How to Brew the Best IPA In Town
If you’re going to brew the best IPA in town, then you’d better be ready for some steep competition.
There’s a good chance that you want to brew the best IPA in town, but you also realize how challenging it’s going to be. IPAs—or India pale ales—hold a special place in both the hearts of the brewers who craft them and the legions of drinkers who love them. Sure, the competition is steep if you’re going to brew the best IPA in town, but luckily, there’s always room for another great IPA craft beer! With these tips in mind as you’re brewing that liquid gold, you’re certain to make a splash that has your town coming back for more and more.
The Best IPA: History First
If you’ve set out to brew the best IPA in town, you probably have a few ideas about what your vision includes. Maybe the local craft beer scene in your town is lacking and you’ve decided to step up and make a difference. Does your brewery have a best-selling IPA on the menu? Maybe your customers have spoken and you’re ready to give the people what they want!
Whatever your reasons, one thing is clear—you can’t brew the best IPA in town if you don’t have a solid understanding of the history behind this iconic and much-beloved craft beer style. The history behind IPAs is critical to how the style evolved into what it is today, and it just so happens to be fascinating as well.
The English Pale Ale—Destination India
When it comes to food and drink, it’s not uncommon for an incidental sequence of events to lead to the discovery and invention of completely new things.
In this case, the story begins with the British colonization of India during the late 1700s. The British empire had troops, sailors, and emigrants spread out across the world, and India was one of the most important outposts to British dominance in the Far East. All of these colonies and the sailors that managed and maintained the supply chains demanded beer. A lot of beer.
At the time, the English pale ale was a popular style of beer. Porters and other brews were also popular, but the pale ale was in particular favor. In India, it was far too warm to brew beer, thus the need for import was high. Predictably, brewers in England were consistently brewing their pale ales to keep the outpost in India fully supplied with beer.
There was one major obstacle that got in the way—preserving these shipments of beer during the long journey to India. Combined with the hot, muggy temperatures whilst sailing around Africa and the length of time such voyages took, more often than not, the beer went bad. There simply wasn’t enough alcohol content or hops—which act as a preservative—in the beer to allow it to survive the journey in the early days of the British outpost.
Unintended Consequences: The Accidental Birth of the India Pale Ale
Seeking to curb the problem of beer spoiling during travel, brewers in London realized that they needed to brew stronger beer with more preservatives to survive the long journey to India. By increasing both the hops and malt content during the brewing process, brewers began producing a stronger version of the English pale ale, robust enough to make the trip around Africa to India.
One such brewer, George Hodgson, leveraged his connections and influence with the East India Trading Co. to dominate the beer export market to the colony with his strong English pale ale.
The brewers of Burton-on-Trent in the English Midlands created a pale ale that was far superior to Hodgson’s pale ale export. Brewmaster Samuel Allsop is credited for creating a pale ale of superior quality, which displaced the beers from London and became the preferred pale ale of choice exported to the English colonies.
Yet for all the competition and craftwork going on among British brewers, there was an unexpected variable at work on these stronger pale ales. Something no one expected—the effect barrel aging would have on the beer inside.
Whiskey and other spirit distillers have long known about the magic of oak barrel aging, but no one knew that this same effect could occur with beer in only a few months at sea. Due to the fluctuations in temperature, humidity, and the constant motion at sea, beer stored onboard inside barrels experienced the aging process much faster than at home in England. In effect, what normally took place over the course of years in the colder, more temperature-controlled climate inside of a barrelhouse turned out to be rapidly accelerated in the trip to India.
The result not only improved the quality of the beer stored inside these barrels, but it also changed the beer into what became known as the India Pale Ale.
IPA Today: How American Craft Brewers Redefined Tradition
Beer in America hasn’t always enjoyed the renown and influence that it has today. Prohibition firmly placed American beer as something to be both avoided and scoffed at by brewers from everywhere else in the world. Yet Prohibition turned out to be responsible for the craft brewing revolution American’s enjoy today, with IPAs leading the way.
During the 1970s, American microbreweries began reemerging after having been wiped out by Prohibition, and many imitated European styles. However, the use of American ingredients—especially hops—quickly led many microbrewers to begin experimenting. The first microbrewers began producing long-forgotten ale styles. Thus, the reemergence of the IPA and the birth of the American craft beer scene began.
