I was tasked with discussing this point and immediately asked for an easier topic to find a solution for, like which style of pizza is the best or which region makes the definitive BBQ. I joke, but in fact finding the “perfect” IPA has become a very similar discussion for real hop heads. Some hold up the clear, piney west coast IPAs as the holy grail while others couldn’t do without the more balanced and sometimes unfiltered—gasp—east coast IPAs that some have even described as “fuzzy”. It seems to be all too American to invent, or in this case re-invent, something and then immediately start bending the rules and making it your own (we’re looking at you Mr. Belichick, but I digress).
Even the original essence of the IPA has been turned on its head in the current craze for ever fresher consumption of IPAs. Think about it, we are now clearly instructed, in big numbers on the bottle, to drink this IPA by such and such a date lest we anger the hops gods (or gargoyles) by letting even an iota of holy hops oil escape. Better yet, we are told not to even waste the time of pouring it into a glass but to drink directly from the can by some of the headier makers of the style. Ironic, considering the style was first developed because it was thought to age like fine wine and thus only become better on the six month long sea voyage to the Indian sub-continent.
Surely there is something that we can pin down about an IPA that makes it an IPA. Does its malt backbone just barely keep up with the hoppy deliciousness that defines its flavor? Check. Is it the perfect vessel to highlight the intoxicating aromas and tongue-enveloping taste of your current favorite specimen of the hop family? Check. Does it make every other beer that you drink after it taste watery and bland with its palate-wrecking dose of lupulin? Check. Is it the beer world’s “does not play well with others” by really only pairing well with itself or other like flavors? Check. If the beer you’re drinking fits the bill, well, then you’re probably drinking an IPA.
Now you beg of me, “Please! In this world of Yelp telling me exactly what restaurants are good and Amazon telling me exactly which products are good, I need to be told what is good in the world of IPA!!!!” To that I can only say: take a sip. Do you taste the hops? Do you smell the hops? Do you like the hops? Then it’s good.
Stop worrying about what might be defined as good, and do as great brewers before you have done with this style. Brew what you define as good. Throw the rule book out the window! How do you think we ended up with something that is called a Black IPA (a beer that’s black and pale...AT THE SAME TIME!!)? Brew what you like and rejoice in your recklessness.
Prost, meine Freunde!