1. Bars & Breweries

Are IPAs dead? Time to reinvent this classic craft beer style

Are IPAs, like Cigar City’s Jai Alai, center, on the outs?
Are IPAs, like Cigar City’s Jai Alai, center, on the outs?
Published Nov. 25, 2014

In 1978, U.K. provocateurs Crass burst into the music scene with a bold declaration: Punk is dead.

To set a time of death a mere year into punk's infancy seems even more absurdly premature now than it did at the time, but they had a strong case. The genre had quickly become a watered-down parody of itself — a thoroughly conformist scene founded on a principle of nonconformity. It started as a way to allow people to be different, but many instead strived to be exactly the same.

No, punk never died, but that was never really the point. The point was to recognize and reject stagnation — to fight for what made punk exciting in the first place.

Speaking of points, here's mine: IPA is dead.

Don't rip the page out of the paper and toss it in the trash just yet — hear me out. I love India Pale Ales. A well-made IPA is nearly unbeatable in terms of sheer drinkability, value and excellence in craft. But let's be honest here and admit that IPA, as a genre, is depressingly homogenous.

The reason IPA became the iconic style of the craft beer movement in the first place is because it was seen as a rebellion against boring, watery beer. Hops, generally being the most assertive of beer flavoring ingredients, could be piled on to create an aggressive, punch-in-the-teeth brew that was so far removed from the status-quo domestic light lagers that they were hardly recognizable as part of the same beverage family.

Now, breweries are all but obligated to have an IPA in the lineup, and we're not better off for it. There are more mediocre IPAs on the market than we can be expected to halfheartedly drink, and — in a tragic twist of irony — the result is many very good IPAs blending into the crowd and going stale.

Don't expect the breweries to counter this conformity, either. When every patron that walks into the place wants an IPA, they'd be crazy not to have one. It's just good business. Instead, we, as consumers, should demand more. We should be pushing beer in the direction of progress, rather than allowing it to blend together into a murky puddle of heavily hopped sameness. Brewers cater to the market, and when everyone wants the same thing, lazy, boring beers will prevail.

So what do we do? We can familiarize ourselves with different styles and try new things! Learn to love variety. There is more to life than barrel-aged stouts, double IPAs, and exotic fruit lambics. Your local brewer, like most brewers, probably loves to experiment — give them a market for it!

Does that mean that we should turn our backs on IPA? Of course not! There are plenty of breweries out there who are constantly doing cool things with IPA. For example, Scotland's Brew Dog, makers of Punk IPA, release a collection each year called IPA is Dead (strictly coincidence, I assure you).

This collection features four spins on a base beer, each hopped with a single, unique hop variety. This year featured Amarillo, Comet, Kohatu and Experimental 366 hops. Brew Dog knows that IPA isn't dead, but they're also not going to sit back and keep pumping out hopped-up beers without at least a little bit of inspiration. These beers aren't made out of obligation, they're made because there is still plenty of room for experimentation and innovation in a genre where many would just as happily phone it in.

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IPA is no more dead now than punk was in 1978. But like punk, IPA is in desperate need of a breath of new life. If all we want is more of the same, then that's what we'll get. It's our job to demand more than the basics — a kaleidoscope of styles, beers that we don't even have names for yet, and yes, really top-notch IPAs.

The result will be more than enough great IPAs, a few mediocre ones kicking around, and a whole lot more of who-knows-what. And that's what makes beer exciting.



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