Back in my day, when we had a gold-to-amber colored hoppy ale that was about 4.5% abv, we didn’t call it Session IPA. We called it “pale ale.” It was bitter but balanced, reasonable about its alcohol content, and it smelled like grapefruit and pine trees and cat piss … and we liked it that way.
Hoppy, standard-gravity, top-fermented beer from North America. Call it whatever you want, it’s far and away one of my favorite kinds of beer. But let’s be honest: pale ale isn’t sexy or extreme anymore, and the three letters “IPA” have become semiotic for drinkers and a marketing lever for the industry.
From a business standpoint: everybody loves IPA, everybody wants IPA, everybody buys IPA, so there’s a certain amount of market pressure on the contemporary American craft brewery to produce one. IPAs tend to occupy a lot of shelf and cooler space in stores and tank space in breweries’ portfolios these days.
And as far as the beer-drinking public: when was the last time you heard somebody take the time to luxuriously drawl out “India Pale Ale,” like it’s still the Raj and the top speed of a motor carriage is 20 furlongs per hour?
No, it’s IPA, just the acronym, please, we’re in a hurry; and I posit that – just like American IPA as a style progressed from a mere interpretation of English IPA into something distinct, self-contained, and enormous – the acronym has taken on a meaning of its own. That’s why I was a bit noplussed by the fooferaw over the percieved oxymoron of “Black IPA” a couple years ago … sure, the “P” technically stands for “pale,” but come on: we all know that “IPA” really just means “lots and lots of citrusy hops, abv north of 6%,” terminology and history be damned.
Let it be said that I love me a good American IPA, waxy and acidic and chunky with dry hops, unapologetic about its booze-inducing big malt bills; and that I’ve had some tasty beers that are labeled as “Session IPA” or some variation thereof.
But my personal opinion is that when you take this very sound, very delicious American IPA concept and reduce the abv% to “session” levels (whatever your personal definition of that may be, we’ll save that for another post), then – semiotics and marketing completely aside – what we’re now working with is good ol’ missionary position, workaday American pale ale.
And I’m fixin’ to brew one.
What do you like in yours? Cascade? Centennial? Simcarillocitra? Nelson Sauvin? CTZ? EKG? HBC342? Yes Munich malt? No Munich malt?
And I’m out of the loop on new products for the homebrewers these days – how’s the BN’s DVD? Any book reports for us, readers?
Recipe and brew day pics forthcoming. Stay old and grumpy, citizens.