What Is India Pale Ale Beer?

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India pale ale (IPA) is a beer style that is hoppier than other pale ales. Hops are a key ingredient in all beers, but IPAs are generous in the hops added throughout the brewing process. Favorite hops found in IPAs include Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook, and many breweries experiment with other varietals, often in custom combinations. It's common for brewers to stick with pale malt, though some add crystal, Vienna, or Munich malts as well. All of this variety in brewing methods leads to an immense diversity in the IPAs available. British and American styles are distinct, though India pale ales are generally a brighter, livelier, greener, and bitter beer.

Fast Facts

  • ABV: 5–10.5%
  • Bitterness: 40–100 IBU
  • Color: 4–16 SRM

What Is the Difference Between India Pale Ale and Pale Ale?

India pale ales fall into the category of a pale ale, though each has its own identity. To make matters more confusing, the line between pale ale and IPAs sometimes converges as brewers adjust the hoppiness of individual beers. You might, for instance, find a very hoppy pale ale and a milder IPA. In general, pale ales are brighter, lighter, and feature a balance of malt and hops, while IPAs celebrate hops in full force and tend to focus on that over the malt flavors. Generally, IPAs also have higher alcohol content.

The India pale ale style was developed by British brewers in the 1820s, and the name was given to the style in an Australian advertisement. Though there's some question to the story, it's told that IPAs were created in an attempt to preserve British ales for the long journey to the Indian colonies. The generous amount of hops in this stronger brew protected it from the heat and motion of the British sailing ships of the day. However, this may only be a legend because other British beers shipped just fine without any additional hops.

IPAs have a moderate, persistent head with a pleasant hoppy aroma. The body will be golden to amber, and the flavor should be hoppy with plenty of balancing malty sweetness.


India pale ale is a style within a style, and the popularity of this pale ale has led brewers to develop sub-styles as well. As you explore IPAs, you'll also find beers that don't fit conveniently into any style characteristics because brewers enjoy seeing where they can take IPAs.

English-Style IPA

The English-style IPA retains a balance of hop and malt flavors, similar to that of English pale ales, but with increased bitterness. Native hops varietals are used for an earthy, floral taste, along with English ale yeasts that impart a fruity character. The well-rounded beer typically has a range of 40 to 60 IBUs and an alcohol content between 5 percent and 7 percent ABV.

American IPA

When American craft breweries got hold of IPAs, the style really took off. It's a favorite beer for microbrewers and many specialize in this style alone. Generally, American IPAs are floral, fruity, and much hoppier than their British counterparts, with an IBU range from 50 to 70. Local hops varieties, such as Cascade, give them a citrusy twang.

The two coasts have also adopted individual styles. West Coast breweries tend toward an intense hoppiness, while East Coast brewers typically follow the English style with a maltier brew that's balanced with hops. There are also breweries that go their own directions, and the American IPA market offers limitless possibilities for so-called "hopheads" to enjoy.

Imperial IPA

Imperial India pale ale (or double IPA) takes the American style to the extreme. This is where you'll find the hoppiest and strongest beers. The bitterness begins at 65 IBUs, and some brews hit an unforgettable 100 IBUs. Likewise, the alcohol content is more like a weak wine, falling between 7.6 percent and 10.6 percent ABV.

New England IPA

New England IPA is a unique style that features late and dry hopping techniques. This enhances the ale's juiciness and gives it a tropical hop flavor. Some add wheat or oats to create a cloudy beer, similar to wheat ales. Generally, these are lighter colored ales with a moderate strength and 50 to 70 IBUs.

How to Serve India Pale Ale

India pale ales are often best when served at cellar temperatures, between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, with hoppier beers toward the top of the scale. Store the beer in a basement or cool part of the house, rather than the refrigerator.

For glassware, a pint glass is customary, though a nonick (or nonic) pint is preferred. This style has a bulb toward the top, then tapers back to a rim the width of the base. Tulips and snifters are popular choices for IPAs as well and show off the aromatic hops.

Tip the glass at a 45-degree angle and pour beer onto the side. As it fills with beer, move the glass to an upright position. A one- to two-finger head is a good goal.

Food Pairings

The overwhelming hops flavor of this brew makes it a tough beer to pair with foods. It's not impossible, though, and there are some interesting possibilities. Barbecue foods and sauce are popular pairings. Subtly flavored roasted meats with garlic and rosemary are good matches, too. Try an IPA with American classics like macaroni and cheese and cheeseburgers, and explore blue and goat cheeses, aged cheddar, and even rich cheese pairings. While some people advise against it, spicy Indian and Mexican dishes can be interesting with the right IPA.

Best Brands

The U.K. and U.S. are not the only countries that brew India pale ales, though they dominate the market. The beers available are continually expanding and changing as well, and it's worth it to pick up and try anything new you find.

  • Bell's Two Hearted American-Style India Pale Ale
  • Brooklyn Brewery's East India Pale Ale
  • Fat Head's Brewery Hop Juju Imperial India Pale Ale
  • Goose Island IPA
  • Fuller's India Pale Ale
  • Meantime London IPA
  • Samuel Smith's India Ale
  • Stone IPA
  • Thornbridge Jaipur India Pale Ale
  • Weldwerks Juicy Bits New England-Style IPA