Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Whatever happened to IPA?

When beers were first sent to India to quench the thirst of the early colonisers they were well hopped, strong tasting, high alcohol beers. The reason for this was that the alcohol and hops meant that the beer would keep on the long journey across the sea. Over time this style of beer became popular, not only in the subcontinent, but also with drinkers a little closer to home. This was the start of a fine tradition of brewing and drinking of a most classic if British beer styles.

It both shocks and annoys me that this fine tradition of British brewed IPA's has descended into an appalling concoction of low taste, low alcohol and most importantly low quality session beers. A look at the majority of IPA's around today shows a complete lack of imagination from breweries. Breweries like Green King seem perfectly satisfied to brew a low alcohol session bitter with a large amount of pale malts and a barely noticeable amount of hops and put the IPA name tag on it. Now the reason I pick on Green King is because I believe their offering of IPA to be particularly offensive (and they have now taken to dispensing it in a smooth flow variety; something I find principally abhorrent). The modern brand of "IPA" is really just a pale ale! The most adventurous thing mainstream brewers are doing with IPA now is pumping it with citra hops and saying it has a "citrusy, refreshing taste". Oh come on guys! Use some imagination please. As much as it pains me to say it some small craft breweries over the pond have got the right idea and are making some truly fantastic beers. Harpoon Imperial IPA, a recent acquisition of mine, for example is a wonderful beer. From looking at the ingredients used in their beers, it seems obvious that small American craft brewers are much keener on utilizing the freshest and best ingredients possible not just the ones made in their own country. There seems to me to be a thought held by some ale enthusiasts in this country that British brewed beer should be made using British malt and British hops; even if this does not produce the best beer.

The long serving tradition of brewing quality IPA's has died away not purely because of breweries ineptitude but also to our governments recent barrage of negatively publicity against high ABV beers. While I agree that high strength, low price beers such as Super Tennants, which are essentially glorified central heating for tramps, are a problem and should be cracked down on, it seems Gideon and his merry band in Westminster are using a sledgehammer to knock in a thumbtack. Under the guise of aiding the social health of the country, they have essentially dealt a death blow to one of our most revered beer styles.

But thankfully some small brewers are beginning to realise this and are attempting to take IPA back to its proper roots. As I write this I am sipping on a delightful bottle of Downtown Chimera IPA; a wonderful 7% nicely hopped beer. BrewDog, a slightly alternative brewery in Scotland, are attempting, with their aggressive, heavily hopped Punk IPA and their delightful 9.2% Hardcore IPA, to bring proper IPA's back into the mainstream. With the country wide launch of their range in Sainsburys this should hopefully open up a new world of drinkers to this wonderful beer style.

If breweries want to get more younger drinkers into real ale they need to start doing something adventurous with their beers. As a young drinker myself I can safely say that as long as breweries churn out the same Fuggles or Golding hopped beers with little or no imagination, the industry, and it's associated lobbying group, will continue to struggle to shrug off the classical image of bearded oldies with sandals and socks.

In summary of my rather long rant, mainstream brewers need to pull their fingers out and either start making proper beer or stop calling the rubbish they currently churn out IPA.