Brewing In Styles...American IPA


The Evolution and Contemporary Brewing of American IPA

by David Brockington & Martin Lodahl (Brewing Techniques - Vol. 4, No.5)

Never a shy style, India pale ale has elbowed its way into the consciousness of North American beer enthusiasts while evolving into a unique stylistic variant.

Late in the spring of 1996, I sat on a Best of Show panel for a Seattle-area homebrew competition. The commercially brewed calibration beer for the day was a Pacific Northwest India pale ale (IPA). Of the judges, all highly skilled and qualified, two commented that this beer would certainly lose points because of its obvious domestic hop character. I, too, noted the distinct citrusy aroma supplied by Centennial or perhaps Cascade hops, but I neither wrote down that observation nor considered it worthy of discussion. While other judges verbally rued the lack of a Kent Golding or Fuggle character, I thought the hopping splendid and appropriate for the style. Whereas I would have lauded the hop profile of this beer on a score sheet, other judges would have been critical.

David Brockington is pursuing a Ph.D. in political science at the University of Washington (Seattle). An avid home brewer, he has won over 35 awards in sanctioned competitions. Though his export stout won a gold medal at the 1993 AHA National Homebrew Competition, he is devoted most to American IPA. Since 1990, he has refined his approach to brewing the style, winning more than 10 awards. Brockington’s commentaries on beer and beer styles can be accessed through the internet at “The Brewery,” https://alpha.rollanet.org/taproom/DBindex.html.

Martin Lodahl — “Brewing in Styles” column editor and member of the BrewingTechniques editorial advisory board — is a home brewer, beer judge, and beer writer living in Auburn, California. A member of the Board of Directors of the Beer Judge Certification Program, he has long specialized in Belgian and North American styles, which hasn’t for a moment stopped him from exploring and enjoying all the rest.

Ironically, we were all correct.

The beer judging guidelines published by the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) recognize IPA only as a subcategory of “Classic English Pale Ale.” Logically, IPA ought to have English, rather than American, hop character. The empirical reality of beers brewed in the United States as IPA, however, directly contradicts AHA style guidelines. Although brewers ought to be faithful to a given style when making claims about their product, ultimately, style guidelines ought to be descriptive, not prescriptive. The definition of IPA is in need of revision.

This article builds on the excellent foundation laid by Thom Tomlinson in his two-part series published in BrewingTechniques in 1994 (1,2). Tomlinson focused on British IPA and left off with a cursory overview of the American interpretation. The present article argues that in the United States the style has evolved into a unique ale deserving of recognition apart from its historical and contemporary British counterparts. In fact, U.S. brewers have taken a leading role in the revival of this historical style. The line between styles begins to blur not at the intersection of British and American IPAs, but between American IPA and American pale and amber ales.

American IPA Before the Craft Brewery Movement

The origins of IPA: India pale ale developed in Britain in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as a strong, pale, highly hopped beer brewed to survive the long journey from Britain to India. The high alcohol levels and heavy hopping both in the kettle and in the cask produced a stable beer that could sit months in the barrel before tapping. The most popular IPAs were brewed in Burton-on-Trent, at the breweries of Salt, Allsop, and Bass. Here the water’s high sulfate content gave the beer a sharp, clean bitterness and the exuberant use of hops — up to half a pound per 5 gal of wort (1) — imparted distinct hop character.

Nineteenth century American brewing: Nineteenth century American ale brewers produced beers similar to IPA; these beers were often called stock ales (3). Martin Lodahl argues that a major component of these beers was a strong lactic effect, but he also points out that “it is clear that these beers were emphatically hopped.” Samples from the late nineteenth century had starting gravities of 1.064–1.070 (4), similar to their British contemporaries. What is striking is the widely varying final gravities. Some IPAs were as attenuated as British IPA (1.003–1.004 F.G.), but others were much sweeter, finishing at 1.013–1.015. American brewers followed the British lead, hopping their IPAs heavily. They often used American hops (probably variants of Clusters) in addition to British hop varieties.

A 1908 recipe for an American stock ale recommended a grain bill that consisted entirely of pale six-row malt or a combination of malt and up to 25% sugar. The expected original gravity was 1.064–1.072. The hopping rate was high, 2–3 lb of hops per bbl (6–8 oz per 5 gal), and the hops were added in equal amounts, three times in the 130-minute boil, at 130 minutes, 70 minutes, and 10 minutes before knockout. After fermentation, 4 oz of hops per bbl were added to the cask, and the beer was aged 3–4 months before sale.

What did this beer taste like? It would have been intensely bitter and strongly hoppy. Even after several months in the barrel it probably would have retained a strong hop aroma. Ir would not, however, have tasted either of oak or of the Brettanomyces secondary fermentation often found in British ales of the period. Although beer was fermented and stored in wood containers, these containers were chosen for their neutral flavor characteristics and pitched, varnished, and pickled to eliminate all flavor pickup. Great care was taken to eliminate any bacteria or yeast that might infect the beer (4).

