I've got a thing for IPAs, and I'm not alone.
At the handful of establishments I visited over the extended St. Patrick's Day weekend, IPA selections uncharacteristically were limited and two bars were (gasp!) completely out. Seems like not long ago, the odds of finding a place with one draft IPA weren't good. These days, bars are having trouble keeping up with demand.
"Five years ago, not nearly as many people drank IPAs as they do now," said Jon Stringer, a beer specialist with Old Chicago restaurants. "Now, people have really developed a taste for hoppy beers."
Old Chicago is hosting a Stone IPA Takeover, with four of the Escondido, Calif., beers available on draft. The regional restaurant and taproom chain, which has four Colorado Springs locations, regularly holds such brewery tap "takeovers" but rarely with four of the same style of beer.
"This is the perfect time to talk IPAs," Stringer said.
Considering the growing popularity - India Pale Ales are the best-selling of all craft brew styles - the restaurant wanted to showcase the great variety available within the IPA family.
With tastes that range from light and floral to heavy and almost meaty, IPAs are basically pale ales made with additional hops, which increase the (good kind of) bitterness; that and the brewing process also traditionally lead to higher alcohol content, which might be one reason for the style's growing appeal, Stringer said.
According to a popular - and likely inaccurate - origin story, 18th century brewers in England began adding extra hops to their India-bound pale ales so the beer would be sure to survive the long sea voyage. What's known for certain is the highly hopped style that emerged during the British colonial era was a new and more aggressive twist on English pale ale, and people liked it.
Fast forward to today, when the darling of the craft brew world is available in a rainbow of varieties and hybrids.
"There's white, black, red. There are so many kinds out there now. People have gotten very creative with them because they're so popular," Stringer said.
With IPAs, it's all about the hops - the source of the "bitter" flavor for which the style is known. Bitterness ranges from American-style IPAs, at the mild end, to English to Imperial, or double, IPAs, which can boast alcohol content approaching double digits.
Be not afeard, lighter-weights. If you crave the personality but not the potency, Stone's "Go To" IPA fits the flavor bill but rings in at a comparatively low 4.5 percent ABV.
"It's a session IPA, which means you can sit and drink a few and it's not going to knock you down," Stringer said.
For around $5, Old Chicago offers the tasting flight of all four IPA varieties (Go To IPA, Stone IPA, Stone Cali-Belgique and Stone Enjoy By 4-20-14 IPA) , along with a guide to the basics about each.
For newbies, it's a great introduction to the style; for the rest of us, it's great drinking.
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