Red, White and IPA: The American Love Affair Continues

snake eating tail

Is our love for hops like a snake eating its own tail?

Question for this post: Do we love IPAs because breweries make so many of them, or do breweries make so many IPAs because we love them?

Now that the 2013 Great American Beer Festival is checked off in the beer nerd calendar, I was reminded yesterday of this certain truth: Americans kind of have a thing for hops.

Check out the top five, most-entered categories at GABF:

  1. American-Style India Pale Ale (252 entries)
  2. Imperial India Pale Ale (149 entries)
  3. Herb and Spice Beer (134 entries)
  4. American-Style Pale Ale (124 entries)
  5. American-Style Strong Pale Ale (120 entries)

The 401 entries in Americanized IPA are more than the next three combined, but that may also overlook the extra 244 Americanized pale ale entries that I assume showcase all the hop-forward goodness us patriots look for. Then again, should there be any question that’s how it would’ve been?

As the county’s de facto beer of the craft movement, 2013 IPA dollar sales were up almost 36 percent from the start of the year to mid-summer to the tune of $128 million in sales. In the first six months of 2013, the top-selling new craft beers were New Belgium’s Rampant Imperial IPA, Sam Adams’ Double Agent India Pale Lager and Redhook’s Audible Ale, a beer created with The Dan Patrick Show that falls in American pale ale (read: hoppy) territory.

It’s also hard to hold off a chuckle when the Homebrewers Association releases its publicly-voted top-50 “Best Beers in America,” in which the top spot has been held by famed IPA Pliny the Elder five years in a row … despite the fact that Russian River only distributes to California and a small amount to Colorado, Oregon and Pennsylvania. (I won’t even mention all the other IPAs on that list)

My reaction to those GABF numbers: of course IPAs dominate. It’s the entry-level cost of doing business and something “everyone” looks for when they enter a brewery. I’m not pointing fingers or making assumptions, but I do feel a little weird when things like this happen:

Flying Dog renamed its Double Dog Double Pale Ale to Double Dog Double IPA earlier this year. Earlier this week, Odell Brewing confirmed that it would rebrand its Red Ale to Runoff Red IPA.

So how is it that this train won’t be jumping the tracks? Because it makes money, of course.

Along with those numbers from the Great American Beer Festival, here’s a big story that jumped out to me: the Boston Beer Company is releasing a new beer. An IPA, naturally. Depending on your POV, here’s the unfortunate truth of where the IPA stands, according to craft beer godfather Jim Koch:

“Right now, IPA has become a sub-industry in itself.”

Boston Beer’s “Rebel IPA” – with it’s fancy new packaging – utterly eschews the tradition of what Sam Adams shows its customers. (We know packaging can be a powerful tool) No more picture of its namesake patriot raising his stein to you, just a splash of dual colors … some hops … and oh, wait, it kind of reminds me of some other well-performing IPA…

sam_adams_rebel_ipa_brewdog_punk_beer

But that’s neither here nor there. What I’m seeing is Boston Beer – a company that previously (somewhat) skirted from the traditional IPA trend – is going all-in lately. Now there’s Rebel IPA on the heels of success with India Pale Lager and even more:

Just last year, Boston Beer Company – the country’s largest craft brewery –released its “IPA Hopology” variety 12-pack, complete with six different styles of IPA. The company has even explored hybrid products, like its Whitewater IPA, which blends traditional American IPA and Belgian Wheat beer styles.

Diversification is the name of the game for large beer brands that want to stay ahead and those efforts just happen to align with beer drinkers love for everything IPA. I wasn’t surprised when I saw this $6 jump in Boston Beer stock on Oct. 14, the first business day after the Rebel IPA announcement:

Boston_beer_stock_oct14

(Full disclosure: the connection between rising stock price and the Rebel IPA announcement is pure, uneducated speculation. I’m “just saying” is all.)

Two of the best-performing, publicly traded beer companies right now are Boston Beer and the Craft Brew Alliance, owners of brands like Widmer Brothers, Redhook, Kona and gluten-free Omission. Why are they performing well? Boston Beer’s cider sales help, as does their foray into canned beers. Expansion with new brands has also helped Craft Brew Alliance, which is releasing its own India Pale Lager through Widmer Brothers, in addition to a new “Rotator” IPA, and a new push for Long Hammer IPA from Redhook.

The popularity of the IPA is nothing new, for sure. It just seems to me that the more we look into it, the more it seems clear that Jim Koch is right. The IPA is a monster unto itself.

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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17 thoughts on “Red, White and IPA: The American Love Affair Continues

  1. That’s funny. I asked the local brewery, Union, if they were releasing a really tasty Irish Red called Rowhouse Red the other day. The answer….yes, but it’s now called Foxy Red IPA.

    It’s a really weird conundrum, because when I read stuff like this and find about people changing the names of beers simply for sales it annoys me. But I can never hold myself back from actually drinking IPA’s. They simply taste too delicious. Although, I think what I really mean is that I really love the taste of hops which can be found in high doses just about everywhere these days regardless of the style that’s attributed to the beer.

      • I don’t fault them either, but if you want to bank on the sales of an IPA then make an IPA and sale it. Don’t come up with a hoppy not IPA and then call it an IPA later because you’re looking for more dinero. It’s misleading the customers which is insulting.

    • I wonder if it could be a bubble – it seems like IPA is the quintessential “American” craft beer, despite its actual heritage. Maybe one of the things it has going for it is that it’s easy to know if you like it or not.

      “I like hoppy beers.”

      “I like dark beers.”

      … and the list goes on. I imagine other locales the world over don’t have this kind of fascination with IPAs, but we’re still a young beer drinking bunch.

    • Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

      I find myself offering applause to breweries who don’t have an IPA, if only because it makes them the punks of the industry these days!

      Then again, if it’s what The People want…

      But yes, this is a really great way of putting it.

  2. I like IPAs because they get me drunk faster. 😉

    I have seen a couple instances where it seems that hoppy stuff has become “mainstream”, and the nerdiest of beer nerds are almost starting to look down their noses at it like it’s for noobs (in the same way that indie music fanatics poo poo stuff that gets too lamestream).

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