The Prohibition cloud: American ales declined in popularity in the decades preceding Prohibition. In general, American beer drinkers turned from ales to lagers, from heavier, stronger beers to lighter, milder beers. Prohibition was the final blow. Fewer breweries reopened after Prohibition than had existed before, and these breweries focused on lager beers (5).

The original Ballantine brewery was one of the few breweries to buck this trend. While Ballantine Ale was a light, rather insipid product, the brewery’s IPA was strong (1.070 O.G.), bitter (60 IBUs), and dry-hopped. Ballantine used open wood fermentors and then matured the beer in wood casks for up to a year. Although the beer underwent no Brettanomyces secondary fermentation as did earlier IPAs, it developed a definite oaky taste, which the brewery insisted was authentic.

Even in the deepest depths of the homogenization era of American beer, the 1970s, this beer still registered 45 IBUs, still was dry-hopped, and was marketed under the slogan: “The flavor the chill can’t kill.” After several brewery and recipe changes, however, it has declined to a shadow of its former self. Nevertheless, in the years between the end of Prohibition and the beginning of the microbrewery renaissance (1933–1979), it was the only example of the style available in America (6).

American home brewing texts and practices of the past couple decades have upheld the assumption that Ballantine IPA defines the IPA style. The use of oak in IPA is a regular topic of discussion on the internet, and many home brewed IPA recipes, including many award winners and recipes in standard homebrew books, list oak chips as ingredients (7,8).

Nevertheless, when craft brewers began to brew IPA, they followed neither Ballantine’s example nor contemporary British practice. Dick Cantwell of Seattle’s Elysian Brewing Company believes the new generation of craft brewers did not turn to the Ballantine model because Ballantine’s IPA was a mere shell of its former greatness, especially in the context of the modern microbrewery revolution (9). Fal Allen, head brewer at Seattle’s Pike Brewing Company (formerly Pike Place Brewery), agrees; he says the new generation of American brewers were too young to have a clear idea of the stature of the old Ballantine IPA (10). Instead, they developed their own conceptions of what India pale ale used to be. In so doing they created a new beer style.

The Evolution of a Style: The First West Coast IPAs

The first new generation of American IPAs was brewed at the beginning of the craft brewery movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Three beers — Liberty Ale (Anchor Brewing Co., San Francisco), Grant’s IPA (Yakima Brewing & Malting Co., Yakima, Washington), and Celebration Ale (Sierra Nevada Brewery, Chico, California) — earned the distinction of being the first craft-brewed American IPAs. Grant’s was the only one designed specifically as an IPA, and some brewers question whether Liberty and Celebration ought to be considered IPAs at all.

Liberty Ale: Liberty Ale was the first modern American craft-brewed beer that approached IPA standards. It was an all-malt pale ale of rather strong gravity, brewed with American hops and dry-hopped. Anchor Brewing created it in 1975 in reaction to what president Fritz Maytag saw as a British abandonment of traditional ale brewing. “One of the things that really surprised us [on our tour of Britain] was that traditional ale brewing was really not being practiced [in Britain],” he recalls. “There was very little hopping going on, and they weren’t dry-hopping. They weren’t even getting kettle hop aromas.” After his return to San Francisco, Anchor Brewing began to produce two new dry-hopped products, Old Foghorn and Liberty Ale (11).

Liberty Ale is a pale beer with an assertive hop profile. Hopping is exclusively Cascade (12), a distinct American hop that leaves little doubt about the ale’s heredity. The citrusy note that makes these hops famous is evident in every aspect of the ale’s hop character — bittering, flavor, and aroma. While my tasting notes continuously argue for a bit more bittering for it to reach IPA standards (IBU figures are unavailable; Anchor Brewing is notorious for holding its cards close to its vest), Liberty Ale is a wonderfully hoppy elixir with a character that holds up well in 1996 against some of the hugely hopped beers of West Coast breweries.

Although Liberty Ale is included in many beer enthusiasts’ discussions of American IPA, its influence on future brewers of IPA has been limited. It was not designed as an IPA, and brewers did not turn to it as an example that they should follow. Yes, Maytag wanted to brew a big hoppy ale, but according to Larry Baush, publisher of The Pint Post, Maytag did not envision Liberty Ale as an IPA. Baush says it is doubtful that IPA was even on Maytag’s radar when designing Liberty Ale (13). Cantwell says Liberty Ale is an assertively hopped pale ale, but lacks the requisite hop character of an IPA. To him, Liberty Ale falls in between the IPA and pale ale categories, and was an unconvincing model for the Seattle IPAs he has formulated (9). Allen, who ignored Liberty Ale when he made his IPA, adds, “Fritz Maytag will tell you that Liberty is no IPA” (10).

