IPA Days: A Guide to Craft Beer’s Most Popular Style

There is no denying that the India Pale Ale is the reigning king of the craft beer world, but Luke Purcell has been around long enough to know that hasn’t always been the case. “The IPA craze is relatively new,” he explains. “When I first got into craft, going into a bar and finding a hop-forward beer was tough.” He would know. Luke has been a brewer at Great Lakes Brewing Co. for 20 years and knows the love for IPAs for won’t be ending anytime soon. As the popularity of IPAs grows, so do the number of variations and hybrids within the style. I sat down with Luke to talk about the IPAs at GLBC and the differences between them.

What qualities do IPAs typically have?
IPAs are a hop-forward ale that tend to have big pine and citrus flavors. While IPAs tend to be bitter, the balance between the hop and the sweetness of the malt is dependent upon the brewer’s preference. What’s cool about IPAs is that spectrum of flavors can be pretty big depending on the hops and the style they’re going for.

Why is that?
Craft brewers have turned almost every type of style of beer into an IPA-hybrid. Last time I checked, GLBC has brewed over 17 different IPAs. Black IPAs, coffee-infused IPAs, and American Wheat IPAs are all just a few examples of styles we’ve played with. Plus, with so many new hop varieties coming out, IPAs allow us to experiment with hops that don’t even have a real name yet.

What was the first IPA GLBC brewed?
Commodore Perry was our first. It’s definitely our most balanced IPA. Its bitterness from the hops is kept in check by the sweet malt bill, so it’s a real easy drinker. What’s interesting is that Commodore Perry was once considered a big hoppy beer when it first came out but is now considered relatively mild by today’s standards. It’s a great place to start if you aren’t familiar with IPAs.

Along with Commodore Perry, GLBC has two bottled IPAs out this summer: Steady Rollin’ Session IPA and Lake Erie Monster Imperial IPA. What differences can I expect between the two of them?
Being an Imperial IPA, Lake Erie Monster is going to have more body backed with big hop flavor and a higher ABV. It drinks smooth, but everything about it is big, so it’s definitely a sipper.

Steady Rollin’ on the other hand, is the opposite. Steady Rollin’ is lighter in body and lower in ABV, but still comes with big tropical fruit flavors from the Mosaic hops we use. It’s a great beer to enjoy during the summer months because of how easy it is to drink. Refreshing is a good way to describe it.

I heard Lake Erie Monster is brewed using a Hopback. What is that?
Our Hopback is a tank that allows us to capture more hop oils later in the brewing process for bigger flavor and aroma. We fill the Hopback with whole-flower hops and send the Lake Erie Monster through it so we can get one more round of hop oil extraction before it hits the fermentation tanks. It’s basically our way of putting Lake Erie Monster on hop steroids.

Should I age my IPA?
Absolutely not. As a beer gets older, the hop flavor and aroma is always the first to go. Drink your hoppy beers as fresh as possible.