I owe a debt to IPA. It was there for me when my experience of what, more recently, I prefer to call “modern beer” was still nascent. The memory of lapping up the atmosphere in the Odell taproom many years ago—and being handed my first proper glass of American IPA—is as fresh today as the days-old cans stacked high in my beer fridge.
I remember my dad handing me my first glass of that sticky, resinous, intensely odorous liquid and experiencing something close to sensory overload. In that moment, beer and its culture fused itself permanently to my fate line. And the funny thing is that I don’t even think I liked the beer at that time! It was way too bitter compared to the beers I enjoyed drinking back home in the UK. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I couldn’t stop talking about it and, once I'd wrapped my head around it, I couldn’t stop drinking it, either.
This moment in my personal beer history is no less significant than the others before and after it. How could I take anything away from the pint(s) of Landlord I supped as a younger man, the ones which taught me how to love cask beer? (Or the pints I’d drink years later that reminded me I love it all over again?) How could I discredit the taste of unfiltered Pilsner Urquell that expanded what was, in retrospect, a pretty myopic view of modern beer, as I chased the latest American hops? How about that first bottle of Cantillon? It all matters.
But perhaps it's more significant because of how many people have had a similar experience within modern beer culture. Being served a beer style that is—quite obviously—so much more intensely flavoured than what you’re used to drinking is always either going to immediately repel you or, like me, drive your curiosity to its apex state.
For as long as modern-day craft beer has been chipping away at the market, it’s been IPA that’s keeping the wheels spinning. It’s intense, it’s exciting, it can be rambunctiously bitter, irreverently hazy, zeitgeisty, traditional—geez, it cares so little about what kind of beer it should be that it can even be pitch black in color, despite the fact that it's a "pale" ale. IPA doesn’t give a fuck about what you think it should be—it wants you to imagine what it can be.
So when I see folks extolling the virtues of Pilsners, for example, at the expense of our chameleonic and occasionally eccentric pal IPA, I feel as if they aren’t showing the style—or styles—the respect it deserves. Pilsners are awesome, don’t get me wrong. But to hold them up in a light that only serves to cast a shadow over IPA is done in poor taste. Sure, that Pilsner you like is demonstrative of balance and nuance, but don’t accuse IPA of being over hopped to hide flaws, or faulty just because it’s hazy. It just happens to be a style you don’t dig.
There aren’t too many IPAs on draft lists. There’s just the right amount, because that’s what so many of us want to see when we hit up a bar. Hazy IPAs are no more faulty than any other style of beer. In fact, I think they’re delicious and I’m kinda obsessed with them. Brewers, please FedEx me cans of your latest release. The low bitterness and juicy aroma of Hazy IPAs are driving people into the category like never before. That moment when I thought my beer was too bitter? Well, guess what: thanks to these hazy juice bombs, that challenging experience is now a welcoming one. And it's one that's getting people excited about beer.
The prevalence of IPA is merely a sign that we’ve moved on. Fact is, brewers are having fun and experimenting with the style in ways that are going to influence the future—think of the stuff they're going to do with IPAs that we can’t even conceive of yet! I’m tired of being tired of IPAs, so make mine a pint. If the oversaturation of the IPA market is a sign of craft beer’s imminent apocalypse, well, bring on the rapture.