While it is clear that Liberty Ale was neither designed nor marketed as an IPA, members of the craft beer community entertain the possibility that Liberty is one. Author and styles expert Fred Eckhardt doubts that anybody called Liberty Ale an IPA when it was first produced, but he argues that it has essentially become interpreted as an IPA (14). Compared with the craft brewery movement 20 years ago when Liberty Ale was launched, brewers are now prepared to make a distinction between “ale” and “IPA.”

Regardless of its official pedigree, Liberty broke ground in this country for a bitter, hoppy ale of the sort not seen since Ballantine IPA was in its prime. Liberty was “the beer that really made a place in the United States for a highly bitter and highly hop-flavored beer,” says Jim Busch, who is a principal in Victory Brewing Company (Downingtown, Pennsylvania) and who aided in the development of that brewery’s HopDevil IPA (15).

Grant’s IPA: Yakima Brewing Company, brewers of Grant’s Ales, designed the first “ground-up” IPA of the new microbrewers. Head brewer Bert Grant first brewed his IPA in 1981 following an arduous period of research in the United Kingdom, which included sifting through old documents, holding discussions with elderly brewers, and extrapolating as to the real character of the beer (16). Grant considers his IPA to be a “historical beer” — not one influenced by contemporary British IPA, Ballantine IPA, or Anchor Liberty, but an original product based on historical research.

In this sense, Grant’s IPA was a pioneering beer. Where Liberty Ale broke ground for a strong ale with a distinct hop character, Grant’s IPA was designed as a revival of a classic style. But Grant went a step beyond dragging a declining style back to prominence: In his dedication to local ingredients, Grant chose hop varieties from the surrounding Yakima Valley to produce a distinctive beer (6).

Grant’s IPA is a pale beer with a strong bitterness component central to the flavor profile and perhaps amplified by the relatively light original gravity of the beer. (With an original gravity of 1.048, I actually consider it too light for the style, but an exception should be made in this case.) Finishing hops are lightly used, although when cask-conditioned the IPA has a nice hoppy bouquet. Any beer claiming the moniker IPA has to have a strong bittering component, and in Grant’s this trait is central to the flavor profile. The original version of this beer achieved a certain notoriety and was estimated to have 60 IBUs (quite a punch for a 1.048 beer)! Jackson writes that “it was the hoppiest IPA I had ever tasted,” complete with the “resiny flavor and bitterness of the hops” (6). To Eckhardt, the first exposure to that IPA was akin to jumping into a pool of cold water (14). While today’s Grant’s IPA is milder than earlier versions, Jackson still argues it is a “very hoppy” beer, although “nothing could match the shock of that first encounter” (6).

Celebration Ale: Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale was first released in 1983 as a winter seasonal beer. Like Liberty Ale, Celebration Ale was not designed, nor is it currently marketed, as an IPA, yet it won a silver at the 1994 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in the IPA category.

The brewing community approaches Celebration Ale in a similar schizophrenic manner as they do Liberty Ale. Allen describes Celebration Ale as a “completely awesome” beer, but rejects the notion that it is an IPA (10). Cantwell believes Celebration has too much caramel to be an IPA; IPAs ought to have a dryish profile (9). He likes Celebration Ale, but used it as a model for his extra special bitter (ESB), not his new IPA, at Elysian.

Busch, on the other hand, considers Celebration Ale an example of American renaissance IPA. In helping design Victory’s HopDevil, Busch used Celebration Ale as his model. “Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale was the inspiration for HopDevil. I wanted to use a lot of Centennials for both bittering and flavoring, which I understand Sierra does or did,” he said. “I also dominate the finish with Cascades, and this is done in several late additions as well as in the hop back. In my opinion, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale is the U.S. version of renaissance IPAs. I love a good Liberty, but the malt foundation in SNCA and HopDevil help to ‘balance’ the high hopping rates” (15).

In the Beer Companion, Jackson dedicates several paragraphs to American IPA. He discusses Ballantine at length, but credits the “revival of IPA as a distinct style” to Bert Grant (6). Jackson is silent on Celebration Ale and characterizes Liberty Ale as the ground-breaking American pale ale. I agree with Jackson, but argue that perhaps the pioneering Bert Grant was ahead of his time. Brewers seldom cite Grant’s IPA as a model for their own attempts, but Grant’s IPA ought to be accorded the recognition that it has earned as the first beer designed as an IPA by the craft brewing movement. Jackson goes on to credit the entire region. “The Pacific Northwest has become quite a region for IPA, boasting examples that are assertively hoppy, with a good flavor development and a powerful finish” (6).

