View Full Version : Classification of microbrewery beer
As there have been a lot of discussions of the classification of microbrewery beer locale here and USA is the origin country, for this today world widespread phenomenon, I want to try to get some answers/opinions here.
Were do the lines go between APA, IPA and DIPA in alcohol % or any other parameter?
Is there a general alcohol % or any other parameter to fulfil to call any beer type double or imperial?
As with most things there is tons of overlap between these styles. Here are the BeerAdvocate.com (http://beeradvocate.com/beer/style) Style Definitions:
American Pale Ale (APA)
Of British origin, this style is now popular worldwide and the use of local ingredients, or imported, produces variances in character from region to region. Generally, expect a good balance of malt and hops. Fruity esters and diacetyl can vary from none to moderate, and bitterness can range from lightly floral to pungent.
American versions tend to be cleaner and hoppier, while British tend to be more malty, buttery, aromatic and balanced.
Average alcohol by volume (abv) range: 4.0-7.0%
English India Pale Ale (IPA)
First brewed in England and exported for the British troops in India during the late 1700s. To withstand the voyage, IPA's were basically tweaked Pale Ales that were, in comparison, much more malty, boasted a higher alcohol content and were well-hopped, as hops are a natural preservative. Historians believe that an IPA was then watered down for the troops, while officers and the elite would savor the beer at full strength. The English IPA has a lower alcohol due to taxation over the decades. The leaner the brew the less amount of malt there is and less need for a strong hop presence which would easily put the brew out of balance. Some brewers have tried to recreate the origianl IPA with strengths close to 8-9% abv.
Average alcohol by volume (abv) range: 4.0-6.5%
The American IPA is a different soul from the reincarnated IPA style. More flavorful than the withering English IPA, color can range from very pale golden to reddish amber. Hops are typically American with a big herbal and / or citric character, bitterness is high as well. Moderate to medium bodied with a balancing malt backbone.
Average alcohol by volume (abv) range: 5.5-7.5%
American Double / Imperial IPA
Take an India Pale Ale and feed it steroids, ergo the term Double IPA. Although open to the same interpretation as its sister styles, you should expect something robust, malty, alcoholic and with a hop profile that might rip your tongue out. The Imperial usage comes from Russian Imperial stout, a style of strong stout originally brewed in England for the Russian Imperial Court of the late 1700s; though Double IPA is often the preferred name.
You can thank west coast American brewers for this somewhat reactionary style. "Thanks!"
Average alcohol by volume (abv) range: 7.0-14.0%
Style discussions are interesting and hard as one can try, it will never be possible to describe a traditional style with certainty.
Still, historical sources are available which shed some light. I have done a fair amount of reading in the area, now facilitated by online library and other online resources.
The description below of India Pale Ale is broadly correct based on my readings, in particular there is some evidence, and beer historians have argued recently, that pale ale was an altered form of October beer, a strong, often pale, well-hopped beer intended for long keeping. The pale ale for India was made less strong (5-7% range but generally 5-6%), was well-fermented to be dry in character (to minimize the chance of uncontrolled re-fermentation) and was well-hopped indeed. I have never read in any historical source that it was watered on arrival in India or that the concentrated form was reserved for officers. I wonder where this comes from. Perhaps there is some support in the old books or records, if so I'd like to see it. Pale ale in England was the domestic variety of IPA, basically the same thing but less hopped.
And just another observation, which is that the modern double IPA resembles (except sometimes for hop flavour) the strong, rich October beers from which IPA is likely derived. October beer was brewed to be layed down for 12-24 months or more. It was made with malt prepared from the recent harvest, with hops too that were not too old, and in a time of weather felt best for brewing before refrigeration came in. The traditional brewing season was October to March, these were the "season" beers. March beers, Saisons, bieres de garde, stock beers, all have their origin in seasonal brewing. So does lager beer except it was locked up for long aging in cold vaults initially cooled with ice.
In my opinion (and this is completely my opinion), Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is the benchmark APA. The balance between body and bitterness is just about perfect, and, if you get it draught, the floral nose is spectacular.
That said, I tend to drink American IPAs, as defined above, and I don't have a favorite among those. I have tried bunches, and I enjoy most. The ones I don't care for are top heavy: lots of hops but thin on malt. I want the body substantial (but not beefed up with darker malts).
I can remember that there was a time when I'd try beers that were just too hoppy for me. Those days are gone.
I have had some very good double (imperial) IPAs, but I prefer to stick with things lower in alcohol so I can drink more.
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