IPAs explained

I’m an unapologetic hophead, and consider no beer too hoppy to drink. I love the constricting bitterness. I love the resiny, citrusy, nostril-doping snort of a good, hop-filled American-style India Pale Ale (IPA).

I wasn’t always this way. If you handed me an Ice Fog IPA 20 years ago I would have pawned it off on someone else. It would have been too bitter, too weird, too dissimilar to Molson Canadian. But people are allowed to change.

Now I’ve seen the light. Hops are an essential ingredient in most beers. Rightly so, because they actually protect beer from contamination. This is one of the reasons hop use spread and took hold across the brewing world. Of course, the English ban on hop substitutes in 1710 also helped.

In 18th century England, the Industrial Revolution was changing the face of brewing. It was moving out of the pubs and into larger commercial enterprises. For the first time, beer was being exported en masse to far-flung nations. The use of hops allowed barrels of beer to arrive relatively drinkable after a long sea voyage.

English sailors benefited from the transportability of beer. Some received rations of a gallon of beer per day because stored water tended to become brackish. By the 18th century, England was shipping beer to all its colonies: America, Australia, the West Indies and India. Among the beers shipped to India was a highly hopped pale ale that survived the six-month sea voyage quite well. The “India” part of the name came later in the early 1800s as this exported beer style grew in popularity.

We are lucky enough to have a few IPAs available at the local liquor store: Hop Head by Tree Brewing in Kelowna, Ice Fog by Yukon Brewing, and Fat Tug by Driftwood Brewing out of Victoria. Most beer aficionados will have already tried the first two. Ice Fog is a malty IPA with lower hopping rates than many American examples. Hop Head is a little more hop-forward. Both of these beers are good starters for the style if hops aren’t really your thing.

Fat Tug IPA is an excellent example of an American-style IPA. The citrusy hops come through in the aroma. There is just enough residual sweetness from the malt to balance the bittering hops. It is drier (less sweet) than Ice Fog or Hop Head and is more bitter. The International Bittering Units (IBUs), which measure the bitterness of the beer, are printed on the label. Fat Tug clocks in at 80 IBUs. In comparison, Hop Head is 64 IBUs and a beer like Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale is around 20. By the way, Alexander Keith’s is NOT an IPA — and don’t let anyone tell you differently.

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