The verdict: Where does this leave us in tracing the influence of the three pioneering IPAs? Liberty Ale, although the first, faces mixed reactions from brewers. Although first brewed in 1975, Liberty Ale did not achieve regular status in the Anchor Brewery lineup until 1983 (6). It was not designed or marketed as an IPA, and fellow craft brewers did not regard it as a model of the style on which to base their own IPA interpretations. Grant’s IPA, the first beer designed as an IPA in the new generation, has had limited influence on subsequent IPA formulations. Celebration Ale, neither designed nor marketed as an IPA, has had observable influence, but some brewers staunchly disagree with its classification as an IPA.

Components of a Distinctly American IPA

Style is a contentious point among members of the brewing community. At one extreme are brewers who argue that style ought to be a prescriptive set of parameters to be faithfully followed. On the other extreme are those who eschew the whole concept of parameters as a limitation on individual freedom. I prefer a middle ground: Styles ought to be largely descriptive rather than prescriptive, especially since they evolve over time. But as Fal Allen says, certain styles are special, especially those based upon historical conditions (10). IPA is just such a style.

American IPA Defined

Grain Bill

85–95%              English pale ale malt (preferred, but domestic two-row or continental malts also acceptable)

   1–2%              Caramel malt (40–80 °L)

  5–10%              Munich malt

   1–4%              Carapils or dextrin malt


Hop character is dominated by distinct U.S. varieties such as Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, and Columbus. Use of other varieties is acceptable but should not dominate.


Characterful ale strains are preferred, but some brewers achieve good results with clean fermenters as well.

O.G.: 1.055+ (preferably >1.060)

IBUs: 40+ (preferably >50)

High hops and high gravity: The need to ensure survivability of IPA in the 1700s as it traveled from England to India around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope required a certain profile: high hop bitterness and a high starting gravity. The relatively high alcohol level combined with the preservative qualities of the hops mitigated the potential for spoilage and preserved the flavor profile of the beer over its long journey to India.

The primary characteristics common to all true IPAs are a high gravity and a high hop bitterness. Gravities for IPA customarily exceed 1.060, although some commercial examples land in the 1.050s (Grant’s is exceptional for its low 1.048). Tomlinson points out that “contemporary” versions of IPA tend to be brewed to gravities in the 1.050s (2), as are stronger British versions (6,17). To remain true to the spirit of the style, however, the gravity should be above 1.060 (2). Hopping should be high as well, not dipping below 40 IBUs (2). Hops are central to the style; a strong alpha attack is the soul of an IPA. I like to see IPAs brewed with over 50 IBUs in the kettle alone.

Within these parameters, how can we characterize the uniquely American interpretation of IPA? First, American IPAs are 100% barley malt ales. Although contemporary English brewing customs include the use of up to 20% sugar and cereal adjuncts (17), the new generation of American brewers uniformly disdain the use of adjuncts. This practice distinguishes American ales from their (typically) British ancestors. The malt can be a domestic two-row, but several of the tastier IPAs use British pale ale malt or even German malt varieties. Domestic two-row malts offer a fairly clean maltiness, but British malts have a noted crackery flavor that can enhance this big, bitter beer. I recommend British pale ale malts as a base (Munton & Fison, Hugh Baird, or the single varietals such as Crisp Maris Otter, Beeston Maris Otter, or Beeston Pipkin, for example), although economic considerations and logistics tend to favor domestic two-row. Because it is American IPA, no fault can be found in using a domestic malt, but six-row malt, corn, or rice should never find their way into the kettle.

Caramel malts: Specialty malts should be in the background and serve only a supporting role. Limit the use of caramel malts. IPAs should be big and malty (to support the bitterness), but without the dominant caramel component seen in West Coast amber ale (18). Cantwell says too much caramel generates a “stickiness,” which detracts from the notably clean, refreshing bitterness of the style. Historically, brewers would not have wanted to use expensive specialty malts on a beer that may or may not sell well once it reached India (10). Furthermore, limiting the amount of unfermentable sugars remaining in the beer hedges against possible infection.

Color: Cantwell believes that IPAs should be pale in color, a view shared by head brewers Bob Maphet and Brian Sollenberger of Diamond Knot Brewery (Mulkiteo, Washington). “We use 80 °L caramel, but only enough to achieve a predicted color of 8.5–9 °L and a modest caramel flavor profile. Our philosophy is that an IPA’s target color should lean toward the pale side because, after all, it is pale ale,” says Maphet. “We go a little toward the upper end of pale ale (depending on who you talk to) by maybe 1.5–2 °L, but that is primarily to gain the well-rounded malt flavor.” Maphet and Sollenberger say they aim for maltiness in their IPA, but not to a level that highlights sweetness. “A pale ale should attenuate to a moderately dry beer,” says Maphet (19).

