Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Session #77 Roundup (a.k.a. Why IPA is a Big Deal)


Well, we "only" had 33 participants for this month's edition of The Session (including myself), and it sure took a while to read through all of the blog posts! There's a lot of work that goes into hosting this endeavor, but I sincerely enjoyed reading the responses. I really wondered why IPA is such a big deal, and I was happy to see that many people had also be wondering the same thing. Following is a quick list summarizing some of the top reasons cited:

  1. HOPS! for the taste / flavor
  2. Different than mass-produced "macro" beer
  3. Hype / abundance of supply

Probably one of the most frequently mentioned IPAs was BrewDog's Punk! IPA, which I have not yet had the pleasure of tasting. It's definitely on my list to try, though!

Also of note, I was happily surprised to have gotten responses from bloggers around the world and on at least three continents. To name a few places: USA, Canada, England, France, and Australia.

By the way, before I get into my roundup notes, I wanted to make sure that all of you beer bloggers who are interested are registered with BeerBloggersConference.org. They maintain the most comprehensive lists of beer blogs that I've found yet. By my count, there are over 1,100 beer blogs in North America, over 500 international blogs (i.e. outside of North America), and a number of industry blogs too. For your consideration.

And now it's time for the main event. Following is my roundup for The Session #77. Posts are not presented in any particular order. I've made some notes about each of the posts, mostly summarizing the content but also with my own comments interjected. Please follow the link to read the original. A big THANK YOU to all participants! Prost!

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Authors: Boak and Bailey
Notes: Boak and Bailey write that "We believe fruity, flowery, perfumed IPAs with showboating hop aromas and flavours have an intrinsic popular appeal." They quote Pete Brown: "'The first time you experience beers like this it's like tasting in colour and realising that you've only had black and white until now.'" Further, "From a British perspective,...IPA...symbolizes a sort of rebirth of the glory days of British brewing." Nice!

Author: James
Notes: Not a hop-head, James suffers palate-fatigue from big/bold IPAs. It's an acquired taste. he preferred malty beers when getting into craft beers. I'm wondering how he'd like a Black IPA (hehe). "The rate at which new characterful hops are being born, promoted and utilised these days is providing a never ending hype machine for new beers...And that's exactly what craft beer enthusiasts love, more beers, with different flavours, more often." Yep!

Author: The Beer Nut
Notes: The Beer Nut says that IPA divides beer fans. "...when it comes to strong and hoppy: more alcohol isn't always your friend." He talked about Scottish BrewDog's "IPA is Dead" series and loves their punk-centric nature and their ideas when it comes to brewing. The second in the series was "A great beer to explore, to take time over and get lost in...not...a style for chugging." Best line: "IPA can offer a broad range of experiences...To generalise about IPA is perhaps unwise." Well said!

Author: Derrick
Notes: IPAs dominate the popular beer geek hangouts (e.g. BeerAdvocate, RateBeer). "True, sipping palate searing IPA's beats swilling vapid nothingness of industrial lagers, but can't we do a lot better than this?" Interesting follow-up question! Derrick says that IPA is so common that even Costco has an IPA (Kirkland brand, brewed by Gordon-Biersch). Perhaps it's popular because it has a big, new flavor when compared with many other beer styles.

Author: Nathan
Notes: Nathan had BrewDog's Punk IPA and was blown away. While he was "...living in Norfolk,...there weren't many really hoppy beers. We had mostly dull brown ales but this Punk IPA stuff was magical." Punk IPA is apparently where it's at because Nate's response to my question is simply because "They're mostly [expletive] delicious."

Author: Alan
Notes: Alan restated my question as "What makes the use of the term India Pale Ale (IPA) for so many styles of beer so prevalent at this point in time?" And Alan states that the (obvious) answer is branding. "You take a familiar thing with a good hook and milk it for all it is worth." Then he comes back to answering my question, without really saying as much: "Hops...If you like that sort of thing." My favorite response though is that "[IPA] is code. The thing you have not had that you just might like." So IPA is less of a style (Alan says it's not a style at all, rather perhaps a sub-set of a style) and more of a marketing tack. Interesting ideas!
Question: By the way, Alan, I've always wondered: does the title of your blog mean it's a blog about good beers or is it a good blog about beers? Or is it just fun to be ambiguous?

