IPA Beer: Breaking Down the Hops, ABVs, and Styles

Do you ever find yourself standing in the beer aisle, trying to choose between a pale ale and an IPA? If so, you are certainly not alone. In recent years, IPAs (India Pale Ales) have become one of the most popular craft beers on the market.

But what is IPA beer? It turns out that there is more to it than just a bitter taste! Let me take you through all things IPA – from its history, brewing process and distinct flavor profiles – so that you can make your next beer purchase with confidence.

A Brief History of IPA Beer

The origins of IPA beer can be traced back to 18th century England. During the British colonization of India, British brewers created a special type of pale ale that could survive the long sea voyage to India.

This “India Pale Ale” was brewed using more hops and a higher alcohol content, which helped preserve the beer during travel and prevented spoilage. The distinctive hoppy flavor of IPAs proved quite popular among British expats in India, and eventually the style gained popularity back in England as well.

Today, IPAs are one of the most well-known craft beer styles, with American variations that tend to be even more hop-forward than traditional English IPAs.

What is IPA Beer and How it’s Made?

What is IPA Beer and How it's Made

IPA stands for India Pale Ale. It is a style of pale ale that is characterized by its strong hop aroma and flavor. The brewing process for IPA beer involves the use of hops that are high in alpha acids, which impart bitterness and strong hoppy flavors.

The hops are added at multiple points during the boil, creating layers of hop flavor and aroma. IPAs also tend to use medium to medium-high carbonation and have medium to high alcohol content (typically 5-7.5% ABV) according to Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).

The specific combination of hops and malts can produce IPAs with a range of flavors from more balanced to aggressively bitter and hoppy. Some popular varieties of hops used in IPAs include Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, and Simcoe hops.

Common Flavor Profiles of IPA Beer

The flavor profiles of IPA beer can vary depending on the specific types and amounts of hops and malts used. In general, you can expect IPAs to have the following characteristics:

  • Prominent hop aroma with notes of citrus (grapefruit, orange), pine, or tropical fruit
  • Moderate to high bitterness from hops, balanced by malty sweetness
  • Medium body with a crisp, dry finish
  • Flavors may include caramel, toffee (from malts), as well as floral, herbal or earthy notes (from hops)

The next time you’re trying to choose between a pale ale and an IPA, keep these distinguishing features of IPA beer in mind. Whether you prefer more balanced IPAs or extremely hoppy IPAs, understanding the characteristics of the style can help you select an IPA you will enjoy. Happy tasting!

Types of IPA Beer

Popular Styles of IPA Beer

Some popular styles of IPA beer include:

  • American IPA: Strong hop aroma and flavor, medium maltiness, medium bitterness. Examples: Sierra Nevada Celebration, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale.
  • Imperial/Double IPA: An intensely hoppy and strong (7-10% ABV) IPA. Examples: Pliny the Elder, Heady Topper.
  • Black IPA: A dark, roasted malt flavor with prominent hop aroma and bitterness. Examples: Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, Deschutes Hop in the Dark.
  • Session IPA: Lower alcohol (4-5% ABV) but still hop-forward. Examples: Founders All Day IPA, Brooklyn Summer Ale.

Benefits of Drinking IPA Beer in Moderation

While IPA beer is high in bitterness and alcohol compared to other beer styles, drinking it in moderation can have some benefits:

  • The hops in IPA beer contain antioxidants that can help prevent cell damage.
  • IPAs that use quality ingredients and are not overly processed can be a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, and selenium.
  • Enjoying a beer in moderation can have psychological benefits like stress reduction and increased enjoyment of social situations.
  • The moderate alcohol content of most IPAs may help raise good cholesterol and lower heart disease risk when consumed responsibly.

However, it’s important to drink all types of alcohol, including IPA beer, in moderation to avoid negative health effects and other issues associated with excessive alcohol consumption. Moderation is defined as up to 1 drink per day for women, and up to 2 drinks per day for men.

