Of the more than ninety distinct styles of beer categorized by the Beer Judge Certification Program, or BJCP, it is category 21, subcategory A that is the undisputed darling of the craft beer scene. In this article we are going to drill into the American IPA and interpret the BJCP-speak for you while giving you the tools you need to brew one that exemplifies the style as outlined by the BJCP.
For those unfamiliar with the BJCP Style Guidelines, each style is outlined like so: Overall Impression, Aroma, Appearance, Flavor, Mouthfeel, Comments (optional), History (optional), Characteristic Ingredients, Style Comparison, Style Specifics (IBU, ABV, etc.), and Commercial Examples. We’ll focus on the elements that are essential to understanding how to design and brew a classic example of American IPA.
What the BJCP Says
Overall Impression: A decidedly hoppy and bitter, moderately strong American pale ale, showcasing modern American or New World hop varieties. The balance is hop-forward, with a clean fermentation profile, dryish finish, and clean, supporting malt allowing a creative range of hop character to shine through.
Decidedly hoppy and bitter, moderately strong American pale ale, showcasing modern American or New World hop varieties.: This beer style is all about hops. Hops should be the dominant characteristic, and the 2015 guidelines have expanded on the ‘08 iteration to include the usage of “New World” varieties, which means Australian and Brazilian hops are fair game.
The balance is hop-forward, with a clean fermentation profile: The drinker should experience hops in the aroma and flavor far more than either malt or yeast-derived characteristics. This means the grain bill should be either devoid of specialty malts or use a very light hand with them. On the fermentation side, it means employing a yeast strain known for limited ester production and no phenol production, with no off-flavors.
Dryish finish, and clean, supporting malt: The mash should be conducted at a low temperature, such as 148-150, and with little to no crystal malt to ensure a fermentable wort that the yeast will fully attenuate. Traditionally, AIPA’s are fermented with the “Chico” strain (available to homebrewers as White Labs WLP001, Wyeast 1056, and Fermentis US-05 [dry]), so named for the yeast Sierra Nevada made famous (their original brewery being located in Chico, CA), which accomplishes both stated goals for AIPA fermentation. However, there are many different strains, American and English alike, that will do a fine job. Just be sure to choose a strain that doesn’t produce flavors that clash with bitterness or hop flavor, and one that attenuates well.
More About Hops
New, exciting varieties are being bred and coming to market all the time. You may be tempted to try them all in your next IPA. However, many offer flavors and aromas that are frankly not intense enough to stand out in an IPA. These varieties may be sensible additions as a supporting player, but cannot carry the beer by themselves.
Here’s a little trick I’ve picked up over the years. When you peruse hops at an online homebrew store, there is always a description of the flavors and aromas you can reasonably expect from them. These descriptions are often identical from website to website, and this is because the grower generally provides the descriptions to retailers. The grower will showcase a newly developed hop variety to industry people, who sample the hop and provide feedback which ultimately is condensed into the description you see on a homebrew website. If you see the word “pleasant”, this is a hop that is not intense enough to carry an IPA by itself. Instead, look for descriptors like “intense”, “potent”, “pungent”, etc. Also, total oil content can be a decent indicator for predicting intensity of flavor and aroma. The higher the total oils, the more intense the hop will likely be.
Homebrew IPA Recipe
Here’s my gold medal winning IPA recipe – a west coast style IPA that prominently features the Australian-grown Galaxy hop. Cheers!
Efficiency (mash): 70%
Batch Size: 5.5 gal
Pre-boil Volume: 7.5 gal
12 lbs, 7 oz Domestic Pale Ale Malt (89%)
1 lb Munich I (7%)
8 oz Crystal 15L (4%)
Single-infusion mash at 148-150F for 60-90 minutes
60 minute boil
First Wort Hop – Galaxy (14.7% AA) – .75 oz (36 IBU)
30 minute – .5 oz each: Galaxy and Centennial (8.9% AA) (29 IBU)
4 oz Galaxy at flameout w/ 20 minute hop stand
Chill to 65F, pitch appropriately sized starter of WLP001 California Ale Yeast or Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast, or one packet of Fermentis US-05 dry yeast
Ferment at 67 F until complete (about three weeks)
Galaxy – 4 oz for 3-5 days at room temp