Beer taxonomy is a messy field, because reasonable bon vivants like you and I tend to be too busy drinking to get bogged down with splitting word-hairs, so we leave such matters to the pedants, who can’t even agree on what basic terms such as “craft” and “session” mean. This is why the most satisfying way to talk about beer is to keep your mouth stuffed with beef whilst those around you are talking about beer.
Perhaps the most vexing definition in the game is the once-simple “India pale ale.”
IPA indicated a slightly hoppier, probably stronger version of a classic British pale ale. These fine days, however, brewers—or rather, their marketing departments—toss the term around pretty loosely to refer to most any heavily hopped style.
The differentiation probably began regionally, the first time “West Coast” was used to connote extra bitterness. However we got here, the beer shelves are currently crammed full of white IPAs (wheat, generally), black IPAs (roasted malt), red IPAs (hoppy amber ales), session IPAs (lighter alcohol) imperial IPAs (higher alcohol), double IPAs (same), and triple IPAs (guess). And don’t forget about the rye, grapefruit, and nitro renditions. Some folk are starting to push the notion of “Vermont” or “New England” IPAs, which are said to go heavy on the tropical aromas. Yep, lotta things pass for India pale ale these days.
Which is fine! Sure, you have to limbo under a certain logic hurdle to accept the reality of ale that is both black and pale, for instance. But by now we all know what a brewery is trying to convey when they drop one of these beautiful bastards on us: The beer is hoppier than its other descriptors might suggest, and they would likewise appreciate us buying more of it. Fair enough, I say.
Now let’s move on to a word with a less fraught definition: new. It means “not old,” and furthermore, for our purposes here, “something that debuted in 2015.” Here are eight of the best and most interesting new IPAs I was lucky enough to stumble across this year. (With “best” and “interesting” defined as ‘Here are some beers I like!’)
Boulevard The Calling
This 8.5-percent ABV imperial out of Kansas City employs eight different hops to produce citrus, tropical, floral, and pine notes, and proves once and for all that the Midwest is as good at IPAs as it is at baseball.
Oskar Blues IPA
It’s hard to believe this outfit took so long to introduce a year-round, standard-weight IPA. When they first started brewing in Colorado in 1999, smart money might have guessed Oskar Blues would have an IPA before they had a North Carolina location (and plans in place for another in Texas). Anyhow, better late than never for this 6.4-percent ABV newcomer: OB IPA features newfangled southern hemisphere hops that give it a juicy, tropical tone that’s heavy on the pineapple, with a good dose of pine resin on the finish.
SingleCut Billy 200-Watt IIPA
This newest addition to SingleCut’s acclaimed Billy line of IPAs (named for guitarist Billy Duffy of The Cult) is perhaps the smoothest 11-percent ABV beer I’ve ever had. It’s notably bigger than its siblings—Billies 18-Watt, Half-Stack, and Full-Stack—but it doesn’t exhaust the palate the way such monsters tend to. The hops veer toward citrus, particularly grapefruit and orange, along with some peach and earthy pine, and there’s just enough caramel malt to keep things in perspective.
21st Amendment Toaster Pastry
This self-proclaimed “India-style red ale” is named after the delicacy previously produced in the venerable San Francisco brewery’s new home. Is the beer as good as its namesake? Who’s to say. But it won silver in the Double Red Ale category at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival, which is a start. Toaster Pastry has the berry and biscuit notes suggested by the moniker, along with more traditional citrus and pine.
Night Shift Santilli
If Night Shift’s suburban Boston headquarters were five blocks closer to the subway, you’d need a reservation to get on the waiting list to fight for a barstool. Santilli may be the best of their year-round beers, a straight-ahead modern-style 6-percent ABV beauty with all the right citrus, floral, and tropical flavors.
Lonerider Magnificent 77
First, a confession: Until quite recently I did not realize there were 77 different hop breeds. And even if I had, I never would have guessed some lunatic North Carolinians would try to stuff that many into a single IPA. But here we are. Lonerider scoured 7 countries to come up with the goods for this surprisingly smooth, balanced, easy-drinking beer. Magnificent 77 is no mere stunt. Oh, it is most assuredly a stunt, but also a damn fine can of India pale ale with rich caramel malt complementing the shockingly harmonious hop blend. (The ABV is, of course, 7.7 percent.)
Harpoon Hoppy Adventure
This bright, aromatic double IPA is dangerously easy to drink at 7.8-percent ABV, with only moderate bitterness accompanying the huge tropical and citrus flavors, which are underscored by light honey and a hint of brown sugar. This is still a local draft-only experiment, but you have my word that I will personally drink enough in the coming weeks to ensure that it hits wide distribution in 2016.
Brewers are notoriously subtle and opaque with their puns, and I’m not really a beer-word guy anyway (see intro), so I’ll leave you to your best guess as to what sort of linguistic shenanigans the Founder’s beer-namers are up to with this one. As for the stuff in the bottle, it’s a 9.5-percent ABV imperial red IPA with aggressively earthy, piney hops atop sweet, nutty, lighted roasted malt.