India pale ale is brewing’s runaway juggernaut, crushing other beer styles in a bitter rampage. Turbo-boosted with hops—the flowers that give beer flavor, bitterness, and fragrance—the IPA has won over drinkers’ stomachs with its dizzying delicious diversity. The IPA is not one thing, but rather anything a brewer cooks up.
IPAs can be as bitter as a presidential primary or smooth as fresh snowfall, reminiscent of pine trees or maybe a mango smoothie. You can drink a different IPA darn near every day and never grow bored. I should know. I just wrote Complete IPA, my guide to the global phenomenon. (Answer: No, I’m not sick of IPAs just yet.)
To help boost your beer-geek smarts and decode the difference between wild and wheat IPAs, here nine unique IPA styles to know—and drink.
Wild IPA: SweetWater Brewing Smokey and the Brett
Wild Brettanomyces yeast gives this Georgia IPA a unique tart funkiness and grapefruit complexity that’s complemented by gobs of New Zealand hops. Sit on a bottle, and the hops will fade and the beer’s earthy funk will intensify. P.S.: Smokey is named after a 2016 heist that saw crooks steal two trailers of SweetWater beer.
Session IPA: Founders All Day IPA
When you want to crush a sixer of IPAs but don’t want to get crushingly wasted, go for a low-alcohol, supremely aromatic session IPA such as Founders’ citrus-brightened All Day. The 15-pack canned package is perfect for tailgating.
Citrus IPA: Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin
Tropical, stingingly bitter Sculpin IPA is one of America’s superlative IPAs. Better still is the crazy drinkable grapefruit variant, which goes down like lemonade on a summer afternoon.
Wheat IPA: Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale
Loads of wheat make Sumpin’ Sumpin’ as smooth as an R&B slow jam, with a cloudy hue and dankness worthy of a vaporizer.
Rye IPA: Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye
Rye whiskey is revered for its dry, spicy bite. The muscular grain adds a similar peppery punch to this potent California IPA.
American Black Ale: Maine Beer Company Weez
Since black India pale ale is a bit of an oxymoron, the preferred term for the midnight-hued IPA variant is American black ale. Among the best is Maine Beer’s inky Weez, as roasty as Starbucks coffee, brightened with citrus and pine.
Double IPA: Russian River Pliny the Elder
These days, you can’t toss a rock at a tap list without hitting a double IPA, a fact for which you can thank Russian River’s Pliny the Elder. The category-defining double IPA was first brewed in 2000, and its piney pungency is still a revelation 16 years later.
Northeast IPA: The Alchemist Heady Topper
If you’re turned off by bitterness, you’ve got company. Brewers in the Northeast and across the nation are brewing barely bitter, way smooth IPAs that emphasize aroma and flavor, not palate-wrecking bitterness. During your next trip to Vermont, seek out the IPA that helped start the trend: the Alchemist’s unfiltered and super-fragrant Heady Topper.
Dry-Hopped Sour: New Belgium Le Terroir
What happens when you marry a sour beer to a boatload of hops? You get the insanely aromatic, refreshingly tingly dry-hopped sour. New Belgium’s barrel-aged Le Terroir is a peachy, tropical puckerer.
Compete IPA is out this month from Sterling Epicure.