Author: Yvan
Notes: Yvan says that IPA is a statement of non-conformity. At least, that's my paraphrase minus an expletive that is apparently commonly used by BrewDog. "IPA is to beer what the punchy new-world Shirazes, et al, are to wine." (Side note: Interesting, because I love a good IPA, and when I drink wine, I prefer a Syrah, which is the French varietal counterpart to the Australian Shiraz). "IPA is the 'new world' for beer...It's all about the hops." My favorite line is "I don't care in which your IPA beliefs lean -- I celebrate the diversity of the style." Amen! Style and variety...a little something for everyone. It's the "banner of that which we are calling the craft beer movement". Yep.

Author: Derek
Notes: I agree with Derek that IPAs are so largely represented that we see less of the other styles. I like that Derek says that there are many valid answers to the original question and that he's glad that there will many beer bloggers writing about this topic...that's exactly how I feel! He says history is one reason -- post-Prohibition American beer had to outdo its more mild European counterpart. He also says it could simply be because we choose to be vastly different from adjunct lager-drinkers. But the real reason, for Derek anyway, is because IPAs taste great. What a great piece!
Additional note: If you haven't already, you should definitely follow the link in his post to "The Great Hop Debate" (http://itsnotjustthealcoholtalking.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/the-great-hop-debate/). Excellent post!

Author: Steve
Notes: Steve says that there is no deal! It's a "continuously shifting entity that changes with the advent of new brewing techniques and different hop flavours." Steve mentions the oxymoronic Black IPA and wheat heavy white IPAs that just aren't pale! "IPA is no longer a tightly defined style." Amen to that. Also, "what the beer is called shouldn't matter, it's what's inside the bottle that counts." Yep. The answer to the IPA question is "Its so popular because its not just a single beer style any more." Glad to have inspired the words to flow, Steve!

Author: Ryan
Notes: Tasty...hops! Historical context and creative use get a nod. While IPAs were originally designed to age, now everyone wants them 'fresh'. (Side note: think Heady Topper.) I've heard it before and Ryan brings it up here that hops are often used to cover flaws in a beer, so some brewers prefer to perfect their craft and not use the hops to cover up those flaws. "[IPA]'s something old that feels new again...it's a new thrill for the 'old' beer drinker."

Author: Alan
Notes: Alan writes, "This one is easy to answer: it's tasty." My favorite line: "Craft beer is booming for one main reason: it has flavor." Yes! Also, "...I remain far more interested in the hops rather than the extra bitterness." Me too, for sure. "Unlike PBR, there was no mass use of guerilla marketing trying to make IPAs 'cool' so people would drink them. (Uhh...if there is, it's obviously working very well on me.)" Me too, Alan! I think it's just the trend, and word of mouth has made it popular.

Author: Nitch
Notes: It appears that Nitch may be a first-time poster! She is looking for an IPA, as they are apparently extremely difficult to find in France. I like how she says that even though she's got Germany on one side of her and Belgium on the other, she doesn't fancy the German lagers, at least not since she "realized that there were other brewing possibilities than what was mandated [by] the Reinheitsgebot." And as far as Belgium goes, even though she can get Duvel readily at the grocery store, they just don't have the craft beer selection that they could. So it's kind of like a "you want the one you can't have" kind of thing. My favorite statement: "...hops were what helped lure you away from the macro swill that was standard like breast milk." haha! I like "hop soul cleansing" too. Let the IPA trending craze continue.
Side note: Nitch, you may want to consider picking up a copy of co-author Sam Calagione's (Dogfish Head) "He said beer, she said wine". My wife read and liked it. (In France: http://www.amazon.fr/He-Said-Beer-She-Wine/dp/0756654491/ or in USA: http://www.amazon.com/Said-Beer-She-Wine-Impassioned/dp/0756654491/)

