Beer Education

IPAs: the history, background, the style, & brewing from home


IPAs: Beer Brewing From Home--The Experts Tell Us How To Do It Properly
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Written by Beards Head Brewer Justin Koziol

The much celebrated India Pale Ale (IPA) has a long history dating back to the early 1800s in England where the style originated. British merchants found that beer being shipped on long ocean voyages, specifically to India, ended up less than fresh when they got to their destination. A little trial and error by British brewers led to the development of a new beer style with higher alcohol content and a significant increase in the amount of hops used in the brewing process. This improved the stale beer issue as both alcohol and hops have preservative properties but they also had the unintended consequence of dramatically impacting original flavor. This new style of beer was much hoppier than styles traditionally brewed, and thankfully for us it stuck around. And so, the IPA was born.

The IPA had a fairly stable existence through the 19th and 20th century, without much evolution or recipe tinkering.This all changed when American hop farmers started to grow hops with new intense aromas and flavors. Traditional English hops tended to be more subtle with earthy and herbal notes, while American hops were citrusy, piney, and fruity. This was a new toy that American brewers couldn’t help but to experiment with, especially as the popularity of craft beer began to expand in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Today, the IPA has speciated many many times which has brought us beers like the ever popular Bell’s Two Hearted Ale (a industry standard for a damn good, spot on, American IPA) all the way to a sour hazy IPA brewed with doughnuts and edible glitter that I had recently (can’t recall the name). For the homebrewer, there are many routes one might take, so in the interest of brevity, I’ll focus on brewing an American IPA, like an excellent one we make at Beards Brewery called Green Hundo:

So you want to brew an IPA? Let’s start simple. You’ll want to keep the grain bill limited to a handful of ingredients as we’re mostly just going for higher gravity and a little bit of color. For a base malt, where you’ll get the majority of your fermentables, you’d go with Two Row barley malt or a Pale malt. For specialty malt, you’d add some Caramel malt, like a Caramel 60L for that nice copper color, and maybe some Munich malt for some bready, biscuity notes. Keep the specialty malts around 20-25 % and the base malts around 75-80% of the total grain bill and try to shoot for an original gravity of 17° Plato.

And now for the moment you’ve been waiting for. You’re hopportunity, if you will. You could use anything for bittering hops, really, but it’s best to use something in the 10%-15% alpha acid range. The amount depends on the volume of wort you have but a good working ratio would be .25 oz of a 13% a.a. hop/gallon of wort.  A great place to start would be CTZ. It’s a good dual purpose hop and works well for early additions. You pretty much now have a balanced beer and at this point you can start to add hops of different varieties based on your personal preferences. Late hop additions are analogous to using fresh herbs while cooking. The later you add them in the boil, the more they will retain their aromatic compounds. Anywhere from the 15 minute mark to the whirlpool itself are good times to add aroma hops. Just remember that the longer you boil them, the more bitter they become, and the less aromatic they will be. There is no shortage of aroma focused hops out there but some favorites are Citra, Galaxy, and Mosaic. Here in Michigan we are fortunate enough to have a climate favorable for growing hops and we have some great aroma hops that come from the region. One of my favorites is Michigan Copper from MiLocal Hops in Williamsburg, MI. It has sort of a stone fruit/fruit punch thing going on that’s super good. There’s lots to experiment with here so go nuts, within reason. Don’t overdo it or you’ll end up with something that’s too bitter and undrinkable. You can always add more hops next time if you want to.

Now you’re ready to knock out and pitch some yeast. You could get creative with any number of yeast strains out there that will impart all sorts of flavor compounds, from fruity esters, to clovey phenols, to funky barnyard Brettanomyces strains. I’d take it easy to begin with and use a neutral American Ale yeast like US-05 from Fermentis. Now just make sure you have a good place to ferment with an ambient temp of 65°- 70°F and waya from any light. Give it a few days and then you can add even more hops if you want. This is “dry hopping” and you’ll get the most out of aromatic hops here as there is no heat involved. Keep letting it ferment like this until your gravity stops dropping for at least two days. And now you have an IPA, almost.

At this point you’re going to want to package this sucker. Homebrewers typically will bottle this up and add a little sugar to carbonate and bottle condition. The best option would be to get this in a keg and on your kegerator, but best practices for carbonating and packaging is a tale for another day. The main thing here is to keep this beer, the fruits of your toil and great care, away from oxygen to the greatest extent that is humanly possible. Oxygen will seriously ruin your beer so keep it at bay.

Well, now that you’ve created a masterpiece, it’s time to kick back and enjoy a pint of (insert clever name that you surely thought of by now and may even be the reason you’re trying to brew an IPA in the first place) while you contemplate the mysteries of the universe. Just kidding. You’re going to think about how you’re going to adjust the recipe next time. The End.