Munich malts: American IPAs achieve their malt complexity from the use of Munich malts rather than caramels. Most American IPAs have a Munich malt component similar to some West Coast amber ales (18). The reason for this is plain. Rather than use a healthy dose of sweet caramel malts, brewers use Munich malt in IPA to add “thickness and complexity” (9) and to “enhance the malty background” (19). A fair amount of Munich malt in addition to a judicious addition of caramel malt is a fundamental characteristic of an American IPA.

Other specialty malts: Most brewers add a bit of dextrin or Carapils malt to beef up the body, which Tomlinson says also adds to head retention (2). And although not prevalent in commercial beers, adding a small amount (1–2%) of wheat malt to the mash aids in the creation of a wonderfully dense head, rewarding the brewer with a rich lacework.

Hops: An American IPA achieves its distinct signature through its hops. American hops such as Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, and Columbus have a big citrusy, floral flavor and aroma. According to Cantwell, Chinook is one of the few hop varieties that leaves an indelible signature on the beer even if used only as a bittering hop and boiled for 75–90 minutes (9).

Cantwell’s philosophy on the style underlines the centrality of using American hop varieties in American IPA. He has had a major role in three of Seattle’s best IPAs — Pike Place, Big Time, and now his new Elysian IPA* — and considers himself “ideological” in his pursuit of American IPA. American IPAs have a crisp, refreshing aspect to them made possible only with what Cantwell refers to as “New World” hop varieties. IPAs are big on bittering, but American IPAs are noted for an “aggressive and distinctive” New World profile.

*Cantwell aided in the design of Pike IPA with Allen and Kevin Forhan, slightly altered Ed Tringali’s IPA at the Big Time Brewpub during his two-year tenure there, and has designed Seattle’s newest IPA at the new Elysian Brewing Company.

The type of U.S. hop variety is important to the final product. Willamette is a fine clone of Fuggle (20), but would be inappropriate in a beer aspiring to a distinct American flavor profile. The newer Hallertauer Mittelfrüh clones (such as Liberty, Mt. Hood, and Ultra) are also insufficient. For an emphatically American IPA, you want an emphatically American hop, which could be any of the “four Cs”: Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, or the new Columbus. Mixing in other hop varieties is fine to distinguish your beer from those of competitors or to offer the consumer a nuanced hop profile, but when the dominant hop profile becomes Kentish, the beer is no longer an American ale but becomes more like an American interpretation of an English ale. What Saaz is to Pilsener, Cascade is to American ale.

Yeast: The more interesting IPAs use a yeast strain that produces an estery profile. With big malt and hop profiles, a little fruitiness or a hint of diacetyl marks a nuanced and sophisticated IPA. Unfortunately, too many American breweries (at least on the West Coast, where this style developed) use the somewhat bland Wyeast #1056 (otherwise known as Chico Ale or Sierra Nevada). This strain can produce terrific American blonde, pale, and amber ales, but an over-the-top IPA requires a strong yeast strain that holds up its end of the bargain; it can be tough competing with 50 IBUs for attention.

Another problem with some IPAs is a strong diacetyl component, especially common on the East Coast. While a hint of diacetyl adds a nice sophisticated note, if it competes with the malt and the hops the IPA is not as tasty or refreshing as one in which diacetyl plays a supporting role.

Water: The water supply ought to be adequately “Burtonized.” A decent sulfate and calcium content truly enhances the flavor profile of this beer. As Tomlinson points out, these ions support a crisp, dry flavor profile that showcases the high hop bitterness (2). To make an IPA work, it may not be necessary to replicate precisely Burton water, but a simple addition of gypsum goes a long way in guaranteeing that the high hopping rates have a positive effect on the flavor profile.

Oak: Tomlinson argues that he found “no evidence that oak casks used in shipping contributed to the beer’s flavor profile” (2). I agree, but Allen points out that English brewers shipped beer to India in casks that were lined, most likely with pitch. While at sea, the beer linings could have cracked, and undoubtedly did during the several months of travel (brewers made little investment in high-quality cooperage because they could not count on the casks returning from India).

On the other hand, Allen points out that cheap cooperage may have had a reverse effect. While the casks may or may not have been lined, they probably were old and had been used for several generations for some other spirit or product. Any residue of tannin or oakiness may have been highly diluted by the time the IPA met the wood. Also, as Tomlinson notes, the oak used in England has a much lighter profile than that used in the United States (2). While Allen allows for an oaky character in some IPAs (it would seem logically risky to argue otherwise), the oakiness would have been a minor component in the flavor profile. Allen encourages brewers to experiment judiciously with oak, which should merely support the flavor profile, not dominate it. Also, he notes that if you value historical accuracy, you might also consider the possibility of a Brettanomyces presence in some casks of IPA (10).