Author: Jon
Notes: Jon says 'hops' is the answer (or the problem). Yes, "It's the hops--only, it's not the bitterness, but the hoppiness." I wholeheartedly agree! Interesting taste without the bitterness is where it's at. Jon refers to the "floral, fruity, juicy, spicy, amazingly flavorful qualities that brewers are able to coax out of these flowers." "Hops add a dimension to beer that is unlike any other drink out there, and the IPA brings that out unlike any other style of beer." Here, here! And I agree that IPA as a style will not be "on top" forever, and it is fun while it lasts.

Author: Sean
Notes:Sean writes that "Even at a coffee-centric beer event, an IPA took center stage." He makes some very interesting points about how IPAs should be hindered from such a prominently popular stance, yet somehow they overcome them. Possible reasons: 1) Sierra Nevada Pale Ale paved the way, 2) "IPAs are the IBU opposite of the BMC industrial water lagers and doing the opposite of what the big 3 did is not to be underestimated as a reason", and 3) Americans have developed a taste for different coffees, so why not appreciate IPAs? Interesting ideas, and I can certainly agree with #2.

Author: Jon
Notes: Jon and I agree that IPAs are a beautiful thing. But then Jon saw a toaster. Not just any toaster...an $80 toaster. And he realized that the only difference between that and a $10 toaster was $70. They both make toast! And so it is with IPAs and "fizzy yellow water". Except not exactly - the IPA has some extra bells and whistles, flavor being one. And while that flavor isn't for everyone, that little extra makes all the difference for those that are so inclined.

Author: Noz
Notes: Noz is a first-time poster! IPAs were a foreign concept as he was on the edge of the craft beer scene. Noz is another BrewDog Punk! IPA lover. He says that it was a struggle to get through the first can but was left wanting more! So what's the big deal? Noz says it's because he doesn't know what attracts him to them! Probably a mix between clever marketing and addictive hops. I wholeheartedly agree!

Author: Dave
Notes: Dave is a first-time poster! IPA is what turned Dave on to beer. And he's one of the guys that actually likes the bitterness! He likes that it is so popular because it means you can almost always find one when you want one. It's the first style he drinks when trying a new brewery's offerings. You just don't forget your first love!

Author: Matthew
Notes: Matthew appears to be a first-time poster! IPA was something fashionable for craft brewers to latch onto in order to be different from the "macroswill" and "pumpage" of the "megafizz merchants" (nice!). The "'Crafties'...are constantly seeking new sensory experiences beyond that of slaking thirst and sating hunger". Nice imagery and great word choices!

Author: Looke
Notes: Looke enjoys starting a session with an IPA or when he wants to mix it up after having had some heavy bitters or stouts. Looke guesses that brewers, especially in America, like an IPA because they can easily quantify the IBUs. He thinks it's a good marketing metric for boosting sales. And here's something funny: Looke points out that we beer geeks help the brewers with free advertising by promoting the hype. Yes, we do! As if the IPA wasn't popular enough already, just think what the internet will be like now after this The Session (ha!). I like Looke's answer to the original question: "It's a beer for real beer lovers and it helps to set us aside from those that drink any old swill just to get drunk. We drink it and love it because it's not like your average beers..."

Author: Gareth
Notes: Gareth says that modern hop-forward American-style IPAs bridge a gap - you can drink them anytime and enjoy the un-subtle flavor. He has no problem with the fact that IPAs are "trendy". In fact, he welcomes it because that means he can easily find one when he wants one. He also enjoys the more traditional British IPA and pretty much all the sub-styles. "...so long may IPA rule!" Here, here!

