“If I wanted my beer to taste like flowers, I’d eat flowers.” “They’re too bitter.” “Brewers are selling you juice for $15.” “Remember when beer tasted like beer?”
As hops advocates, we’ve heard it all before. Reasons why beer drinkers shy away from IPAs run the gamut– from issues with aroma, to taste, to presentation, to ABV, to sheer disdain for any beer style that takes attention away from an old-school beer drinker’s first love—malt.
But one thing that gets lost in the conversation is how rapidly the IPA style is changing. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that everything you think you know about IPA is wrong, there’s a fresh movement taking hold of the craft beer world that’s focused on flavor and defying conventions, and that’s creating a whole host of new options for those who dislike the intense bitterness of old.
IPAs changed the game for craft beer, and though they may not be the savior of the industry, they’re not the enemy either. As far as taste goes, if you think you don’t like them, there’s a good reason. Hear me out—here are 10 issues you may have with IPAs, and how to get past them to find an IPA that fits your own personal taste…
1. “They’re too bitter/ They’re too sweet.”
If your intro-IPA was from the West Coast five years ago and you found its pine resin flavor undrinkable, allow me to introduce you to fruit-forward New England-style IPAs. Conversely, if you find recent New-England style IPAs to be too sweet or too thick, West-Coast IPAs have been wearing IBUs and crisp malt bills like a badge of honor for years.
One more thing—it’s time to stop using the word “hoppy” as shorthand for bitter. Today’s brewers are light years beyond that, using new techniques to focus on other flavors the oils in hops provide and achieving creative results. “Hoppy” today can mean notes of berries, melon, grapefruit, white wine grapes, and more, and most brewers pushing the envelope with hops are specifically trying to reduce the perception of bitterness in their beers, to bring those other flavors forward.
These days, no matter what you love about IPAs, you can find a beer that scratches that itch. Try beers from the Veil Brewing in Virginia or Trillium Brewing in Massachusetts for an example of how to master the aromatics of hops without adding bitterness. Or, ask Russian River in California how to capture a California pine forest in a glass. Both can be done masterfully and both qualify as IPAs, but they provide very different experiences so find one that fits your palate rather than writing them all off.
2. They’re filling – i.e: you can’t drink 20 of them.
Craft beer drinkers could go on for days about the unnecessary need for macro drinkers to consume a case of beer in a night. Sure, we enjoy our bottle shares with friends, but the key with aromatic, flavorful beers such as IPAs is to slow them down and enjoy every nuance. Beer doesn’t have to be chugged to be enjoyable, and if you must chug it to enjoy it, are you sure you even like beer at all? Many craft IPAs are (at minimum) 1.5-2x as strong as your average macro-brewed lager, so drink them more slowly and soak up that flavor.
3. You’re running (with Double IPAs) before you walk (with lower ABV IPAs).
Double IPAs are the bigger, meatier, fuller-bodied older brothers of IPAs, and have a tendency to overwhelm the senses with their intensity. More alcohol requires more hops and more malt character to create balance, but the result can be jarring for the uninitiated. Aside from ABV, everything you love (or hate) about IPAs will shine even brighter in a DIPA, so if you’re dipping your toes into heavily-hopped waters for the first time, try a more-muted IPA before jumping head first into doubles.
4. The residual sugar or high ABV left you with a terrible hangover.
Beer affects people in different ways, and this may be one of them. We advise everyone to drink in moderation and consider all possible factors that can influence how you feel the next day. Any high-ABV beer can affect your abilities after just one glass and any alcoholic beverage with a high sugar content is likely to make you feel the affects the next day. Also, factors like unkempt dirty draft lines or dehydration can ruin whatever plans you had the next morning, as well. Consider all factors when assessing your beer.
