Style Profile: American IPA

OG: 1.056 – 1.070
FG: 1.008 – 1.014
ABV: 5.5% – 7.5%
IBUs: 40 – 70
SRM: 6 – 14
The American IPA is undeniably one of the most popular beer styles coming out of the craft beer movement.  That being said, there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of different variations on this single style.  The many sources I consulted when putting together this column seem to have a difference of opinions on a few defining characteristics, so I will use the BJCP 2015 guidelines as my primary definition [1].

While the American IPA style was initially influenced by the more traditional English India Pale Ale style, the two have diverged significantly as the American craft beer movement has continued to push boundaries and break rules.

The most defining characteristic of an American IPA is the generous use of American or “New World” hops.  These hops are defined by their “citrus, floral, pine, resinous, spicy, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, melon, etc.” flavors [1].  At LTS, our American IPAs make use of several varieties of hops, including American Amarillo, Citra and a blend from HopUnion called Zythos as well as New Zealand Nelson Sauvin and Waimea.  We have several other American and “New World” hop varieties on contract, so watch for more new IPA recipes in the future.
Hops have been traditionally used for bitterness, but a more recent trend in American IPAs is to favor late additions of hops over earlier additions in the brewing process.  This emphasizes the hop flavor and aroma over their bitterness.  The style guidelines actually define the bitterness range as only 40 – 70 IBUs – although some breweries would have you believe anything below 100 IBUs isn’t worth brewing.  I like to keep my standard IPA recipes in the 60 to 70 IBU range, which is enough to provide a pronounced bitterness, but not really a kick in the mouth.  In addition to the early additions for bitterness, I like to do several hop additions in the last 20 minutes of the boil, along with one more in the whirlpool, primarily to bring out hop flavors and aromas.  All of my IPAs are also dry-hopped in the fermenter, which further enhances the hop aroma.  This dry hopping can add some haziness to the finished beer at extreme levels – I try not to let it bother me.
Keeping the hops at center stage, the malt bill for an American IPA should be rather simple.  Many examples of the style use domestic two-row malt with only small additions of specialty malts (such as Victory, Munich, or Caramel) for complexity and a little body.  Most examples of this style range from gold to light-amber.  I like to use a little Victory malt to bring out the toasty flavors you don’t get from domestic 2-row malt, plus a little Munich to help balance out a little bitterness.  This beer should have a rather dry finish.  Too much caramel or residual sweetness often clashes with the hop character from American hops.  Depending on my yeast and fermentation conditions, I may actually add up to 10% simple sugar to help dry it out.
Speaking of yeast – the basic version of this style (as in, not the “Belgian” interpretation) should use a clean and highly attenuating yeast strain.  English IPA, and some of the specialty types such as the “Belgian” IPA, base most of their differentiation on esters (fruity flavors) and phenols (spicy flavors) produced by their yeasts.  I like to ferment rather cool with a strain like US-05 or WLP001 to avoid too many esters, although some fruitiness from the yeast is acceptable.  American IPA should be mostly clear (with the exception of the dry-hop haze mentioned earlier).  After dry-hopping, I crash the fermenter temperature to near freezing so the yeast drop out.  You definitely should not have suspended yeast in this style – even in unfiltered examples.
Finally, and this is very important when brewing in Rochester, you need to pay close attention to your water profile when brewing this style.  Brewing with Rochester City water, even when filtered through activated charcoal to remove chlorine compounds, will result in harsh bitterness/astringency.  A lot of breweries will target a water profile similar to that of Burton-on-Trent in England, since that’s where the IPA style originated.  This water is very mineral-rich, including high sulfate levels and low Chloride levels.  This ratio of high Sulfate to low Chloride enhances the bitterness in beer.  I usually deviate from the Burton-on-Trent profile for my American hoppy beers by blending about 2/3 Reverse Osmosis water with 1/3 carbon-filtered tap water, then adding gypsum and calcium chloride to correct the sulfate to chloride ratio.  I find this avoids any “mineral” flavors I don’t want in this style.