Commercial Examples of American IPA

Pike Brewing IPA: Pike Brewing Company produces what Tomlinson refers to as “one of the best IPAs anywhere in the world” (2). It is a nice example of stylistic crossover. While Pike Brewing was noted for its dedication to replicating authentic English beers such as its excellent Pike Pale (18,21), its IPA served as a sort of coming out. Although an unspoken rule existed at Pike to shun Cascade hops, its IPA was the first beer not strictly based on a Fuggle or East Kent Golding hop character (9). Chinooks dominate this beer, as the sole bittering hop and a finishing hop as well.

Pike India Pale Ale

Grain Bill

            49%          Crisp Maris Otter pale ale malt

            36%          Gambrinus pale ESB malt

              9%          Weyermann Munich malt

              4%          Weyermann Carapils

              2%          Caramel malt


Chinook (bittering)

Chinook/Golding blend (finishing)


Nuanced English ale strain

O.G.: 1.064

IBUs: 65

The Pike IPA is a crossover beer because it incorporates several English attributes along with a distinctly American hop character (9,10). In the past, this beer was based solely on Crisp Making’s Maris Otter pale ale malt, but head brewer Fal Allen likes the flexibility of Gambrinus ESB malt for controlling the degree of crackery malt profile that finds its way into his beers. The gravity is well above 1.060 — a big beer — and the hopping approaches that of a solid IPA as well, coming in at well over 60 IBUs. Many American breweries select a clean-fermenting ale strain in their IPAs, but Pike Brewing chose a more flavorful route, using an English strain that adds a nice nuance to the beer.

Elysian Bhagwan’s Best IPA

Grain Bill

      93%             Domestic two-row malt

        5%             Munich malt

        1%             Caramel malt (70–80 °L)

        1%             Dextrin malt


Chinook (bittering)

Cascade/Columbus blend (finishing)


Clean-fermenting ale strain

O.G.: 1.056

IBUs: >50

Elysian “Immortal” IPA: Cantwell has contributed to more than a few Seattle-born IPAs. After working for the former Pike Place, he inherited a hugely successful IPA at the Big Time Brewpub, which he elevated from an occasional to a regular menu item. Cantwell used the Big Time IPA (Bhagwan’s Best) as a model for his new Elysian “Immortal” IPA. He relies on a domestic pale malt for his base, a touch of caramel for color, some dextrin for body, and a fair amount of Munich malt to enhance the malt profile. IBUs are decent (over 50), but the gravity is on the low end (1.056). The yeast is a clean fermenter.*

The Elysian IPA presents two major differences from Big Time’s IPA: a reduction in gravity (from 1.064) and the use of Columbus as a finishing hop (replacing Centennial). Critical to the success of Elysian IPA is the use of fewer finishing hops than in Big Time’s. The latter has a huge hop presence — Delano DuGarm appropriately refers to it as the “Wall of Hops” — but Cantwell toned it down to concentrate on the core bitterness (9). Nevertheless, the finishing is completed in four stages: 10 and 2 minutes before knockout, in the whirlpool, and dry-hopping in the fermentor. While Elysian breaks several of the rules that I outlined above (the use of a clean-fermenting ale strain and domestic base malt and its lowish original gravity), the bitterness comes through clean and sharp, it has a sufficient malt base to support over 50 IBUs, and it has a nice resiny characteristic that clings to the tongue.

*Cantwell also believed in making the beer’s finish dryer than Tringali’s. Cantwell accomplished this by pitching more yeast (thus aiding in full attenuation), mashing cooler to create more fermentables in the wort, limiting the use of specialty malts, and, certainly not least, hopping the beers more enthusiastically than had Tringali.

Diamond Knot IPA: Head brewers Maphet and Sollenberger at Diamond Knot Brewery used the Pike Brewing IPA as a model for their own. To them, an IPA needs more than a straightforward alpha attack; it also needs DuGarm’s Wall of Hops. “Hop flavor and aroma, not just bitterness” is the “key to the style” for Diamond Knot. Maphet and Sollenberger place an emphasis on the finishing hops. “The feature that makes the good IPAs stand apart is their balance with a focus on hop flavor and aroma, which can only be achieved by aggressive dry-hopping,” says Maphet. “Dry-hopping can be such a labor-intensive process, not to mention the fact that it requires a bung keg, which is why the bigger breweries generally don’t dry-hop. They tend to just use bitterness for their IPAs” (19). This IPA is an excellent example of the Wall of Hops and is reminiscent of Teri Fahrendorf’s IPA, Bombay Bomber, at the Steelhead Brewery in Eugene, Oregon.

