Known for its bold hop flavors and diverse characteristics, the India Pale Ale tops the list of national favorites when it comes to craft beers. Thanks to industrious and creative brewers, It has evolved into numerous sub-styles over the years. Two of the most prominent variations are the West Coast IPA and the New England IPA. The two manage to share the key features of an IPA while boasting significantly different flavors, colors, and aromas. Let’s take a closer look at a West Coast IPA vs New England IPA and ways brewers make them even more special.
What is an IPA, Anyway?
Before we compare the specific West Coast and New England IPAs, let’s discuss what makes a beer an IPA in the first place.
The India Pale Ale, or IPA, is a style of beer that traces its roots back to early 19th-century England. (Webster makes reference to it in his Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy from 1815). The name came from the fact that this kind of beer was often exported to India, an English colony at the time. Although contemporary IPAs have very little to do with India, the name persists as an homage to the beer’s roots.
IPAs are characterized by their pronounced hop bitterness: they are brewed with a substantial amount of hops, which also adds a range of flavors and aromas, from pine and resin to tropical fruits and floral notes. The balance between malt sweetness and hop bitterness is a defining factor in a good IPA.
The bitterness contributed by hops in beer is referred to as “International Bitter Units,” or “IBU.” IPAs typically have IBUs of at least 40, and often over 60. For comparison, a typical, mass-market lager has between 5-10 IBUs.
West Coast IPA: Crisp and Bitter
The West Coast IPA is often considered the classic interpretation of the style. It emerged in the United States during during the 1960s and is known for its clear, crisp appearance and intense hop bitterness.
West Coast IPAs are often made with a process known as “dry hopping.” This involves adding hops later in the brewing process to extract further aromas and flavors. West coast IPAs are also boiled longer than other types of beer, resulting in pronounced bitterness and a bold, piney aroma.
The defining characteristics of a West Coast IPA include:
– Clear appearance.
– Prominent hop bitterness.
– Bright citrus and pine aromas.
– Clean and dry finish.
– Balanced malt backbone.
When it comes to IPAs, remember one thing: “bitter” does not equal “skunky.” A good West Coast IPA is crisp, citrusy, and one of the most refreshing beers out there. Don’t be afraid of the hops. Embrace the hops. Start with this one:
Diebolt’s Electric Cowboy is resplendent with Cascade, Nugget, and Citra hops that give it a citrusy aroma and bold, fresh, flavor.
New England IPA: Hazy and Juicy
On the other end of the spectrum, the New England IPA (often abbreviated as NEIPA or Hazy IPA) has a sweeter, milder flavor and aroma. This style has a hazy, opaque appearance and a soft, almost juicy mouthfeel. New England IPAs focus on hop aroma and flavor rather than excessive bitterness, resulting in a smoother and fruitier profile. These beers are often described as having notes of tropical fruits, citrus, and even some herbal qualities.
New England IPAs are not necessarily made with hops from that region. Cascade hops from Oregon are very popular, as are Australian hops for their tropical scent and flavor. A nice hazy IPA is a good introduction into the world of bitter beers, or as a way of convincing someone that the one skunky IPA they had in college was not a good representative.
The defining characteristics of a New England IPA include:
– Hazy, opaque appearance.
– Low to moderate hop bitterness.
– Intense hop aroma and flavor.
– Soft and smooth mouthfeel.
– Juicy and tropical fruit-forward flavors.
IPA Alcohol Content
In addition to the designation “West Coast” or “New England” on your IPA, you may see the words “session” or “imperial” on your can. These indicate the alcohol content of your IPA.
Session IPAs are a lighter version of the traditional IPA. They have a lower alcohol content, typically around 4-5%, making them ideal for extended drinking with friends or for those who are more susceptible to the inebriating effects of alcohol.
Imperial IPAs, also known as “Double” IPAs, are stronger and more intensely hopped versions of the IPA style. They have a higher alcohol content, usually ranging from 7-10% (or even higher), and an amplified hop profile, creating a more robust flavor experience.
Try a West Coast IPA in Denver
Ready to take the IPA plunge? We’ve got our Cosmic Cowgirl Double IPA classic Electric Cowboy in cans and on tap for you to enjoy. Or, try our stellar Colorado Greenback session IPA for truly easy sipping.