The Bitter Truth About IPAs

It’s time to study the summer brew that not only won’t go away, but also grows more popular, year after year.


With summer upon us, the temperature’s rising, and outdoor activities abound. We’ve covered lawnmower lagers and session brews in past editions. Now it’s time to study the summer brew that not only won’t go away, but also grows more popular, year after year.

IPAs: IPA stands for India Pale Ale. The origin was a highly hopped recipe designed to withstand the arduous trip by sailing ships from Europe to India in the 1800s. As a brewing ingredient, hops serve multiple vital functions. Hops contribute mightily to the nose or aroma in beer. And hops add taste and bitterness to the brew, while helping to preserve it.

IBUs: IPAs have a characteristically bitter taste, because of their high hop content. IBUs, or international bitter units, provide a worldwide standard to quantify just how bitter. The higher the IBU number, the more bitter the beer—or  just about. The bitterness of two beers with identical IBU ratings may be perceived differently on the palate for several reasons, including the offsetting sweetness in the recipe caused by malting. So while IBU ratings may be used to develop your personal comfort zone for bitterness, sampling is the best way to assure that an IPA pleases your palate.

Mo’ Bitter, Mo’ Better: Many brewers and beer drinkers support the adage: If some is good, more is better. Enter the double IPA; these IPAs are also called the imperial IPAs, with higher alcohol content and more prominent hops taste. This style started slightly north of here, in Santa Rosa, with Russian River Brewing Co., which produces Pliny the Elder. Pliny has developed a cult following among hopheads.

There’s another way to boost hoppiness. Adding hops after the hot wort—the cooked, unfermented beer liquid—has been cooled is called dry hopping. Volatile oils that contribute to flavor and aroma, which would otherwise evaporate during cooking, are preserved. The result is a floral essence and enhanced hop flavor.

Brews and Brewpubs: Now the focus shifts to a partial sampling of East Bay craft-brewed examples and where to enjoy them. As always, the freshest beer flows from the taps at the brewery.

First off, the land of rodeos and national labs is developing beer cred that match its wine cred and recently featured a passport tasting combining microbreweries and wineries.

Livermore: Shadow Puppet Brewing  Company (Lupi Haze), Eight Bridges Brewing Co. (Hoppy Salvation/American, Silenus the Dude/Belgian, and Hoppy Annihilation/ Imperial); Altamont Beer Works (Undersized, Hella Hoppy, and Shot Away); Working Man Brewing Co. (Sneaky Devil Double, and Working Man IV Double).

Oakland/San Leandro: Federation  Brewing (In the Weeds); Temescal  (Carried Away, High Five, and Lucky Break); Ale  Industries (East Bay); 21st Amendment (Blah Blah Blah/Double); Drake’s Brewing Company (India Pale Ale, Denoginizer/Double).

Berkeley: Triple Rock Brewing (Kid Citrus/American, Hello Eldo/American, IPAX/American); Jupiter (India Pale Ale); Fieldwork Brewing Co. (Amnesia Haze, Ascender, Base Jump/Double).

And if you can’t make it to the taps at the source, you’ll find abundant bottled selections at Costco warehouses, Bev-Mo! stores, and your local supermarket.


This report appears in the June edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.


Published online June 16, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.