Different Ways to Enjoy IPA Beer

While IPA beer is great on its own, here are some other ways to enjoy this hoppy style:

  • Pair IPAs with strongly flavored foods like aged cheese, steak, barbecue, or Thai cuisine. The bitterness helps cut through rich and spicy flavors.
  • Add IPA to marinades and sauces to impart a hoppy, bitter flavor to meats like chicken or fish.
  • Use IPA in place of water in bread recipes to create beer-flavored bread. The malty, hoppy flavors come through subtly in the baked bread.

Try an IPA-based cocktail like a Hopped-Up Mimosa (IPA, orange juice, champagne) or Michelada (IPA, lime juice, chili powder, salt). The hoppy bitterness balances sweet citrus and complements spicy flavors.

Food Pairings to Complement Your Favorite IPA Beer

With its bold hop flavors and moderate bitterness, IPA beer pairs well with many foods. Here are some classic pairings to try:

  • Aged cheddar cheese: The sharpness of aged cheddar complements the bitterness of IPA.
  • Barbecued ribs or pulled pork: The strong flavors of barbecue are balanced by the hoppy bitterness of IPA.
  • Thai green curry: The spiciness of Thai curry is cooled by the crisp bitterness of IPA.
  • Fish tacos: The citrusy hops in IPA pair nicely with fish and the lime in fish tacos.
  • Chocolate-based desserts: The bitterness of dark chocolate and coffee pairs with the hoppy bitterness of IPA for a balanced sweet-bitter flavor.

FAQs About IPA Beer

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about IPA beer:

What does IPA stand for?

IPA stands for India Pale Ale. The style was originally developed in England for export to India.

What makes IPA beer bitter?

IPA beer gets its bitter flavor from hops, particularly hop varieties that are high in alpha acids like Chinook, Centennial, and Simcoe hops. The hops are added during the brewing process to impart bitterness, aroma, and flavor.

Is IPA beer unhealthy?

IPA beer is fine to drink in moderation. While the hops and alcohol can be hard on the body in excess, IPA does contain nutrients from barley and hops, and the moderate alcohol content may have some health benefits when consumed responsibly. However, excessive consumption of any type of alcohol, including IPA, can have negative health effects.

Why do people like bitter beer?

The bitter flavor of IPA beer comes from hops, which have aromatic compounds that some people enjoy. The bitterness can be a pleasant contrast to sweetness and cut through rich, fatty flavors in food. Appreciating bitter flavors in beer is learned, and not everyone enjoys high amounts of bitterness. It’s a matter of personal taste.

What foods pair well with IPA beers?

IPAs pair well with spicy, savory, and fatty foods, such as burgers, pizza, spicy Thai or Indian cuisine, and barbecue. They also complement strong cheeses like cheddar, gouda, and blue cheese.

What is the best temperature to serve an IPA beer?

IPAs are best served at a temperature between 44-55°F (7-13°C). This temperature range allows the hop character to come through without being overly bitter.


In closing, IPA beer is a unique and diverse craft style that has been around for centuries, but the modern variations seen today are far different than the original English versions.

While it may be an acquired taste for some, this complex beer continues to rise in popularity thanks to its combination of bold hop flavors, high levels of alcohol content, and overall depth of flavor.

Whether you’re just getting into IPAs or you’ve been a disciple since the first widely brewed West Coast offerings hit the market decades ago, now is a great time to explore what makes IPAs such amazing beers.

Expand your tastes and discover the endless possibilities that exist when delving into something as varied as IPAs. And don’t forget to keep up with us at Fleet Street Kitchen where we can provide more great information about this popular category of beer. Cheers!

Executive Chef | Website | + posts

Chef Michael Correll began his restaurant career near his home in his teens as a pizza cook, but soon moved to Philadelphia where he first landed at Jones, an acclaimed Stephen Starr restaurant on Chesntut Street.

It was also in Philadelphia that Chef Correll pursued his culinary education, graduating from the Art Institute of Philadelphia in 2008.

After school he worked for Chef Marc Plessis at Nineteen in the Park Hyatt Hotel before moving to Pinehurst, North Carolina to open the Carolina Room.

See what Baltimoresun.com and Baltimoremagazine.com say about him.

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