Diamond Knot uses two-row pale malt (origin unspecified), Munich malt, a small amount of 80 °L caramel, and dextrin — the basic IPA grain bill. The gravity is 1.056,* and it packs 40 IBUs. The bittering hop is Galena, chosen for its “clean bitterness” (19). The signature of this beer, however, is the finish, which is exclusively Columbus. In addition to kettle finishing with Columbus, the brewers add more Columbus to the hop-back and dry-hop with it. Before choosing Columbus, Maphet and Sollenberger tried East Kent Goldings, British Columbian Goldings, Fuggles, and Willamettes for the finishing hop, but not one of those “cut the mustard.” Only the new Columbus achieved the nose they were looking for. Columbus is the hop notable for producing the “aggressive and distinctive” New World profile of a refreshing American IPA.

*Diamond Knot has a philosophy behind the lower gravity: “It is true that high alcohol content is required for the IPA style, but if you go above the upper 50s in original gravity, you produce a product that has too much of an alcohol flavor” (19). Cantwell agrees, which is why his Elysian IPA has a slightly lower original gravity than did his Big Time IPA (9).

Victory HopDevil IPA: Victory Brewing Company runs in a rather different direction than the others with its HopDevil IPA. Although Jim Busch groups HopDevil together with the Old Dominion (Ashburn, Virginia) Tuppers Hop Pocket as beers breaking down the distinction between West and East Coast IPAs, he notes, “The notion of East/West is becoming less clear as breweries throughout the United States are making more IPAs with West Coast hops. Catamount (White River Junction, Vermont) Christmas Ale is another aggressive American pale ale/India pale ale with a big Cascade bouquet” (15).

As mentioned earlier, Victory used Celebration Ale as a model for its IPA, resulting in a darker beer highlighted by specially malts (unusual to the style). Although Victory brews an excellent IPA, the brewery focuses primarily on authentic German lagers. Victory decocts all of its lagers and uses only imported German malts in its beers. Economically, it is therefore easier for the brewers to use these malts in the IPA — so they do. The result is an IPA with a unique interpretation of the style.

Victory’s HopDevil IPA is brewed with imported pale two-row Vienna, Cara-munich, and caramel malts from Weyermann. The grain bill includes a bit more Vienna than one would expect, which imbues a nice amber hue and a sophisticated maltiness in the bouquet. Hopping is done with Centennial for bittering, a bit of Tettnanger in the middle, and Cascades to finish. While the distinct American hops clearly dominate the hop profile of this beer, the judicious use of Tettnanger adds a nice departure from traditional West Coast IPAs, which are heavy on the grapefruit. The original gravity is about 1.063, and IBUs are a respectable 55. This beer represents a bold new direction for American IPA. The requisite American hop profile is retained, but the malt base is altogether unique.

Anderson Valley IPA: One last IPA deserves a short mention. If you want a good idea of what Columbus hops will do to your beer, visit the Anderson Valley Brewery in Boonville, California. Its IPA is one of the best. Its gravity is 1.062, and it uses exclusively Columbus hops throughout.

Dugarm’s Columbian IPA

Grain Bill

      80%             Pale two-row malt

     6.5%             Munich malt (DeWolf-Cosyns)

     6.5%             Cara-Vienne malt (DeWolf-Cosyns)

     3.5%             Gambrinus honey malt

     3.5%             Biscuit malt (DeWolf-Cosyns)


Columbus (bittering)

Columbus and Cascade blend (finishing)


Wyeast #1056

O.G.: 1.064

IBUs: 75

Brewing American IPA at Home

As a home brewer, my favorite beer is my IPA. I try to have it on tap at home at all times. I believe that the bitterness level is the soul of the style, and I hop this beer with reckless abandon. I designed my IPA in 1990, before I understood much about IBUs, and many people are surprised to calculate the IBU figure at over 100. Although the calculated IBUs are high, I doubt that level is actually realized; utilization depreciates when using a lot of hops, and many believe the taste perception of bittering units is not linear. I like the clean, sharp bittering component that I get out of the Chinook hops, yet their character is strong enough to earn prominence in the flavor and aroma of the beer even when used only as a bittering hop. I use two U.K. varieties, East Kent Golding and Fuggle, to finish the beer.

These hop varieties require a strong malt base, which you can achieve with a simple grain bill and a modest amount of caramel for color and a slight caramel note. The base and caramel malts are imported from the U.K. Norm Pyle points out that home brewers can be flexible in choosing ingredients because they are indifferent to logistics or profits (23). So I agree with Tomlinson, who says that one should “choose the best-quality English two-row barley that you can afford” (2). I have never used Munich malt in my IPA, but research has convinced me to try it at least once.

For those keeping score at home, I use between 3 and 3.5 oz of whole Chinook hops for a 5-gal batch.

Brockington’s Sister Star of the Sun

Grain bill

      96%             British pale ale malt

        2%             Caramel malt (130 °L)

        2%             Wheat malt


Lots of Chinooks (bittering)

East Kent Golding and U.K. Fuggles (finish)

U.K. Fuggle (dry hop)



O.G.: 1.065

IBUs: >100 (theoretically)

As for processing, I mash relatively cool, at about 151 °F (66 °C), in a single infusion and ferment with a fruity English yeast (Wyeast #1028).

