In the intro to his new book, “IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes, and the Evolution of India Pale Ale” (Brewers Publications, $24.95), Mitch Steele writes, “India pale ale (IPA) has been my favorite beer style since I first tried one back in the 1980s.”
Steele is the brewmaster at San Diego’s Stone Brewing, a company known for delighting serious hop heads with big, bold, bitter ales like Stone Ruination IPA.
In “IPA” he explores the history of India pale ale from its birth in 1700s England, and it’s near extinction during World War II and Prohibition, to its American renaissance as one of craft beer’s most popular styles.
During a recent phone call, Steele talked about some of the things he learned during three years of IPA research.
Q. Why is IPA your favorite style?
A. For me it’s all about the hop flavor. IPA is all about hops. Hops are what’s driving American craft brewing. The hop varieties from the United States have a very distinctive flavor compared to Old World hops. It’s exciting to taste grapefruit or piney flavors and it’s exciting to taste a new American variety in an IPA where the hops are very forward.
Q. So the story we’ve all been told about the ‘invention’ of IPA, isn’t true?
A. It’s more of an embellished truth. There’s no doubt that George Hodgson, who founded the Bow Brewery in London, was the real driver of shipping pale ale to India. But the story just takes it a couple steps too far beyond what he really did.
Q. And we don’t know exactly when or where the term India Pale Ale originated?
A. I think when the Burton brewers got involved in competing with Hodgson in the 1820s, that’s when somebody tagged the beer as India Pale Ale.
Q. You write about IPA being brewed in the United States in 1800s in the mid-Atlantic and New England regions, but the style just barely survived the 1920s, right?
A. What happened, of course, was Prohibition, which put all those ale brewers out of business. Ballantine was really the only one that survived and continued to brew an IPA.
Q. Can we say that Ballantine IPA is the mother of all American craft IPA?
A. Absolutely. The first craft-brewed IPAs were Anchor Liberty and Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Anchor Liberty was the first beer to feature the American Cascade hop. I kind of consider Cascade the mother of craft brewing hops. The fact that Fritz Maytag used it in Anchor Liberty and Ken Grossman used it in a lot of beers at Sierra Nevada, made that citrusy grapefruit character that’s so intense the standard hop character of craft beer.
Q. So American hops were the key to IPA and by extension the key to American craft beer?
A. If we didn’t have those kinds hops being grown in America, I don’t think craft beer would be what it is today. The people that had the foresight to use a lot of American hops in their beers are really the people who deserve a lot of credit, because they created a whole new flavor profile and whole new beer drinking experience.
Q. Can an IPA be too hoppy?
A. I think a better way to put it is that it can be unbalanced. You want to have significant bitterness. But you also want to be able to drink it. To me, it’s not a question of too hoppy, it’s a question of having a skewed flavor that doesn’t work. Either the bitterness is too harsh or there’s not enough malt to back up the hop character or something else isn’t dialed in.
Q. What are some your favorite IPA and food pairings?
A. I think anything with a citrusy hop character make a wonderful pairing with salmon. Anything spicy, especially Indian or Thai, goes great with IPA, because the bitterness kind of knocks down the spice and the flavors work really well together.
By Bob Townsend, AJC Drink blog