So Many IPA’s… Too Many IPA’s.

This opinion piece is going to ruffle the feathers of the hop heads out there but I have to stand by what I believe.  This is inspired by going out to the beer fest this past weekend at Bull Run.  It was lot’s of fun and it was exciting to see so many customers out there.  It’s always nice to see a familiar face no matter where  you are!

What I noticed when I was at the beer fest was that every tent had an IPA.  If it wasn’t all tents, it had to be close to all them, with the exception of the cider tents and the single wine tent that I saw.  Now  I’ve noticed this trend in the past few years over at total wine as well.  What I see happening is the implosion of the style of IPA’s in the near future and this is why.

Why I Think There Are So Many IPA’s

Right now IPA’s are the, “cool thing”, a few years ago it was wheats, and before that I’m not really sure.  But pretty much every brewery has an IPA.   There is this expectation now, if you are a brewery you need to make an IPA.  You can thank dogfish for that.  My personal experience though when I was trying IPA’s at the beer fest was a lot of them sucked.  I would drink them and think, “What were you trying to do?!”.

Part of the reason why I think that there are so many is just because breweries think that it will be their ticket to fame.  “Maybe we’ll be the next Stone Brewery, who knows?”, wait I know, you’re not, there is already these big breweries that have hashed out there market share and no matter what you do you can’t be Stone.  It’s like the ma and pop store trying to be Walmart, you need to take another approach or guess what, you’ll go under.  Could it happen? Sure.  But will it happen, chances are not so much.

You Can See It Already Happening

Go down to total wine and tell me what beer shelf looks the most packed, IPA’s every single time.  It’s a complete over saturation of IPA’s.  While there may be a new brewery that does something different in this venue and that’s why you are going to try them out, most likely you start to just make your choices off of label, “Oh that looks cool, I’ll give it a try” or, “That name sounds cool, lets give this one a try”.  Much to your surprise, the beer called, “Dogs Ass IPA” really does suck and you can only figure the brewer took a literal interpretation of what he thought it should taste like.

The style of the IPA has been almost completely destroyed in my mind.  A little more hops, a little more ABV then it’s brother the Pale Ale.  This was done, originally because hops are a natural preservative, and the beer had to make its way to India from England (long trip).  If you made a regular Pale Ale, it wouldn’t last the trip.  Also on that note, most IPA’s were oak aged because that’s how they were sent.  The oak would also mellow out the hops a bit giving a bit more complexity as well to the higher ABV so it didn’t taste as, “HOT”.  Will you find that today in most IPA’s, hell no.   Even Pale Ale’s of today are what people would call IPA’s from just 5 years ago.  The style is getting jacked up.

Time To Beat A Dead Horse

Quick, gun to your head name 5 IPA’s… you could probably do that in your sleep.   Now let’s try that with, Vienna lagers, or Brown ales, or Irish reds, or English bitters.  Not so easy right?  That is what I would call over saturation.

If you are thinking, “Well it’s because those other styles suck and that’s why we don’t know about them.”, I would have to say no, it’s that every one is concerned about making IPA’s and no one cares to really make any other style.  Also I can understand that’s where the market is, but that’s the same argument of commercial breweries, “Light lagers are what sell”.  Craft beer is supposed to be about the craft, not about appeasing the masses.  And further more on that, you are supposed to be a master at the craft.  If you suck at making IPA’s why are you making them, you have this micro-commercial mentality but really can’t do either one.   At the end its a corny marketing scheme that will fall short every time someone has a sip.

Real Question Is, “So What?”

If you  are thinking, “So What?”, I feel you on that.  Naturally there is going to be a correction of the IPA market and unfortunately for lots of micros a correction of the ones that just go into it because they had clever names or a good graphic artist.  At least that’s what I hope is going to happen.  If it doesn’t then there will just be a lot of bad beer on the market and craft beer will be known for using lot’s of different, “Hard to get” hops.

Where I Personally See The Beer Market Going…

First off, I think that it’s not a fad, the, “craft beer revolution” as people call it is here to stay for quite some time.  Especially for people who homebrew, you know what good beer taste like.  Unfortunately, for many of us (homebrewers) our favorite beers you can’t even buy in the store.  One of the best IPA’s I’ve had is from a customer (Dave) that makes an amazing IPA.  It isn’t the style that I make all the time but, I do enjoy a good IPA when I taste one.   And another beer is a German Honey lager made by another customer (Kevin) which is amazing.  To bad I can’t go to the store and get either one, because I would buy them.

I see craft beer hanging around for some time, but the breweries that are going to ride out the storm are ones that have a niche or bring something new, or a different style.  If you can describe them as, “They’re kinda like _______, but a bit different”, they won’t last or they will always be second best, at best.  The ones that come in with a new direction or bring something interesting to the table are going to be able to keep up.

Buying Local

I see people starting to buy beer from local breweries.  Here in VA there was a law that was just passed back in July that make it easier for breweries to open up since they aren’t going to need a distributor to sell on premise.

Since there will be more competition you will see smaller breweries start pushing the limits of what they can do to make themselves, “different”.  Most of these places are getting started by homebrewers so, I think you find the love of the craft back in the Nano’s.  I haven’t ever lived in area where there were a lot of nano’s though so I’m not really sure how they do.  But I would hope that can drive the market even while picking up the crumbs from the bigger players.