To Americans, the craft beer revolution was fully embraced by millions of thirsty consumers. IPAs quickly grew in popularity due to their bold, bright flavors and higher ABVs. With virtually no brewing tradition to guide American brewers, there was nothing to hold them back from experimenting with the style.
Today, the American IPA is still one of the most popular styles among craft brewers and craft beer drinkers. IPA has grown into more than just a style of beer, and now embodies a wide gamut of flavor profiles, brewing methodologies, textures, and philosophies.
There are many different sub-genres of IPAs, including (but not limited to): English IPA, American IPA, Imperial IPA, Double IPA, Belgian, Black, Brown, Red, Rye, White, Hazy, Brut, West/East Coast, Session, aged in xXx barrel… and so on.
Ideas to Brew the Best IPA In Town
Now that you have a better idea of where the IPA style originates and what it means to American brewers and consumers, we must next define the concept of “best” before we go any further.
What does it take to brew THE best IPA?
First and foremost, if you’re going to brew the best IPA, then you had better start by brewing for YOU. If you’re trying to brew the best IPA you possibly can because YOU want to, then you’re on the right path. But if you’re trying to do this just to hopefully make everyone else happy, well then… you’re not likely to be very happy yourself.
Keeping this in mind, there are plenty of tips and tricks available so that you can brew an IPA beer that you’re proud of. If you keep this in mind as a brewmaster and a beer lover, then you’re on the right track.
Do Your Research!
If you’re aiming to brew the best IPA your local beer scene has ever tasted, then you had better spend a lot of time doing your research. You’re already off to a great start learning about the history of the style (you’re welcome!) but there’s still a lot of information to collect, evaluate, and learn from.
Listen to your local craft beer scene. How well do you understand your local market and craft beer scene? What are the other local craft brewers doing in town, and what are their most popular IPAs? What does your local community like to drink, and are they even open to the IPA style? Talk to other brewers or get involved in your local brewer’s association.
Take hints from what’s already working. One of the best ways to learn and compile your research is to brew beer clones. In this case, if you brew clone beer of your favorite IPAs as well as of other highly renowned brews already loved by millions of drinkers, you’ll figure out what it is that makes a good IPA great. You can even try to recreate an IPA without the recipe itself.
Don’t be afraid to test out a new brew recipe. If IPAs aren’t your brewery’s featured style, keep working through different IPA styles and rotate them into your beer menu throughout the process. Holding a special beer tasting event party is a great way to promote your brewery and bring people through the doors. The customer feedback you’ll receive could be vital to nailing down the best IPA recipe.
Go to other brewing events and try to identify the different ingredients, hop varietals, and processes involved in other brews. Keep your skills sharp while learning a new appreciation for the craft of brewing IPAs. In other words, never stop refining your process!
By doing your research, something you should be looking for is gaps in what’s currently available. Is there something that everyone loved that’s no longer available to the local community, or is there something that no one has done yet? What about brews other local brewers attempted but failed at? Can you do better? Try to put your finger on the pulse of your community and figure out what your brew can add that others don’t. If you can succeed in identifying what may be absent from your local community, you might have figured out how to brew the best IPA in town! Keep your eyes and ears open, and the answer might jump out at you.
Choose Your Ingredients Wisely
Refining your process is critical, but the quality of your IPA depends upon the ingredients that you work with. IPAs are all about the hops, and your choices here will make all the difference. There are hops better suited to bittering, and others used for their floral bouquet. You can use syringes of hop extract to add bittering to your brew without needing to add huge amounts of vegetal matter to your beer. Other hops can add citrus and juice-like qualities, while all hops will contribute to a higher ABV.
The grains you choose to use in your malt mash bill, along with your choice in water will also impact the result of your IPA beer. Using wheat, rye, or barley will all change the flavors and texture of your IPA, as will the type and source of your water.
In short, to brew the best IPA in town, you’re going to have to work hard. But the journey will be worth it, especially if it results in happy customers and a new popular brew to add to your brewery’s menu. If brewing is what makes you happy, then you’ve already won, and all the rest is just gravy. By following these tips, you’re well on your way.