantic attachment to fixed definitions, no matter how hard the BJCP tries to codify them.
But the good news for those with more progressive attitudes toward “style” is that these latest parallel trends of everything from sweet and sour IPA to dry and fruity IPA make the name almost meaningless as a descriptor. The acronym tells you so little about the actual beer in the package that you have to dig a bit deeper to really understand what the brewer has made. Reductively broad terms just don’t work as well anymore for predicting whether or not you’re going to like a beer. It’s more necessary than ever to engage with the actual beer and understand the intention of the brewer than to just buy something off the store shelf because it has “IPA” slapped on it.
The even better news is that those simple dichotomies that we thought we understood last year—West Coast is bitter, New England–style is hazy and sweet—are being confounded now by breweries regardless of geography. The best West Coast–style IPAs are using more late hopping techniques and modern hops than ever, and brewers from Maine to Texas are tailoring New England–style IPAs to their local palates and seasonal climates by drying them out, adding bitterness, and making them their own. The cross-pollination among various IPA styles will continue to render useless any definitions we create, as our palates continue to collectively evolve. And that process is, ultimately, what keeps brewing interesting.
Whether you’re a die-hard fan of bitter IPAs, embrace the residual sweetness of New England–style IPAs, love fruited sour IPAs, or prefer it dry with no IBUs, we hope you enjoy this issue. We made it for you.
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