5. You think they’re a bad showcase of brewing ability simply because everyone is making them.
I’ll level with you. Because IPAs are popular right now, there are tons flooding the market (and not all of them are good). Walk into any bottle shop, and if you don’t know the brewery, you’re basically just judging unknown authors by their covers and sticker price. Don’t let the popularity of the style deter you from realizing what it takes to brew a GREAT IPA. Take pride in your abilities as a consumer, utilize the tons of review sites available (start with ours at https://beerandbrewing.com/beer-reviews/ ), take recommendations from friends, and trust us when we say the world of hops can be a delicious one.
6. You’re drinking/serving them in the wrong environment.
When you’re dealing with a temperamental beer style such as an IPA, environment means something. With such a high hops oil content, too much light before opening and you can easily skunk it (see lightstuck). As Adam Avery discussed in 8 Tips for successful Cellaring, inconsistent storage temperatures before opening can ruin the flavor of your beer as well.
The preferred serving temperature for IPAs is around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, much warmer than what is poured straight from a draft system or directly out of your refrigerator. Allow the beer to warm and sip it as it does. At colder temperatures, you’ll taste more bitterness and will miss some of the more fruity aromatics, but as the beer warms, you’ll peel back layers on the palate.
7. Freshness Matters.
Brewers pride themselves on the hops their IPAs use, and many travel to the hops growing areas around the world every year to select the freshest and most flavorful hops available at harvest. But no matter how much hops they use, hops flavors dissipate over time. If you see a beer nerd checking dates on a 6-pack at the bottle shop, this is why. The best time to drink an IPA is right now– don’t sit on them. The closer to the bottling or canning date, the better chance you have at capturing the exact flavors the brewer intended. As soon as two to three months after bottling, you can start losing flavor elements. When you open a two year old IPA and it tastes like a malt bomb, don’t be shocked—that’s what happens when the flavorful hops oils break down.
8. Your first IPA experience was from an oxidized growler.
Let’s all take this time to appreciate the crowler movement. Growlers can be fun and convenient. They make transferring draft beer easy, they come in fun containers you can personalize, and they even have handles. Unfortunately, not every individual beer drinker or brewery takes growler fills seriously. They’re tough to clean properly without the right equipment, and the filling process can allow oxygen to enter the beer. Oxygen, in the tiniest amount, can ruin a beer instantly. Some breweries committed to growlers have developed novel systems to purge oxygen when filling growlers, and as crowlers phase in we worry less about this. But if your first taste of IPA was from a traditional growler fill and it tasted, smelled, or looked like soggy cardboard, you should give IPAs another chance.
9. You have an allergy to plants and show sensitivity to hops oils.
This may be a smaller subset of beer drinkers, but it’s still worth mentioning. Hops allergies are more common than you think and can result in sore throats, swollen tongues, and even rashes on the skin. The adverse reaction you think you’re having to taste can very well be your body rejecting hops oils and aromas. Though all beers contain hops, the elevated level of hops in IPAs can trigger responses you don’t typically have to other beers, similar to a gluten allergy.
10. You haven’t tried enough IPAs to know you hate them.
If you gave up on IPAs after your first 5 or even your first 15, you’re missing out on hundreds of beers that could be made perfectly for your tastes. As trends continue to change and brewers you thought you knew evolve with experience, the beer on the market changes, too. My advice? Allow your palate to evolve with it, and don’t become jaded by what you’ve had—instead, get excited by what you haven’t had yet.
If you’re looking for an intro-IPA, here’s our list of some from all over the United States we think are great representations of the style when they’re freshly-packaged:
- Bell’s Brewery Two Hearted IPA
- Deschutes Brewery Fresh Squeezed IPA
- Silver City Brewing Co. Tropic Haze
- Great Notion Brewing Co. Juice Jr.
- Creature Comforts Brewing Co. Tropicalia
- Firestone Walker Brewing Co. Easy Jack IPA
- Harpoon Brewery IPA
- Heavy Seas Beer Loose Cannon
Have you brewed this recipe? What did you think?
Brewer’s Perspective: New England–Style IPAs
Getting great results brewing a New England–style IPA requires more focus on process than recipe alone. Ryan Brooks, formerly of Coronado Brewing in San Diego, shared their process of developing a New England–style IPA in the West Coast IPA heartland.