Although craft beer has been available in Latvia for at least 5 years, the public's understanding of beer styles is still very limited. Independent and industrial brewers especially contributed to this by emphasizing the letters IPA on each bottle. For big breweries, "IPA" became the epitome of trying to catch up with the trends. As a result, in the mind of an average Joe the IPA has become synonymous with any beer that has a distinct flavor, a small bottle and a high price. But it's not that simple.

IPA is perhaps the most popular craft beer style in the world. It is often the first type of beer to be released by a new brewery and the first sip through which a budding beer enthusiast learns about the craft world. Indian pale ales (and pale ale as such) are a great place to start exploring beer - a light, crisp body, the usual amber color, followed by an unusual, bright hop flavor. And I would even say that pale ale as such is the first encounter of hops for a Latvian beer drinker - a bitter taste and a resinous aroma. After the IPAs, the beers that used to seem bitter suddenly become sweet and malty. The IPAs sip is important for developing a growing awareness of beer - it draws a clear line of what is sweet and what counts as bitter.

In the beginning there was Coke!

IPA is the abbreviation for India Pale Ale. If there is an Indian pale ale, then there must be non-Indian varieties. Pale Ale is a style of beer that originated in England in the mid-17th century and became popular in the early 18th century. This beer is the result of technological progress. Before pale ale, malt was dried by burning wood. Unstable temperatures and smoke created a dark color and a roasted-smoky taste. New fuel coke - coked coal - allowed brewers to obtain unprecedented light malt without the presence of smoke. It was also the origin of the Pale Ale, an amber-colored ale with a distinct hop taste that is no longer stifled by smoke.

From the first day pale ale began to take new shapes and forms. The style was gaining popularity and soon every British brewer was brewing this light and bitter beer. But it turns out that geography - the water used - plays an important role in the pale ale flavor. The most famous pale ale was brewed in Burton on Trent, where local water is naturally harder (than in London, for example). The hardness of the water influences the way bitterness of the hops opens up in the beer, so the water created a variety of taste for pale ales.

NB! Pale-bodied English brews used to be called bitters. It is still unclear where the pale ale ends and the bitter begins, just like the porter and stouts. There is a rumor that the difference is in serving - from a barrel (bitteris) or from a bottle (pale ale).

What's the deal with India?

Indian Pale Ale was the result of British colonialism. British colonists in India refused to drink local rice beer apo and could not brew their own in the Indian heat. The only solution to this beer shortage was to import beer from England. The only way to ship beer across the ocean is by brewing it stronger and with a higher dose of hops (alcohol and hops preserve the beer and protect it from spoiling).

This beer pioneered a new style with an unusually high alcohol content and a rich bouquet of hops. Nowadays, the Indian pale ales are distinguished by a surprising number of variations, which we will briefly outline.

IPA (Indian Pale Ale) - Light beer with a dry body (after fermentation, not much sugar remains, so the beer is low density / light and not sweet). The hops stand out in the flavor - bitterness and resinous aroma.

English IPA - Dry amber beer brewed with coke-dried malt and shipped to the colonies. Balanced beer style with a greater emphasis on hops than malt.

American West Coast IPA - Probably the most common type of an IPA. Extremely bitter and brightly hopped beer. The West Coast breweries are closer to the hop fields of the United States, so they are not affraid to "exaggerate" with the flavor of hops - the hops were added even during fermentation (dry hopping), this does not  add bitterness, but opens the hops in flavor and aroma. Hop varieties with high Beta acids (Alpha acids give bitterness, Beta - aroma) were often chosen.

The main measure of this style is aroma and IBU (International Bitterness Units) - higher the number, greater the IPA. If a glass of beer becomes a test of tenacity, it's probably a West Coast-style IPA.

American East Coast IPA - Cousin of the English IPA. A light, bitter beer with hops carefully balanced with malt. If the beer seems to be bitter first, but halfway through the glass you start to feel the bread or caramel - it's probably an East Coast IPA.

Cascadian Dark Ale (Dark India Pale Ale) - Despite its oxymoronic name, this is a distinct style of beer that belongs to the IPA category for its hops forward flavor. This is a dark beer with a roasted and caramelized malt base and an extraordinarily large amount of hops - an abomination of a forbidden love between a porter and a West Coast IPA.

Imperial Indian Pale Ale (Double "I" PA) - Also known as IIPA, DIPA and Double IPA. Extra strong IPA, darker in color, denser in body, and higher in ABV - which is masked by a larger amount of hops (higher IBU).

Milkshake IPA - A modern type of IPA that tastes like a fruity milk shake. Lactose and fruits are added to this style during brewing. Lactose is a non-fermenting milk sugar that gives IPA a fuller, softer mouthfeel. Lactose hides the bitterness but leaves the aroma. As a result, you can add an “extreme” amount of hops.
This type of IPA will appeal well to people who usually avoid bitter beers by missing out on the taste and aroma of hops.

NEIPA (New England IPA) - A new type of IPA that has not yet been bureaucratically adopted as a style but is widely brewed. Hoppy beer with a very cloudy body. This body can be achieved by manipulating ingredients - yeast that does not settle for longer, wheat malt or oats that produce a cloudy body and an insane amount of hops added during fermentation ("dry hopping"). These hops do not significantly increase the bitterness, but leave a strong hop aroma. The style itself, as a result, is not particularly bitter and stands out with its exotic, resinous hop flavor and aroma.

Juicy IPA - This style is still a subject of debate between scientists whether it is synonymous with NEIPA, variation on Milkshake or a separate recipe. Similarly aromatic and fruity as NEIPA, but not necessarily cloudy. The emphasis is on the fruity notes of hops, which give the appearance of juicy fruits added in the brew. This style, too, tends to give a Lactose boost to increase aroma and taste without the added bitterness.

Session IPA - A term used to refer to an IPA with a low alcohol content brewed for longer tasting sessions. Low alcohol content often also brings moderate bitterness.

Belgian IPA - Beer fermented with Belgian yeast and containing an unusually large (for Belgians) amount of hops.

Wheat IPA (WIPA) - IPA with whear malt.

Brut IPA - A modern type of IPA with added amylase. Amylase (amyloglucidase) is a specific enzyme used by brewers to make thick stouts drinkable rather than edible with a spoon. This enzyme breaks down complex sugars that normally remain in beer after fermentation. Yeast is able to consume more sugar and create a beer that is drier (less sweet, less dense).
In 2017, a San Francisco brewer decided to add the same enzyme to an IPA. Brut IPA is a very dry, but aromatic and bitter beer that resembles the body of a brut champagne.

In conclusion. Other variations of IPA will surely emerge - people enjoy hops and the creativity of brewers is endless. The IPA is a safety island when friends pull you into a hipster beer bar. It is something you can always order and feel fitting in the modern beer world. But ordering an IPA should not be an end in this journey - the beer world does not end with an IPA, every pub, every brewer creates their own IPA by playing with hops or style as such. The beer world is wild, there are no laws - only recommendations.