Author: L Allen
Notes: Allen doesn't fully subscribe to #IPADay; rather, he touts it as "Drink What You Damn Well Please Day" (for tweeting purposes, I think we'd have to shorten that to #DWYDWPD). He does, however, thoroughly enjoy IPA. At the same time, to each his/her own! Allen's choice: Belgian. He doesn't like that everyone brews an IPA and thinks theirs is the best (true!). Brewers shouldn't neglect developing other styles, hoping that the IPA is their flagship. In general, Allen doesn't think that an IPA is the style of choice for converting the masses because they're often too bitter.

Author: David
Notes: David says that IPAs are gaining popularity in the US, UK, Italy, Scandinavia, and Australasia (that last one was a new one to me - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australasia). IPA is the poster boy for the craft movement. Lagers were perhaps embraced over IPAs and other beers because they were easier to drink, refreshing, and looked appealing. But David has the following to say about his experience with Sierra Nevada's Torpedo: "despite its considerable punch, it was a refreshing, drinkable beer". David's answer to the original IPA question is two-fold: 1) IPA is "a base for challenge, for experimentation, for moving beer on, for saying, 'Oh, I like this, but I think I can do better.'" and 2) IPA is for proving how we're different, "How we're our 'own man', how we're independent." Agreed!

Author: Douglas
Notes: Douglas says that this is an easy answer: "Most everyone that has found their way into craft beer has done so because macro beer just wasn't doing it for them...what's the opposite of fizzy yellow water? Beer that's a little higher in alcohol and in the complete opposite direction in regards to hop profile." To paraphrase, craft beer is a brunette in an otherwise blonde beer world. Even though the craft beer world is oversaturated with IPAs, it's very flavorful and there's a lot of variety within the style. Bottom line is this: IPAs "are frickin' awesome". Agreed!

Author: Stan
Notes: Stan writes that, interestingly, nearly 18 years ago, beer author-brewer-consumer Randy Mosher said, “Americans have been starved for hops so long that right now we’re just shoving them down our throats.” But that 'phase' never ended! I found this to be particularly interesting: "At the beginning of 2008 pale ale was the best selling craft beer style in supermarkets, followed by amber ale, amber lager, wheat beers, and then IPA. Yes, wheat beers, then IPA." Stan says that "IPA has become a synonym for hops." I also like that Stan says of IPA, there's "no reason to be pissed off about the attention it is getting". Stan wraps things up by foreshadowing an IPA Day post, possibly about a "coffee-infused wood-aged extreme saison IPA". And with that, I'm thirsty!

Author: Will
Notes: Will says he understands the romance in the IPA story. He takes us through a brief history of the beer style, noting the heavy hopping thereof. He also discusses some of the reasons the term "IPA" can be misleading, not the least of which is the subjective nature of the 'pale' aspect. Of course, that segued nicely into an interjection about Black IPAs and the question of how you can have a "BLACK India PALE Ale". Personally, I don't mind the term because of the reason that Stan brought up in his post: "IPA has become a synonym for hops." So we're basically just talking about hoppy black beer. Anyway, I liked how Will said that "Modern IPAs are hop-tastic, alcoholic and unctious" and that he loves hop-forward beers, "but not to the exclusion of malt and yeast." I agree - don't get too wrapped up in one style and not enjoy all the other wonderful variety that is available to you.

Author: Bill
Notes: My beer-blogging cohort from the western portion of the commonwealth, Bill doesn't "see the point of fighting over beers that get hoppier and hoppier every year they're released." I like his statement that he is "a staunch believer that hops should mainly be used as a compliment to the rest of the ingredients that were tossed in to make that beautiful product we all so desperately search for." He goes on to say that it's not that he thinks IPAs are bad; in fact, he rather enjoys Lagunitas IPA YES! Me too, Bill. He also says that "Hoppy beers like IPA's taste all the same to me. There aren't any intricacies and nuances in flavors of said beers." Interesting! To wrap up, he says that it seems like some people that are into craft beer think that means IPA.

