There are some things in life that just give you a little thrill of excitement at the merest hint or mention. For me, this feeling is encompassed in the phrase “craft beer.” My mind gets filled with visions of vibrant hops, smooth malts & yeasts masterfully brewed into that aromatic alchemy that makes my little beer-loving heart beat with joy. There are so many craft beers that set my senses aflutter because there is no end to the variety. Craft brews can profile as anything from a darker roasty caramel elixir to clean, bright and hopliciously crisp nectar. With summer’s end being a bittersweet time of year, I tend to choose beers that capture in my mind the essence of August. I want a beverage that will capture the sultry, sun-baked days on the river that casually roll into the golden glimmering sunsets that melt into the refreshment of a good Montana evening. On occasion, I will even want a beverage that will make me forget that it is fire season by distracting me from the smoky haze one crisp sip at a time. For this, I lean on my trusty brew, the India Pale Ale, or IPA.
There will be much celebrating of this craft delight this year on National IPA Day, which falls on August 1. If you’ve missed celebrating on the day, fear not my hop loving readers, every day is a great day to celebrate the IPA. I believe that it makes a perfect summer brew because historically, it was designed specifically to be consumed in hot climates.
To ask a craft brewer about the origins of the IPA may result in a rousing set of stories anywhere from “scientific solutions” that prevented beer spoilage to British shipwrecks. It is difficult to sift through beer history without getting ensnared in myths and myth-busting and alternately getting drawn into the “he said, she said” type of history. What I have found to be true, however, is that indeed, the British had a strong presence in export of beer to India, especially porters and pale ales. Somewhere around the 1760’s it was encouraged to begin adding larger quantities of hops to ensure that beers would be drinkable in hot climates after long journeys, and thusly “Pale Ales as prepared for India” began to arise. Due to various British brewers such as George Hodgson’s Bow Brewery of London and advertisements in newspapers such as the Sydney Gazette, the term India Pale Ale began to be more common. These original beers evolved initially from aged October ales, using hops that varied in availability due to lack of specific classifications, and vast differences in where they were imported from. In truth, no one really knows what an original recipe for IPA even looks like, which makes it difficult to truly discern what a “proper” IPA really is. That being said, I think that bespeaks to the fun of IPAs themselves within the craft brewing movement, with so many variations being possible to enjoy.
There is a general recognition of three main categories of IPA; English style, American style and Imperials. They all are traditionally known to be characterized as smooth beers with a distinctively bitter to hoppy finish. American styles of IPA are also distinctly different from East coast to West coast profiles. I have found that the East coast varieties of IPAs tend to be a little more malt and spice heavy and slightly sweeter than the brighter, more hop-forward West coast counterparts. Though I enjoy both, I have the tendency to lean towards the more verdant refreshment of the West coast IPAs. Now Imperial IPAs are their own category, mostly because they seem to be like an IPA on steroids, being superbly robust and typically more alcoholic. I think of it as drinking a regular IPA while lounging in a redolent hop field- the bitter tangy aromatics ensconce all of the senses in the headiest way possible. (This is also why Imperials can quickly “head” you into the path of drunk if you’re not careful!)
It’s not hard to find some amazing choices in Montana as far as IPAs go. For more local varieties, Bitter Root Brewing Company out of Hamilton, Montana has a beautifully balanced IPA. It has a great hop to malt ratio, and is perfect for someone who wants to try a nice light IPA that brings both the English and American styles together. Big Sky Brewing Company, a fine Missoula brewer, brings a fruity, piney IPA to the table. It is a super rich beer that finishes clean, and is a great representation of the IPA family. Great Northern Brewing out of Whitefish features its “Going to the Sun” IPA. I place this beer on the lighter side of IPAs. There is beautiful balance, great use of Citrus Cascade hops, and a very clean finish.
With a huge flair of “West Coast Represent!” comes another favorite IPA of mine, Stone Brewing Company’s “Ruination” Double IPA out of Escondido, California. Described by the brewery itself as a “massive hop monster,” this beer definitely lives up to its reputation. Definitely not for the faint of heart, this is hops on top of hops on top of a beautiful citrus bitterness which I find refreshingly wonderful. It lives up to Stone’s description that it is “a liquid poem to the glory of the hop!”
Other IPAs that are definitely worth trying are Elysian Brewing Company’s “The Immortal” IPA, Boulder Beer’s “Hazed & Infused” Dry Hopped IPA, and New Belgium Brewing Company’s “Rampant” Imperial IPA. Out of Seattle, Washington, Elysian really makes an awesome IPA in The Immortal. For those who would like to try a classically English style IPA, this copper beauty makes a really nice brew. I can’t talk enough about Colorado brews sometimes, and the Hazed & Confused out of Boulder is an unfiltered, aromatic gem that finishes easy and is not to be missed for those hazy summer evenings. “Rampant” comes out of Fort Collins, CO, and it is a burly beast of an IPA. It is another copper beauty, but has a distinctly bitter and dry finish that will be an absolute must-have for die hard IPA fans.
You can find a beautiful selection of these and other exceptional IPAs at Liquid Planet, where there is a very knowledgeable “brew crew” to help you pick the perfect craft beer to celebrate the love of IPAs throughout all of August. Keep in mind that some selections are seasonally crafted, but don’t worry, there is always a wonderful beer to try. For those of you who can’t decide on just one, Liquid Planet has its awesome Mixer Sixer deal, which gives you 20% off of a “mixed up” six pack. This is the way to go if you have to try one of everything in this article!
As always, please drink responsibly during your summer sojourns, and may you enjoy all of the delights that IPAs have to offer.