8 of the Most Popular IPA Styles in America
Walk into any beer bar or taproom in the country and you’ll likely see a dozen IPAs on draft. But what exactly is an India Pale Ale? And what’s the difference between a New England Style IPA, a West Coast IPA, and all the other versions?
Well, grab your favorite brewski and get ready for a crash course in all things hops!
*All of the following styles are recognized by the Brewers Association of America and/or Untappd*
We craft drinkers wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for the Brits and their never ending love of beer. This is where the IPA came from!
IPA stands for ‘India Pale Ale,’ and was first created for those wiley Englishmen who needed beers that could survive the long, harrowing trip from London all the way to Calcutta, India. Hops have preservative qualities, so English brewers loaded up their brews with them!
But, don’t dive into an English IPA expecting in-your-face hop flavors — these brews tend to be maltier than American IPAs, with notes of biscuit and toffee and a lower ABV to avoid taxation. They tend to be a goldenrod yellow to amber in color with strong floral and earthy aromas and flavors.
Look for beers made with English-grown hops like East Kent Golding, Fuggles, Admiral, Pilgrim, Bramling Cross, Challenger (UK), Pilot, and Harlequin.
World Class examples of the English IPA:
Bunny & The Bird - Pipeworks Brewing, Chicago IL
Blackheart - 3 Floyds Brewing Co., Munster IN
Naughty 90 - Toppling Goliath Brewing, Decorah IA
When most people hear those 3 little letters — I-P-A — this is the style they’re thinking of.
Inspired by the European Pale Ale, the American version piles on the hops and yeast, producing those classically piney, citrusy, floral flavors American beer drinkers have come to know and love.
Also known as “West Coast IPA,” these beers are hop-forward, with medium to high bitterness. They can be pale golden to amber-reddish in color and typically showcase flavors like orange peel, lemon, grapefruit, pine, and grass.
Look for beers made with American-grown hops, like Amarillo, Chinook, Cascade, Cashmere, Centennial, CTZ, Citra, El Dorado, Mosaic, Nugget, and Willamette.
World Class examples of the American IPA:
Breakside IPA - Breakside Brewing, Portland OR
Bodhizafa - Georgetown Brewing, Seattle WA
Heyoka - Half Acre Beer Co., Chicago IL
New England IPA
Not to be outdone by the powerhouse styles of the West Coast, craft breweries in New England developed their own juicier, fruitier, and hazier style of IPA.
It all started with Heady Topper from Vermont-based The Alchemist, widely considered to be the pioneers of the New England style. These beers still heavily feature hops, but with a focus on late addition and dry-hopping to eliminate much of the bitterness common to West Coast styles.
NEIPAs (as they’re affectionately known as) tend to be opaque, pale yellow to golden-orange in color, and typically feature tropical or citrus flavors like mango, tangerine, melon, passionfruit, and orange.
Look for beers made with a mix of American and Southern Hemisphere hop varieties like Hallertau Blanc, Galaxy, Simcoe, Sabro, Mosaic, and Citra.
World Class examples of the New England IPA:
Heady Topper - The Alchemist, Stowe VT
Ghost in the Machine - Parish Brewing, Broussard LA
King Julius - Tree House Brewing, Charlton MA
This is perhaps the most popular riff on the New England style. And it wouldn’t be surprising if, until today, you thought they were one and the same.
At its most basic, a Milkshake IPA is just a Hazy IPA brewed with milk sugar (a.k.a lactose) which gives it the uniquely creamy, smoothie-like quality you also find in beers served on Nitro. The addition of fruits and other adjuncts like vanilla or marshmallow enhance the pillowy mouthfeel and impart the sensation of sipping on an actual boozy shake.
Like the NEIPAs that birthed the Milkshake IPA, these beers appear opaque to golden yellow in color and feature fruits and flavors ranging from blueberry, passionfruit, tangerine, orange creamsicle, pineapple, and guava.
Look for beers brewed with a combination of Galaxy, Cashmere, Azacca, Citra, Mosaic, El Dorado, and Warrior Hops.
World Class examples of the Milkshake IPA:
Guava Mochi - Great Notion Brewing, Portland OR
Opaque Thoughts - Mountains Walking Brewery, Bozeman MT
Mood Ring (Raspberry) - Bearded Iris Brewing, Nashville TN
This one probably sounds like a happy accident but it’s actually the marriage of two of the biggest trends in craft beer today: the Hazy IPA and the Sour Ale.
