First Draughts: The Story Of IPA, An Impossibly Perfect Ale

First Draughts: The Story Of IPA, An Impossibly Perfect Ale

Beer makes the world go ‘round. I’m not kidding. Beer has been there at many great moments in history. Our very own country was envisioned by the Sons of Liberty over pints of beer in Boston. Their ideas of revolution and freedom were inspired by what Ben Franklin reportedly called “proof that God loves us.” Thank you, beer, for bringing the world the greatest force for freedom this Earth has ever known.

But seriously, is there anything better to write about than beer? I think not. Thus, welcome to the inaugural edition of First Draughts. Each Friday we’ll talk beer, and all its associated goodness. We’ll sit down with brewmasters at some of America’s growing micro-breweries, get history lessons in different beer styles, and taste-test beers big and small.

Let’s start with the IPA, or India Pale Ale. A darling of America’s craft brewery explosion, IPAs actually trace their heritage back to our friends across the pond. In the late eighteenth century as the British sought to bring beer to their soldiers in India (because all good armies are fueled by beer), their standard porters just couldn’t survive the grueling six-month trip to the subcontinent. When the East India Company looked for an answer, the IPA answered the call.

How We Got the IPA

George Hodgson, a relatively small brewer in London, was in the right place at the right time with the right product, something known then as October beer. Hodgson’s brew was a strong, well-hopped pale ale produced in the fall that just so happened to be popular with the in-crowd of the time, the landed gentry. After a twice-equatorial-crossing trip, many months later this beer arrived in India where it became a staple of the Briton’s diet and eventually what we know now as the India Pale Ale.

A few hundred years later, on the other side of the world, craft brewers rediscovered the IPA, pumped it full of patriotic hops, and gave birth to one of America’s most popular beers.

Now any brewery worth its malt brews at least one IPA. They come in all flavors and varieties. From the more traditional to black to “session,” and even the fruit-juice-packed pints you see from some breweries, there is undoubtedly an IPA for every taste. IPAs in the states owe their flavor to the distinctive characteristics of American hops like Columbus, Centennial, Simcoe, and most notably, Cascade.

There are plenty of amazing IPAs coming out of breweries across the country, and I’ll be getting to some of my favorites in the weeks and months ahead, but I wanted to start with a beer that just about everyone reading this column can get at his or her local grocer, liquor store, or bar.

Try a Lagunitas to Start

Lagunitas, a brewery out of Petaluma, California, makes some damn good beers. They describe their flagship IPA as “a well-rounded, highly drinkable IPA.” Made with a palate-packing 43 different hops and 65 different malts, this is the perfect example of an ale to sit on the back porch and enjoy the summer with.

Pour this in a glass and you’ll notice it’s a bright orange, slightly hazy beer with a small white head. You taste the citrus flavors of the hops, a little of the malts, some of that good ‘ol IPA bitterness and get a light, almost sweet finish.

lagunitas-bottle-glass

If you’ve never had an IPA before, this Lagunitas IPA is a great place to start. We’ll talk about IPAs with more bitterness, stronger malts, insane fruit flavors, and alcohol contents so high you need to arrange an Uber before ordering them at a bar, but think about the Lagunitas as IPA 101. It’s a solid introduction to a booming segment of the beer market.

Since the IPA renaissance is owed to American brewers, particularly those on the West Coast, these beers are American patriotism in a glass. You can’t beat that. Cheers to beer!

Next week: What in the hop?

Brad Jackson is a writer and radio personality whose work has appeared at ABC, CBS, Fox News, and multiple radio programs. He was the longtime host and producer of Coffee & Markets, an award-winning podcast and radio show with more than 1,500 episodes. Brad covers all things edible and cultural for The Federalist. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram at @bradwjackson.
Photo Brad Jackson / The Federalist
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