“Beer is not made from hops. It is made from barley, and sometimes other grains, then flavored with hops. But it is impossible to imagine beer without this strange, bitter vine.”
-Amy Stewart, The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks
When you think of an American IPA, or an American-style-anything, you think HOPS. Add ALL the hops! In fact, Lagunitas’ own description of their IPA is “made with 43 different hops.” Wait, really?! Forty-three, eh? This might be tongue in cheek marketing speak, but it’s a pretty accurate depiction of the “American IPA attitude” when it comes to proving your worth in the IPA category–the hoppier, the better.
To make matters even more ‘Merican, I opened each of the bottled IPAs with a special bottle-opener courtesy of my friends at Bullets2Bandages. Bullets2Bandages is a veteran owned company that donates 15% of their profits to veteran focused charities. They were kind enough to send me a personalized ‘Merica .50 Caliber Bottle Opener, and I tested it out on these American-made beers. This opener is 100% made in America from once-fired, military grade brass casings and demilitarized projectiles. After the brass is collected from military training ranges, Bullets2Bandages buys it in government auctions then presses the projectiles, cuts the notch, and polishes them up before engraving and selling them. I’m honored to have one of these openers with the Worth1000Beers logo engraved on the side. Thank you, Bullets2Bandages!
But, back to the beer. The newly revised 2015 BJCP Beer Guidelines describes an American IPA as “A decidedly hoppy and bitter, moderately strong American pale ale, showcasing modern American or New World hop varieties. The balance is hop forward, with a clean fermentation profile, dryish finish, and clean, supporting malt allowing a creative range of hop character to shine through.”
In terms of comparing this beer to other styles, the American IPA is described as “stronger and more highly hopped than an American Pale Ale. Compared to an English IPA, has less of the “English” character from malt, hops, and yeast (less caramel, bread, and toast; more American/New World hops than English; less yeast-derived esters), less body, and often has a more hoppy balance and is slightly stronger than most examples. Less alcohol than a Double IPA, but with a similar balance.”
American IPA Stats:
Joshua Bernstein (Brewed Awakening) reminds us that, “according to lore [the IPA] was created when British brewers highly hopped ales to preserve them during long ocean voyages” to their colonies in India. But by this definition, the American IPA of today really doesn’t fulfill this requirement. As the BJCP Guidelines put it, “The term “IPA” is intentionally not spelled out as “India Pale Ale” since none of these beers historically went to India, and many aren’t pale. However, the term IPA has come to be a balance-defined style in modern craft beer.” Therefore, it makes sense that the new guidelines have separated English IPAs from American and from other IPA styles.
Anchor IPA, 6.5% (Anchor Brewing Co.)
The Anchor website says this beer is brewed with Cascade, Bravo, and Apollo hops, and dry-hopped with Cascade, Apollo, Citra, Nelson Sauvin, and Haas Experimental No. 43.
Lagunitas IPA, 6.2% ABV (Lagunitas Brewery)
“Made with 43 different hops,” according to the Lagunitas website. AllAboutBeer.com’s review of this beer claims this enormous hop bill includes Horizon, Cascade, Patheticque, Emperor, and Eroica.
Union Jack, 7.5% (Firestone Walker Brewery)
The brewery website names Magnum, Cascade, and Centennial as brew additions, and Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Chinook, and Simcoe as dry-hop additions.
Titan IPA, 7.1% (Great Divide)
I couldn’t find much of anything in terms of a hop bill for this one, but multiple home-brew clone recipes cite Amarillo and Simcoe for for bittering, Amarillo and Columbus for aroma and Columbus for dry-hopping.
Ranging from a lighter straw-gold to an orange amber color, most of these fell in between these two extremes with Anchor IPA being the darkest (copper-orange in hue) and Two Hearted and Centennial IPA being the lightest. The rest were golden in color.
All had powerful aromas that sprung out of their glasses, the only exception being Great Divide’s Titan IPA which had a soft and milky raspberry creamsicle aroma. The rest exploded with pine resin, malt, orange peel, orange juice, grapefruit, lemon, honey, malty sweetness, sticky orange syrup, or herbal lemon tea. Only the Anchor IPA smelled slightly solvently, and Stone’s stood out as different with an exceptionally earthy, floral grapefruit nose unlike the others.
Anchor IPA had the most pleasant mouthfeel, with super soft and creamy bubbles that expanded to fill my mouth as I drank, and this was countered by a very drying finish. Centennial IPA, Lagunitas IPA, and Two Hearted all were medium-full, but oily and therefore less creamy, although Centennial was a bit syrupy. Titan IPA, Stone IPA, and Union Jack were all thinner in body, and oily from hops as well.
Anchor IPA: A dull and very drying bitter and clean hop finish, balanced with honey-sweet malty taste, spike bitterness, malty backbone that is reminiscent of an English style IPA
Lagunitas IPA: Juicy, bready finish, tinge of pleasing hop bitterness, orange juice, quenching, lime, pine, super smooth
Union Jack IPA: Chewy, bready, bitter finish, drying finish, HOPS in your face, orange, pith, pine resin
Stone IPA: Abrasively bitter, barely preceeded by a honey caramel sweetness, followed by this strong hop bitterness in the throat like chewing tylenol, pithy, like biting into grapefruit
Titan IPA: creamy cream, lemon, super bitter back of the throat, pithy like a lemon peel
Two Hearted: sweet, bitter, juicy, orange, resin, orange syrup, prickly orange bitterness
Centennial IPA: Malty pine resin, orange peel
While my go-to IPA is typically Two Hearted, I was surprised to find that it came in at a close second to Lagunitas IPA, the beer with “43 different hops.” This beer was balanced between an incredible bitterness and a remarkably quenching sweet orange juice, like a teeter totter of flavors that made me thirst for more.
And finally, a word on the .50 Caliber Bottle Opener: This little guy was super strong and felt more durable than any bottle opener I’ve ever used before. I think it makes a great conversation piece and serves an even greater cause. Whether you support Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps, or just want to help our service men and women heal when they return home, this bottle-opener or any one of the Bullets2Bandages products would be a great way to help out America’s bravest. One more time … ‘MERICA!