From sippers to session-friendly guzzlers, there's an Indian Pale Ale for every occassion
For many beer lovers, the IPA — or Indian Pale Ale — is their gateway into the dizzyingly diverse world of craft beers, with its multitudinous styles, creative brews and seasonal releases. IPA hits a sweet spot of balance between malt and hops character, while having enough of the latter to give it a distinctive aromatic profile that sets it well apart from the blander big-brewery beers that many of us grew up on.
Yet some beer fans remain nervous of dipping into that craft-beer world. The very varied alcohol levels (denoted by the ABV, or Alcohol by Volume) can catch you out if you’re on the session, and the sometimes extreme levels of hops bitterness of some IPAs can be an acquired taste. Then there’s all the different styles, even within a category like IPA — it can be hard to get your head around English IPAs and American IPAs, and where Irish IPAs stand between the two, never mind the speciality sub-categories like White or Black IPAs, Double or Session IPAs, and so on.
It can be useful to start at the beginning, which in IPA’s case was the turn of the 19th century, when English brewers began brewing an export beer for the colonies that could survive long journeys to India and arrive in decent condition thanks to the preservative influence of high levels of hops and moderately strong alcohol. Fast forward to the 1980s and this historic style was revived as one of the poster boys of modern craft beer. In the US, craft brewers used IPAs to get very creative with the types of hops they use and how they used them.
If European and British hops are typically known for their elegance and balance, with flavours ranging from floral, grassy and herbal to woodsy, earthy and spicy, or perhaps some lemony citrus, American hops crank up the volume and shift toward a fruitier profile (with citrusy grapefruit, orange or tangerine plus stone fruits and tropical fruits) alongside pine, floral and woodsy notes. There’s a reason you often see four or five hops listed on IPA labels. Like using herbs, spices or other seasonings in cooking, each brings its own range of flavour and aromas — as does whether you add those hops ‘seasonings’ at the beginning, middle or end of the brewing process. Adding early activates the hops’ bitterness; ‘dry-hopping’ is akin to adding fresh basil leaves to a sauce just before serving, to capture its delicate aromatic notes.
Most of today’s selection take their cue from an American IPA style, and most reflect the moderately high alcohol levels of IPA. The high ABV of Double IPAs make them occasional sippers, while the lower ABV of Session IPAs make them solid party pals.
Wicklow Wolf Tundra Tropical IPA, Wicklow, 5.6pc, €3-€3.40 (44cl)
Unfiltered and unpasteurised to keep all the nuances fresh and lively, this hazy, golden IPA is bursting with tropical fruit aromas like papaya and passion fruit, with a touch of capsicum or tomato leaf vegetal aromas keeping it interesting, while its mouthfeel is bright with passionfruit, lime leaf and pink grapefruit, but finishing creamy with relatively low bitterness levels. Dangerously drinkable, very summery, and a great match for Asian dry curries or other lightly spiced foods. McHugh’s, Mitchell’s, Martins, Sweeney’s D3, craftbeersdelivered.com
Whiplash Rollover Session IPA, Dublin, 3.8pc, €2.50-€3.30 (33cl)
Whiplash does big flavours, smartly packaged. Here, it pulls back on the alcohol but fleshes out the body with oats and wheat, and loads up the juicy citrus and tropical fruits with lots of American hops (Simcoe, Ekuanot, Citra and Mosaic). Moreish drinking for mezze-style picnics.
Molloy’s, O’Briens, Mitchell’s, Martins, Sweeney’s D3, craftbeersdelivered.com, craftcentral.ie, thebeerclub.ie
Kinnegar Rustbucket Rye IPA, Donegal, 5.1pc, €3-€3.50 (44cl)
Adding malted rye brings spicier notes and a drier finish to a textbook American-style IPA, with biscuity malt balanced by candied orange peel, peach and ripe mango, and a creamy mouthfeel balanced by bitter herbs on the dry finish. A solid choice with barbecues, roasts and hotpots. Supervalu, Tesco, O’Briens, Ardkeen, Mitchell’s, Martins, craftcentral.ie, craftbeersdelivered.ie
Rascals Yankee White IPA, Dublin, 5pc €2.50 (33cl)
White IPAs give American IPAs a witbier twist with Belgian yeast and a wheat beer malt bill. Think mellow tropical and stone-fruit aromas (Magnum, Mandarina Bavaria, Mosaic, Citra, Amarillo) framed by refreshing zesty bitterness, but drinking bright, crisp and dry. Supervalu, Drinkstore, Sweeney’s D3, Molloy’s, O’Briens, Martins, rascalsbrewing.com, craftcentral.ie
Porterhouse x Minaw DNEIPA, Dublin, 8pc, €13.05 (44cl x 4)
A sipper at 8pc ABV, but soft and juicy, complex and well-knit, with low bitterness levels, this rich and hazy Double New England IPA has notes of orange and tangerine cream, gingerbread and roasted spices, packaged inside the artwork of Dublin-based art collective Minaw. Try with lemon roast chicken. porterhousebrewco.ie