I think that smaller breweries will be forced to make some different styles just to stand out, and to give people a reason to come back for more.  Hopefully, they inspire the love of the craft more and don’t fall into copying everyone and there brother.

What To Get Out Of All This

In my opinion, I think its hard to deny that there’s an over saturation of IPA’s on the market, and that eventually the IPA field will either fall part, be redefined or it will just get weeded (but a significant weeding).  Different styles that are less common are going to start making there come back soon enough just so people can stand out.  Even though I feel as if a lot of breweries are getting into the business just to try nifty marketing themes, I believe that they will be weeded out because if it doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t taste good.  The ones that brew with passion and pride in their product will be masters at their domain, even if it’s a small market share they are going to continue to drive people continuing to love craft beer and trying new as well as different styles.

Let me know what you think!

 

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18 Replies to “So Many IPA’s… Too Many IPA’s.”

  1. Some of what you say has merit. I for one think this is our free market economy at work and welcome all of the diversity in the market. Some home brewers are going to fall on their asses trying to jump on the bandwagon, but that always happens with trendy new products.

    What I see evolving is a new style – “American Pale Ale” which is not heavily oaked, not as heavy, but with a lot of finishing hops and aroma. Red Hook makes a great example in this genre, and there are plenty of kits available for the home brewer. I love all the IPA’s on the market. Every weekend, I pick out one which I haven’t tried and I taste-test it against my latest home brew. Yum – everybody wins!

  2. I think you’re right, and just because some breweries make amazing IPAs, I think some other breweries jump on the bandwagon for sales, thinking the consumer will buy it because it must be as good as the amazing IPA I had from that other brewery. It’s a style that needs some change, but thankfully, I think it’ll self correct.

  3. I agree with your main point: “There are too many IPA’s”, such that brewers are putting out IPA’s that aren’t very good or special in any way. However, one positive is that the IPA and Imperial IPA style has really expanded so a hop head like myself has the choice of many excellent examples that all have different strengths. The first IPA I fell in love with was Bridgeport from Portland, OR. and I still think it’s a great beer. But now I can go to my local Alehouse and have the enviable choice of Stone’s Arrogant Bastard, Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch, and (my favorite) Dogfish Head’s 90 minute. It’s still a great time to be an IPA lover.

  4. I agree that the IPA horse is being beaten beyond death. I also think the notion of the “American IPA” is part of the problem. It seems that all brewers are doing is cramming as many hops into their beers without and thought to balance or purpose. And the consumers’ palates are not subtle enough yet to recognize the overload.

  5. I hear you on that Scott. Mine favorite is two hearted. It’s really simple as far as IPA’s go and it’s nearly as SMaSH. And I must say, the Dogfish 90 min to me is a classic IPA. Its’ really where I see Simcoe as a hop making it’s showing. Before the 90 or 60 got big, couldn’t give away the hop – now can’t keep it on the shelf once hop heads hear we have Simcoe.

  6. I agree with you Mike. I can smell different aromas of hops but, I just taste, “hoppy” after the first hop is identified. Maybe the fun part for me in that I can usually with beers in the store, strip down the beer pretty accurately saying, “oh it has this flavor so it has this malt” etc. With IPA’s the more complex (or what I see as dumping lots of hops) they are, the less I can pick up different flavor. Some that I’ve tasted really do taste like hop water. The same thing has happened in the barley wine world. English Barley wines have become one of my favorite styles of beer to drink as of late. They almost have a raisin bread finish to them. With American barley wines not so much. I ended up talking to a guy who worked at a local beer and wine shop to see what he thought, his answer, “American ______ is starting to forget what balance is, there idea is simple ‘more, more, more'”. Couldn’t agree more. When I make beers, and I know my way isn’t the only way – but balance is key and malt forward is my favorite. One can easily see the clash of ideologies just with the malt aspect alone.

  7. Stone Arrogant Bastard really isn’t an IPA in my book…it’s an American Strong Ale. I make a clone of it and keep it stocked as a house beer. I find the bottled version to be a little less hoppy than getting it at Stone, where the beer is definitely “greener” coming right out of the bright tank into your mug! At around 100 IBU it needs a ton of malt to counterbalance the bitterness, so I use a lot of crystal and base malt. It’s a great drinker!

    One of my favorite IPA’s is a homebrew: Lakewalk APA. It is a blend of Simcoe and Amarillo and is not really bitter like a lot of IPA’s. It has a great nose and I highly recommend you brew it up and give it a try sometime! The guy who came up with recipe callls it an APA but it is north of 60 IBUs so it is an IPA in my book.

    IPA’s have their place, but there are SO many interesting types of beer it seems a shame that so many folks never venture out and try and nice Kolsch, or Alt, or imperial, or barley wine…so many great styles of beer, people really should venture out and try something new whenever they can. You can always have an IPA as your second or third beer, right?!

  8. Couldn’t agree more with you. What I find so interesting about beer is that there are so many different types and that there so many different impressions of that style. In my opinion it’s easy to get locked into a particular style as you favorite and then no longer extend your, “bandwidth of appreciation”. At the same token, people should drink what they like. In my personal opinion though, it’s just a shame to see so many styles are not ventured into for brewers, but that’s why I homebrew at the end of the day. I get to make what I want to make and usually it’s stuff that is hard to get at the stores.

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