ArkansasBeerBlog is a pretty fun place to be right now. After all, we do consider ourselves hop heads. And what do hop heads love? IPAs. What’s an IPA do you say? IPA stands for “India Pale Ale.” So one may assume that this it’s a pale ale – an ale made with pale malt – and from India. While that may seem to make sense…. that’s not the standard here in Arkansas and most of the world. Think of it this way – do you ask for a Kleenex® with you need to sneeze, or a piece of tissue paper? Kleenex is a brand name so synonymous with tissue paper, most people just say Kleenex – and it is culturally accepted here in America. We can go a bit further and use Coke®. Coke is short for Coca-Cola, which is a specific type of refreshing beverage, right? So why is it that when you sit down at Ma’s Kountry Kafe here in rural Arkansas (man they have amazing grits!), and you ask if you can get a Coke for breakfast, they say “sure, what kind?” And then you’ll say Dr Pepper! Why is that? It’s because our wonderful southern heritage has a few different, and seemingly odd, cultural norms. IPA is no different!
An IPA in America is nearly always a well hopped ale with a generally clean (think paler, non-roasty or chocolate malts) malt profile. So why is it called an “India Pale Ale?” The folk lore goes like this: When Great Britain was colonizing India, they sent beer, alongside many other supplies, via ship on a very long journey to the colonies. In order to preserve the beer, the Brits added more preservatives.. well duh. Being that this hundreds of years ago, the human race hadn’t perfected the science of perseverates; and therefore didn’t have many modern (food friendly) chemicals available like calcium propionate, sodium nitrate, or even modern sulfites! Good Gosh, how did people LIVE?! Rather than peppering calcium propionate in foods, they used traditional methods. No, they couldn’t really salt and cure beer – but they had a wonderful natural ingredient that preserved beer: HOPS! Ahh, now we are getting somewhere aren’t we?
The ales that Great Britain shipped over to India normally had more hops added, and made for a more hoppy experience. So goes the tale of why I.P.A. is so hoppy. Whether it is historically accurate or verifiably true makes no difference to me. I just love the wonderful world of hops! So let’s talk about hops now. Why are hops in beer? Sure, they preserve and balance beer, but many people simply LOVE that flavor. Lemon, orange, pineapple, mango, citrus, pine, evergreen, earth, flowers and spice are just a VERY FEW types of flavors and aromas that hops can impart in your beer. By the way, us beer geeks try to stay away from being like wine snobs and not use flavor descriptions like “rusty antique fire truck nuances and molded banana crème custard with pickle toppings.” So now let’s get down to some of the science: while brewing with hops, you will always have alpha acids release in your beer, which are then isomerized during the boil. These acids create the beer’s bitterness and rack up the IBUs. IBU stands for international bitterness units. This is also a general gauge on how “hoppy” (we generally don’t use bitter) a beer is; with 80+ being a considered a sizeable amount and ~20 being a negligible amount. It’s important to point out, however, that depending on the craft, the hard work, and the artisanship put into creating a beer, any hop flavors can shine through amazingly no matter what the IBU. Let’s take that note and also point out that hop bitterness is generally an acquired taste. The bud/miller/coors marketing machines try to preach to us that “bitter is bad.” But I’m here to tell you, once you take the plunge into the hop kingdom, you will never turn back. Start low and slow. Let’s add some romance in here. Turn down the lights, play some Barry White, yeah baby, and crack open a nice low IBU pale ale. Feel that flavor? Get down with hops – if it’s a good beer, they won’t turn you back. Turn it up a notch now: play some Al Green and try a lower IBU imported IPA – people outside the USA aren’t as hop crazy as us – and see where that takes you . If you’ve really fallen in love, let’s get it on: get the Marvin Gaye album and grab an American IPA. Now you’ll be getting the hop love you desire. What’s that? You can’t get enough? Try an imperial / double IPA. Now you are in ecstasy.
OK, why am I sweating? I got a little “hop and heavy” there didn’t I? With all this hop talk, we at ArkansasBeerBlog are ready to get it on – in the fighting sense – and have an all out hop battle. The Great Arkansas IPA Beer Brawl is about to begin! Let’s let an amazing group of IPA beers battle it out and see who is declared a winner, shall we? YES! We shall! Coming up next – a battle to the finish featuring some of the best IPAs available in Arkansas!