If you are a fan of India Pale Ale, commonly referred to as IPA, you may regularly drink several versions of this very popular style, including American IPA, English IPA, and Imperial IPA (aka Double IPA or DIPA). Step a little more on the creative side, and you may have even tried West Coast Style IPA, and my personal favorite of the bunch: Black IPA – a name which raises eyebrows among those who disagree with such a designation. Call it American Black Ale, Cascadian Dark Ale, India Black Ale, or American Style India Black Ale, if you wish, but the flavor is still rich with roasted malts and a slam of hops that is enough to satisfy the most committed hop heads in the country.
Do I need to reiterate the original background story about IPA? One would be hard pressed to find anyone who isn’t aware of the legendary tale regarding IPA’s origins, but at the risk of having anyone feel left out, let me explain this historical touchpoint in the timeline of beer. The legend goes that about 150+ years ago, Brits commonly launched long voyages to India for trade and commerce. The British East India Company held dominion over India in these pursuits, and it was important to provide a safe beverage that would keep England’s seafaring agents healthy. Water was out of the question – there was much too great a chance of it spawning pathogens that could cause dysentery, fever, and the like.
By brewing a beverage that was reasonably high in alcohol they could provide a beverage that was safer to drink. Heavy hopping worked to preserve the beer over long periods of time. Although the beer was made with very different malts than are used today, it was a bit lighter than the typical dark beer so common to breweries of the time – thus the name “pale” ale. Keep in mind, it was not light or golden in color, but it was paler.
In 2010, IPA became truly “pale” with the birth of White IPA, also called Belgian IPA. Search as you may, you will be hard-pressed to find a beer that fits this description earlier than Collaboration No. 2/Conflux #2, the collaboration beer between Boulevard Brewing of Kansas City, Missouri, and Deschutes Brewing of Bend, Oregon.
As with many collaborations, once the brewers put their heads together to formulate the recipe, they each brewed their own version of the style. In addition to the typical pilsner malt used in IPA, these beers were created with a light hand of pale wheat malt and unmalted wheat, like you would expect in a Belgian Witbier. In fact, they added coriander and Curacao orange peel to align the style with the traditional recipe of Belgian Wit. But what about the IPA side? This new hybrid was heavily hopped with a fruit-forward selection of Cascade, Centennial, Bravo and Citra hops. To enhance the complex appeal, some flaked oats smoothed out the mouthfeel, while lemon grass and sage brought more spice into the finish.
Success was dependent on balancing the styles so one did not overwhelm the other. Boulevard’s expertise in Belgians, combined with Deschutes’s mastery of West Coast IPAs, resulted in a collaboration that brewers wanted to brew and craft beer enthusiasts heartily accepted. Neither the Brewers Association nor the Beer Judge Certification Program has added a White IPA sub-category to any of the three main categories of IPA . IPA receives the most entries in the commercial competitions in the U.S. In 2013, there were 255 entries in the American IPA category and 149 entries in the Imperial IPA category, with English IPA trailing behind with a moderate number of entries at 31 entries. Clearly, the attraction to the IPA style in the USA is found in the American Hop profile, which White IPA also showcases. But there was danger of having that style lost in the masses if entered into the three popular IPA categories that already existed.
The Brewers Association has added the American-Belgo Category due to the massive success of beers that display both the American Hop profile and the distinctive Belgian yeast profile. Understand, the beers in the American-Belgo category are not all White IPAs, but they are able to shine forth among the other beers in category.