Sure, breweries could produce both and satisfy a wide range of beer drinkers. But Sour IPAs present an opportunity for brewers to experiment with flavors, ingredients, and processes. In turn, adventurous craft beer fans get to experience a whole new world of IPA flavors!
The Sour IPA, while not yet officially defined by the Brewers Association, is widely understood as a New England IPA brewed with lactobacillus — a kind of yeast used in the souring process. This, along with the use of fruits, adjuncts like vanilla and lactose, and sometimes even barrel aging inject this style with tart, fruity, funky flavors that are still rooted in hops.
Because of the addition of fruits, these beers can range in color from opaque, golden yellow to deep purple, and even pink!
They’re made with the same hop varieties as NEIPAs and Milkshake IPAs, so look for beers brewed with Galaxy, Cashmere, Sabro, Mosaic, and Strata.
World Class examples of the Sour IPA:
Apotheosis - Hudson Valley Brewery, Beacon NY
Ruby - 450 North Brewing Company, Columbus IN
Silhouette Daydream Double Brunch Crunchee Peach Granola - Other Half Brewing, Brooklyn NY
Ah, the Farmhouse IPA — where Old World meets New.
First, let’s explain what a Farmhouse Ale is. It’s pretty simple, really — this ancient style comes from, you guessed it, the farmers of Europe!
They often didn’t have access to beers available in the big trade cities and ports, so they brewed this rustic style using the same grains and fruits grown on the farm. They’re usually tart, fruity, and funky with earthy notes akin to wet hay, grass, or barnyard.
The Farmhouse IPA is still brewed in the same tradition, but now, brewers load the beers with heaps of fruity, potent hops to amplify the style’s flavors.
They have a variety of names — Saison, Gueuze, Biere de Garde, or Sahti — and are usually crisp and clean on the palate. They range from clear, sunshine yellow to almost amber in color and are often made with tree and vine fruit like peaches, pears, nectarines, and berries.
Look for beers brewed with American and Southern Hemisphere hops like Saaz, Hallertau Blanc, Citra, Amarillo, and Cascade.
World Class examples of the Farmhouse IPA:
JUICY - Hill Farmstead Brewery, Greensboro VT
MilkStave IPA (Pineapple Guava) - Tired Hands Brewing, Ardmore PA
Asteroid Cowboy - Modern Times Beer, San Diego CA
Belgium is to beer what France is to cheese — essential to its history!
And during most of the time Americans have been sipping on suds, they have yet to acquire a taste for the malty, ester-rich beers that Belgians have been drinking for centuries.
Enter, the Belgian IPA.
It’s brewed with Belgian yeast and European malts to give it that classically malty, caramelly, fruity flavor that’s unique to Belgian beers. But, just like the Farmhouse IPA, it’s loaded with hops to amplify the beer’s character and inject it with a bitter bite to round out the flavors.
Belgian IPAs can range from pale golden to almost mahogany in color and have notes of citrus and ripe berries, with a pronounced hop bitterness and a malty backbone.
Look for beers made with American and European hops such as Simcoe, Citra, Amarillo, and Mandarina Bavaria.
World Class examples of the Belgian IPA:
Bitter Monk - Anchorage Brewing, Anchorage AK
Oak Barrel Aged Pale Death - Double Mountain Brewery & Cidery, Hood River OR
Permutation 75 - Trillium Brewing, Canton MA
Also called Imperial Red Ales, these beers are inspired by the Irish Red Ales from the Old Country.
These malty, caramel-laced, slightly fruitier brews are harder to find in the vast IPA scene, but they still hold a place in American craft fans’ hearts.
While still as malty as the Red Ales of Europe, Red IPAs showcase American hops to bring a welcome bitterness that rounds out the beer’s notes of toffee, roasted barley, and citrus. They can range from amber to burgundy in color and feature flavors akin to orange zest, caramel, molasses, and toasted malts.
Look for beers brewed with American hops, such as Mosaic, Amarillo, Citra, Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, and Willamette.
World Class examples of the Red IPA:
Double Red IPA - AleSmith Brewing, San Diego CA
Nugget Nectar - Troegs Brewing, Hershey PA
Red Button - Barrier Brewing, Oceanside NY