Homebrewing: How to Brew American IPA


American IPAs seem to get bigger, badder and bolder every year. A style that at one time was considered "too bitter" for the average beer drinker, it has now become a front-runner in the craft beer revolution. The IPA is pale to amber in color with a thick white head. It has strong citrus, pine and floral hop aromas and flavors to match, along with a lingering bitterness and solid malt character. The yeast flavor is typically clean, but occasionally a slight fruity, strawberry or bubblegum presence comes through. While technically the alcohol content of an IPA ranges from 5.5%-7.5% ABV, most are brewed to be at least 6%.

For homebrewers, the American IPA is the perfect style for exploring the flavors of different varieties of hops. Ever wondered what new hops like Citra or Nelson Sauvin taste like? Or what flavors would come through when combining Sorachi Ace and Simcoe hops? Making an IPA that showcases just one or two varieties of hops will really give you a feel for their different nuances.

The Hops

Hops that are assertive in both flavor and bitterness are the ingredient of choice for the American IPA. Go with Cascade, Simcoe, Amarillo, Columbus or other American hops for that classic IPA citrus character. Pine flavors can be achieved by using Chinook or Northern Brewer hops later in the boil.

When brewing five gallons, adding one to two ounces of high alpha acid hops at the beginning of the boil will provide the base bitterness that you need. Later additions, which can be done at any point through out the boil, will develop the flavor and aroma characteristics of the beer. For an even hop character, add two more ounces of hops 20 minutes before the end of the boil and then a couple more ounces in the last minute. To create an powerful hop aroma and flavor, toss in 4 ounces (or more!) of hops a few minutes before the end of the boil.

Dry hopping is the perfect way to finish off the big aromas in an IPA. Adding two or more ounces of hops to the secondary fermentation will put an exclamation point on the flavor you're trying to achieve.

The Malt

Since the color of an IPA can range from pale straw to light red, there's a lot of flexibility in the malt bill. An IPA with 100% 2-row pale malt would accentuate the hops, but you may sweeten it up with some crystal malts. It's also not uncommon to see recipes that include other specialty malts such as Vienna, Munich, or honey malt, although you will want to avoid these "mash-only" malts if you brew extract recipes.

My typical approach is to keep it simple: use mostly 2-row pale malt (or light extract) with a half to a whole pound of crystal malt added. If you want to create a clean canvas to showcase the hops, use crystal 10, but if you want a better balance between sweet and bitter, then use a combination of crystal 20, 40 or 60.

The Yeast

The yeast used in an American IPA should provide some fruity esters, but it shouldn't be a dominate flavor. Most American or English Ale yeasts will work just fine with fermentation temperatures between 63° and 68°F. Since the alcohol content of an IPA is generally 6% or higher, a yeast starter should always be used when pitching liquid yeast. The strong hop flavors make this a style that you can easily substitute a dry yeast package without any noticeable flavor differences. If you use an 11.5 gram package of dry yeast, then a yeast starter is not necessary.