What is an India Pale Ale?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 February 2020
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India pale ale is a pale ale with a distinctively high alcohol content and a notably elevated amount of hops, creating a very aggressive, sharp, bitter beer. India pale ale is also widely known as IPA, referencing its initial letters, and this beer is especially popular in the United States, where numerous breweries produce their own versions of IPA. India pale ale is not to everyone's taste, thanks to the sharp flavor, but fans of hoppy, intense beers often greatly enjoy IPA, especially when it has been well crafted.

Like other pale ales, IPA is made by malting grains, which means that the grains are soaked, allowed to germinate, and then kiln dried before being cooked into a mash which is fermented with so-called “ale yeasts,” top-fermenting yeasts which create the distinctive ale flavor. After fermentation, the ale is poured off into casks for conditioning, and then sold. Like other ales, India pale ale does not require a long aging time, and this is a distinct advantage for breweries, as it means that huge amounts of storage space are not required to produce IPA.


IPA was developed in the 1700s by British brewers who wanted to break into the beer market in India. Most traditional British beers turned sour and unpalatable by the time they reached India, thanks to the long trip, leading to immense frustration in the brewing community. One clever brewer realized that by increasing the content of alcohol and hops in the beer, he could make a beer which would endure the trip to India and remain crisp and refreshing, and India pale ale was born.

The color of India pale ale is generally that of pale gold or straw, and the beer has a very strong hoppy scent with overtones of alcohol and fruit, with a sparkling mouthfeel. Sometimes the fruit odors can be overwhelmed by the intensity of the beer, and some IPAs have additional floral notes. When served at cellar temperature, which should be around 54 degrees Fahrenheit (12 degrees Celsius), IPA has a refreshing and very crisp flavor.

In some regions, it is possible to find beers labeled as “Double” or “Imperial” India pale ales, meaning that they are especially strong. Some brewers dislike this nomenclature, because IPA is, by nature, stronger than other beers, so the label seems a bit excessive. Whether or not one agrees with the terminology, Double IPA is not for the faint of heart; the beer carries a ferocious kick.


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