Author: Liam
Notes: Liam reframes the question as a two-parter: is IPA popular? if so, why? To answer the first question, he points to a 2012 Australian Hottest 100 Beers list, which, by my count, contains 17 IPAs. (Interestingly, I counted 16 pale ales, IPA's cousin.) Liam says that as "beer geeks" reached the point of saturation with regard to pale ales, they naturally shifted to the IPA. But now that the IPA is reaching that same point of saturation, Liam speculates that the shift will occur once again...perhaps this time to sour beers. I like how he ends by saying that "Sourness is just next to bitterness on your palate...".

Author: Nick
Notes: The IPA got Nick's attention in a big way. It was BrewDog's Punk IPA (so many people love that beer...I've gotta get my hands on one!). While it was hard to get through the first glass, Nick found himself wanting more at the end. (Sounds like my first coffee experience, by the way.) He began sampling more and more IPAs, chasing the bitterness. He mentions Mikkeller 1000 IBU, which sounds crazy. He appreciates the "complex flavour profiles" My favorite line: "I do feel like I’m flipping the bird at big business when I drink an IPA." He also says that he takes pride in "drinking an IPA that labels itself as being too much for common folk to handle."
Side noteI'm not sure that I'm the first to use the term "craft beer enthusiast", but I am fond using the acronym "CBE". Glad you like it, Nick!

Author: Jack
Notes: Jack is a first-time poster! He writes that IPAs are the most expensive beer to make and attract higher excises (in some jurisdictions due to ABV) and are the most consumed, aside from Pale Ale. Jack is a fan of the IPA. But why? "The very answers to this question lie not only within the style’s flavour and palate-smashing ability, but within trends and the culture of craft beer in general." Not typically someone jumps into without at least trying a pale ale first. Interesting that Jack says beer is *very* expensive in Australia. I'm wondering how it compares to prices in the US. Jack follows up with some amusing discourse about craft beer "three letter acronyms - of TLAs". I especially like Jack's writer's voice in this post - it's worth reading for yourself.

Author: Glen
Notes: Glen gets right to it by answering the IPA question thusly: "I reckon it's for two reasons and they both start with the letter P. That's 'palate' and 'peer pressure'". He says that some beers he used to like are now lacklustre, but it's not the beer that's changed -- his palate has. The IPA is one style that easily overcomes that situation, and it does so with more hops. Glen says that he "can rarely drink more than two of them in a row before my taste buds start craving something else. And so I go back to something that is a bit more sessionable." Based on context, Glen uses "sessionable" here to refer to a beer that you can continue drinking because it hasn't yet wrecked your palate, rather than the typical meaning of low-ABV beer. Interestingly, Glen comes back around to talking about low-ABV beers at the end of his post, musing that it would be nice if the next popular style was session beer.
Side note: Philadelphia, PA-based drinks writer Lew Bryson has an entire blog dedicated to low-ABV beers at http://sessionbeerproject.blogspot.com/.

Author: Tom
Notes: Tom says that it's not surprising that IPA is a big deal. He feels that it was "the logical initial step in the systematic rejection of domestic macro beer by your average craft beer drinker: replace neutral with overpowering and small with big." He also says that "IPAs have become the male version of the handbag: a necessary accessory craft beer drinkers can’t do without." Interesting! I'm not sure I can't do without an IPA, but I certainly do love them! Tom also mentions that it would be nice if we could get some more session IPAs (hint to brewers).

Author: Brian
Notes: Funny stuff! Brian starts his post by naming some great (possibly over-hyped) IPAs and then stating that "Just typing those words has Pavlovially created a shaker glass’s worth of saliva thinking about all that delectable, hoppy elixir."  (Yep!) He says that in "hop heaven Oregon, the IPA category accounts for 25.2% of the Oregon beer market". He quips that the three rules of craft beer are IPA, IPA, IPA. And he mentions a possible new variety: "I’m sure the BIPA (Bacon IPA) is in someone’s fermenter as we speak." I know a few people that would like a BIPA, Brian!

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