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Specialty India Pale Ales


Specialty India Pale Ales

Over the last twenty years IPAws have become the most popular craft beer style in North America. This trend has spread to other beer markets around the world, and in some areas “India Pale Ale” is synonymous with “craft beer”. As part of the spirit of experimentation of craft beer and to differentiate their products from others, brewers introduced new variations of IPA, and with that many IPA sub-styles have evolved. The most popular of these will be the focus of this article: Belgian IPA, Black IPA, Brown IPA, New England Style IPA, Red IPA, Rye IPA and White IPA.
As a result of these sub-styles, IPA is no longer an abbreviation for India Pale Ale, but rather a descriptor of an assertively hop-forward, top-fermented beer. Although all these sub-styles fit into the category, they only have a few commonalities: the high hopping rate and the overall focus on the hop profile as well as the use of pale ale malt as base. All other variables get changed up in one form or the other.


Ultimately all India Pale Ales can be traced back to the beers made in England for export to the Indian continent in the 1800s. The additions to the style family that are commonly considered specialty IPAs are all a product of the recent craft beer movement. Many of the inspirations came from other beer styles like American-style wheat beer in the case of White IPA. The focus of the series is to delve into the specific brewing process and not a detailed history of beer styles. Hence a detailed history will not be provided for each individual style.

General Process Considerations

Highly modified pale ale malt is the base for all the discussed beers. Adjuncts in the form of sugar may also be used to boost gravity and ultimately alcohol content without increasing body, or sweetness. Wort production follows standard procedures, often using a short single step infusion mashing regime. During the wort boil the use of hop extract is advisable to create the base bitterness level without overloading the whirlpool with hop material. Aroma hops can be added as pellets or leaf hops towards the end of boil. Fermentation takes place at typical ale temperatures and typically lasts from three to five days. The beer is dry hopped either before or after cooling.
In general, the overall balance of the beer must be taken into consideration since some of the additional ingredients, if not used carefully, will impart aromas and flavors that could conflict with the underlying hop character.

Belgian IPA
Belgian IPAs combine the pronounced hop character of an American IPA with the fruitiness and spiciness of Tripels and Golden Strong Ales. Generally, these beers are light in color and have a more complex flavor profile than a typical IPA. They can be higher in alcohol and are often highly attenuated. American versions use New World hop varieties that produce a tropical, citrus and piney profile while Belgian versions of the style often use classic European hop varieties that result in a more restrained floral, herbal, and/or spicy hop character. Depending on what Belgian yeast strain is used for fermentation, clove, banana, pear and apple as well as peppery aromas and flavors can be perceived in the beer.

Black IPA
These beers are characterized by the pronounced hop character of regular IPAs and the black malt quality of Schwarzbier. It may sound strange to compare an IPA to a black lager, but the restrained roasted and burnt malt character of both styles are quite similar. Malt sweetness and caramel notes are limited. This clearly separates Black IPA from higher hopped versions of Porter and Stout.
The color and restrained roast quality can be achieved by adding a small percentage (1-2 %) of de-husked black malt to the grist or by using black malt extract post fermentation.

Brown IPA
Brown IPA is derived from American Brown Ale and is a more malty version of regular IPA. While the hop aroma and flavor still dominate, caramel, chocolate, cocoa and nutty malt flavors are perceivable. The more complex malt character is achieved by substituting some of the pale ale malt with Munich, caramel and/or crystal malt. Care should be taken to avoid creating a harsh vegetal flavor that can occur from overuse of dark caramel malt.

New England IPA
New England IPAs (NEIPA) are the most recent addition to the IPA family and were made popular in the northeastern United States as the name implies. These beers are generally described as juicy and are very turbid, yellow to orange in color, resulting in a beer that looks like citrus or tropical fruit juice. NEIPAs have a moderate alcohol content, and their perceived levels of bitterness are relatively restrained compared to other IPAs. The aroma and flavor is often described as having mango, passionfruit, guava, pineapple or papaya character resulting from specific hop varieties like Citra, Mosaic and Galaxy.
Part of the grist can be made up of oats (3-5 %) or wheat malt (10-30%), the remainder is pale ale malt. Hops are often added late to the boil or only to the whirlpool to limit the bitterness level. Dry hopping arguably provides the most flavor to NEIPA. Keys are the use of specific varieties that provide the desired fruit character (see above) as well as the amount of hops added per hl. Total hop additions (late kettle plus dry hops) can be in the 1-3 kg/hl range. Some brewers even dry hop the beer two or three times to achieve the desired outcome.

Red IPA, also sometimes referred to as Imperial Red Ale, are hoppier versions of American Amber Ale. Like in Brown IPA, part of the Pale Ale malt is substituted with dark caramel or crystal malt to achieve a reddish color as well as a slightly more malty beer. All other parameters are essentially the same as for a regular IPA.
Part of the pale ale malt gets substituted with rye malt (10-25 %) to create an IPA with more complexity and added mouthfeel.

White IPA
White IPA is a hybrid between Belgian Wit and American IPA. Brewers use wheat malt  (up to 30 % of the grist), spices (coriander and orange peel) and Belgian yeast strains to create a fruity, spicy, refreshing version of regular IPA.

Other IPAs
In addition to the discussed styles, there are a few additional IPAs that fit into the specialty category: Session IPA, Fruit IPA and Sour IPA. Session IPAs, a low alcohol version of regular IPAs, are quite popular and are closely related to American Pale Ale. Sour and fruit beers will be discussed in a future article. n

Further Reading

Steele, M.: IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes, and the Evolution of India Pale Ale, Brewers Association, Boulder CO, 2014.