When I first started to get into IPAs, I thought they were all going to be amazing but it turns out there is a huge spectrum in which you can have a variety of different flavors of IPA. At the low end, you have English style IPAs that represent how the beer was originally made. They tend to be closer to a pale ale and lower in alcohol. Then in the middle there are different styles depending on area of the US where the beer is brewed. Northwest style IPAs present serious pine flavors from the local varieties of hops and frequently are on the lighter end of the alcohol scale, sometimes as low as 5.5%.
Then there is the West Coast style which features heavy citrus and floral flavors with little emphasis on balancing the hop flavors with the malt flavors. This sometimes leads to delicious light colored brews that focus almost exclusively on bright hop flavors. West Coast IPAs typically hover around 6% alcohol with some approaching 7%. West Coast style IPAs also tend to be more bitter as well because the brewers are trying to push the envelope.
It is common to see the term American IPA. These frequently tend to be darker brews with a lot more toasty malt flavors balanced with the hops. For me this means I need to taste it before ordering a pint because I don’t care for very dark IPAs. Then you have the double and triple IPAs that have become especially popular in San Diego where the brew typically starts somewhere around 8% and goes up to 13 or 14% at the high extreme.
Double IPAs vary significantly between breweries with some focusing on the heavy malt character to balance the hops and others pushing all limits by presenting the most bitter brew possible with malt flavors that you can barely recognize. If you tend to prefer darker colored IPAs or lighter colored IPAs it helps to do some research before buying a six-pack because not all beers feature clear descriptions.
The other distinguishing thing in IPAs is the type of hops used. Flavors can vary widely depending on the variety of hops used. Learning specific types of hops is not easy but asking breweries about the hops in your favorite brews is the first step.
If you explore more, you might notice a lot of different labels thrown on IPAs such as Belgian IPA, Black IPA, Rye IPA, etc. Pay close attention as you order these and you might slowly start to recognize the way in which they are different. Typically a Belgian IPA is made with Belgian yeast and it has many of the distinct flavors of a Belgian style beer. Black IPAs tend to have a lot of roasted malts so they often come across like a hoppy version of a porter or stout. Rye IPAs tend to focus on the spicy flavors of rye as it interacts with the hops. It is a flavor that you will learn to recognize over time but is fairly hard to describe.
Local IPA favorites: Societe The Apprentice, Council Chazzam!, Pacific Bomboro, Alesmith IPA, Stone IPA, Ballast Point Sculpin, Saint Archer IPA, Rough Draft Southern Triangle, Helm’s Wicked as Sin, New English Humbly Legit IPA,
Local Double IPA favorites: Green Flash West Coast, Green Flash Green Bullet, Ballast Point Dorado, Stone Enjoy By IPA, Karl Strauss Tower 20, Saint Archer Double IPA, Rough Draft Hop Therapy, Alesmith Yulesmith,