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The Differences Between Every Main IPA Style


If you’re the type of drinker who frowns when you see an IPA on a beer list, you’re probably only thinking of the overly bitter pine bombs. Sure, there are a lot of different types of IPAs that have this or a similar profile (especially the classic West Coast IPA). Yet there’s a lot more to the IPA than an offensively bitter, face-puckering hop beast.

IPA stands for India Pale Ale. The name comes from the 1700s in then British-occupied India. Regular beer wouldn’t last the months-long journey by ship from England. Brewers added extra hops to preserve the beer so it was still drinkable when it reached India. The rest is history.

Modern day IPAs are known for their hop-centered aroma and flavor. Depending on the style, some are bitter and pine-centeric while others are juicy, sweet, and filled with tropical fruit flavors. Others are creamy, fruity, and hoppy. The idea that all IPAs taste the same just doesn’t work anywhere.

West Coast IPA Stone IPA
West Coast IPA

There’s no IPA style more well-known than the West Coast IPA. This is the style that non-IPA drinkers tend to imagine when they think about IPAs. This California-created IPA usually has a base of American ‘C’ hops: Citra, Chinook, and/or Cascade. It’s known for its resinous, pine-forward, often very bitter finish.

Well-regarded West Coast IPAs to try
  • Stone IPA
  • Bear Republic Racer 5
  • Lagunitas IPA
English IPA

No IPA would exist without the English IPA. Featuring English hops like Fuggles or Goldings and British malts, they’re known for their lightly malty backbone and citrus, grassy, floral, dry flavor profile. They are much less bitter and more malty than West Coast IPAs, but still have some residual bitter flavor.

Well-regarded English IPAs to try
  • Three Floyds BlackHeart English IPA
  • Rogue Brutal English IPA
  • Fullers IPA
New England IPA Tree House Brewing King Julius
New England IPA

The wildly popular New England IPA is known for its hazy, cloudy appearance, thick texture, and juicy flavor profile. Kettle brewed with myriad hops including Galaxy, Mosaic, Amarillo, Citra, and more, it often gets added aroma and flavor from dry-hopping. Some are creamy thanks to the addition of wheat or oats. In many cases, while there are a lot of hops present, there is very little (if any) bitterness.

Well-regarded New England IPAs to try
  • Tree House Brewing King Julius
  • Toppling Goliath King Sue
  • Other Half Green City
Double IPA

Also known as the imperial IPA, you can probably guess why this beer is called a double IPA. This style is “extra” when it comes to every ingredient. There are more hops and a higher ABV. But, to level everything, double IPAs usually have a stronger malt backbone than regular IPAs. They’re known for their balance of sweet malts and floral, bitter hops.

Well-regarded Double IPAs to try
  • Cigar City Florida Man
  • Odell Myrcenary
  • Firestone Walker Double Hopnosis
Session IPA Dogfish Head Slightly Mighty
Session IPA

On top of the overly bitter stigma, one of the other problems casual beer drinkers have with the IPA is its perceived high alcohol content. This is where the session IPA comes in. Term session is used to describe beers lower than 5 percent ABV that you can drink for longer. Session IPAs are simply lighter IPAs that are lower in alcohol.

Well-regarded Session IPAs to try
  • Dogfish Head Slightly Mighty
  • Odell Good Behavior
  • Bell's Light Hearted IPA
Black IPA Surly Brewing Company
Black IPA

A black IPA is exactly what you might assume it is. It’s just like your favorite IPA, but instead of using lighter malt (“pale” is right there in the name IPA afterall), it’s brewed with darker malts typically associated with stouts, porters, and other dark beer. The result is a beer that’s much darker in color than any other IPA that also has flavors like roasted barley, coffee, and chocolate intermingling with floral, piney hops.

Well-regarded Black IPAs to try
  • Firestone Walker Wookey Jack
  • Bell's Black Hearted Ale
  • Surly Brewing Damien
Belgian IPA

Belgian beers are well-known for their fruity, yeasty flavors driven by distinct yeasts. To create a Belgian IPA, brewers simply use Belgian yeast like they would with a Belgian-style witbier. Often higher in alcohol content than many other IPA styles, the Belgian IPA is known for its complex fruity, spicy, yeasty, hoppy flavor profile. It’s the kind of beer that will appeal to both IPA fans and Belgian beer drinkers.

Well-regarded Belgian IPAs to try
  • Oxbow Funkhaus
  • Boulevard Dank 7
  • Anchorage Brewing Galaxy White IPA
Milkshake IPA

The Milkshake IPA is very similar to a New England IPA. There is one major difference, and if you pay close attention to the name, you probably already guessed it. This creamy, sweet IPA gets its name because of the use of lactose or milk sugar. Milkshake IPAs are known for their cloudy, hazy appearance and creamy, pillowy mouthfeel. The palate is a mix of tropical fruits, citrus, and piney hops. To add more flavor, many brewers add various fruit flavors.

Well-regarded Milkshake IPAs to try
  • Tired Hands DDH Simcoe Milkshake
Sour IPA

If you’re already a fan of sour beers, there’s a good chance you’ll be all for a sour IPA. Made by blending an IPA with a sour ale or kettle souring an IPA, it gets its unique tart and sour flavor from the yeasts. They are also often dry-hopped with various hops including Mosaic, El Dorado, Citra, and more.

Well-regarded Sour IPAs to try
  • New Belgium Sour IPA
  • Sierra Nevada Wild Little Thing
Cold IPA Wayfinder
Cold IPA

It might feel like cold IPAs got their name because of how popular they are during the colder months. But this isn’t the case. It’s called a cold IPA because it’s brewed with lager yeast at a cooler temperature than other IPAs. The result is a crisp, refreshing, malty, and very hoppy IPA perfect for any time of year.

Well-regarded Cold IPAs to try
  • Smuttynose Ice Dam(n)
  • Rogue Knuckle Buster
  • Wayfinder Original Cold IPA
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