Another approach: Delano DuGarm has an approach to IPA more consistent with the arguments presented in this article. He has a more sophisticated grain bill, including the appropriate Munich addition. His hopping is 100% distinctive American, unlike my IPA, which has a strong English influence. “Go for the Wall of Hops,” says DuGarm. “Reach for a full-press hop attack that includes a strong hop bitterness, strong hop flavor, and strong hop aroma” (24).

To support the Wall of Hops, DuGarm builds a strong malty base as well, and his gravity is high enough to support over 75 IBUs. He hops in four additions, including dry-hopping in the keg. He takes a different line on the yeast than I do, however. “I’ve used other ale yeasts bur have not been as happy as with Chico yeast: The fermentation products of other yeasts interfere with the hops hammering your tastebuds,” says DuGarm. “Then I ferment cool to keep the beer as clean-tasting as possible.” If you want your hops à la carte, choose the clean fermenter!

DuGarm’s IPA has won several ribbons, including two Best of Shows at sanctioned competitions (24). I encourage students of this style to brew his beer at home at least once.

The Philosophy of IPA

Craft brewers often do not (and need not) concern themselves with stylistic minutiae, but home brewers and beer enthusiasts use such guidelines when judging competitions or attempting to perfect their craft. Unfortunately, while the craft beer revolution in North America has spawned several new beer styles, existing AHA guidelines ignore the bulk of them. The guidelines include only two unique American ales, the broadly defined “American Pale Ale” category and the ubiquitous (and some would argue nefarious) “American Wheat.” Such a limited approach can be problematic.

American IPA can be recognized as a substyle of “American Pale Ale,” a category that can include three substyles: American pale ales (such as Sierra Nevada’s classic Pale Ale), American amber ale, and American IPA (18). Such recognition of the innovation of American craft brewers is long overdue and well earned.

Draft for Proposed New Style Guidelines

American Pale Ale

  1. American Pale Ale (for example, Sierra Nevada)
  2. American Amber Ale (includes the malty/hoppy distinction in the same manner that English brown ales are recognized as having northern and southern varieties)
  3. American IPA (examples include Anderson Valley, Big Time, Bhagwan’s Best, Brooklyn Brewing’s IPA, Victory’s HopDevil, and, perhaps, Liberty Ale)

American Golden Ale

  1. American Blonde Ale (“crossover” or “training-wheel” beers)
  2. American Wheat Ale
  3. American Cream Ale

When is an IPA an IPA? The majesty this style can achieve is sullied by brewers who latch on to the moniker as a trendy marketing device and is degraded by those who do not brew a beer true to the style. We all know these beers when we encounter them (an alleged IPA that has hopping levels lower than most American pale ales, for example). If an otherwise underhopped and uninspired pale ale can be called India pale ale, why have stylistic appellations at all? By the same token, some confusion exists over certain American pale ales that are strong enough to be called IPA but were not brewed as IPA.

Fal Allen argues that brewers simply ought to “Call it what it is” (10). IPAs were developed for a very specific reason, and high-alpha hoppiness and high gravity are essential to the style. Without either, the beer is not an IPA, period. Allen says brewers who choose to brew and market such historical styles as IPA or Russian imperial stout need to be aware of the history that originally produced those beers (10).

On the other hand, some beers are strong enough to fit the IPA category yet were not brewed as IPA or marketed as such. Allen argues again that the brewer should have set out to brew an IPA for the beer to deserve that label.

What, then, is Liberty Ale? I think that we can approach big, hoppy beers like Liberty and Celebration Ales in the following way: Although they very well may be IPAs, because the brewers neither set out to brew nor to market these beers as IPA we shouldn’t consider them IPA, even if in the hoppiest corner of our heart we know that they are.

A Distinctive American Style

Bob Maphet argues that American brewers are on the cutting edge of revitalizing the IPA style. “When Brian and I met with Michael Jackson about a year ago, he sampled our IPA. [Jackson] told us that we would be disappointed with IPAs in Great Britain,” said Maphet. “He said that IPAs there are fairly tame, lacking the hop characteristics of IPAs produced in America” (19).

American brewers have gone one step beyond resurrecting the IPA style, they have added their own stylistic twist. By using New World hops that are “aggressive and distinctive,” American brewers have created a new style of beer, one that combines a solid, high-gravity base with the refreshing and citrusy notes characteristic of American hop varieties.


The author would like to express his gratitude to Delano DuGarm. The impetus for this project was a dialogue between the author and DuGarm, and his influence and writing can be seen in the section tracing American IPA before the craft brewery movement.

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