7 Questions of IPA with Mike Sharpham
Granville Island Brewing has been quietly brewing on Vancouver’s Granville Island since 1984. A lot has changed since their first brew but beer still reigns supreme. Granville Island Brewing’s Beer Merchant, Mike Sharpham, knows a thing or two about beer, and loves himself an India Pale Ale. While the IPA is a popular beer style, it is also a confusing one for many. The IPA has also spurred offshoot styles like the India Session Ale which further clouds the waters.
August 4th is International IPA Day and to celebrate Mike Sharpham answers a few questions about the delicious, hop forward beer style:
Q: What is an IPA?
A: IPA, which stands for India Pale Ale, is a style that originated in Britain and was shipped to India for English colonists located there. The original IPAs were more highly hopped and higher in alcohol than other Pale Ales, both of these factors helped to preserve the beer on the long sea voyage. Compared to Porters, another popular style of the time, the IPAs arrived in better condition and grew in popularity as a result. The IPAs that have become popular in North America are a unique evolution of the original offerings. When North American home brewers and craft brewers started playing around with the IPA style they did so using local ingredients, including hops from the Pacific Northwest which tend to have flavors of grapefruit, and pine which helped influence the character of this distinctive and flavorful beer style.
A: ISA stand for India Session Ale, these beers can also be referred to as Session IPAs, and aim to be a more “sessionable” version of an IPA. Session beers take their inspiration from English pub culture, where drinkers may spend hours enjoying the company of others while drinking lower alcohol beers. The beer is an enjoyable part of the experience, but being lower in alcohol it ensure you can continue on having a good time with friends without falling off your stool. IPAs are a beautiful style, but with a huge punch of hops and high alcohol levels, lots of people find they are not beers they would spend all afternoon drinking. The ISA takes the great hop profile of an IPA, but lowers the alcohol, and typically lowers the bitterness to ballance it out. The result is a lot of hop flavors, moderate bitterness, and lower alcohol.
Q: Can you taste the difference? If so, what should you look out for?
A: Every brewer has their own interpretation of what an ISA should taste like, but the two most common differences from an IPA are alcohol and bitterness. Lower alcohol is crucial for a session beer; while IPAs will often be 6-7.5% ABV, ISAs will be less than 5%. It is also common to see lower levels of bitterness in an ISA than an IPA; while IPAs will often be 50-70+ IBUs, ISAs are more likely to be in the 30-60 IBU range.
Q: What are some ‘tips and tricks’ for differentiating between the two?
A: IPAs will be high in alcohol, and have moderate to high levels of bitterness. ISAs will have a lower level of alcohol and will commonly have low to moderate levels of bitterness, and be lighter in body.
Q: What are some perfect food pairings you would suggest for IPA’s and ISA’s?
A: Due to their similar flavor profiles ISAs and IPAs go with a lot of the same foods, however IPAs being more robust are going to fare better with richer foods (think red meats, and fatty foods), whereas ISAs will nicely compliment slightly lighter fare (like seafood or poultry). Spiced Asian dishes such as curries and chutneys have a great flavor compliment for the hoppy character of either of these styles which will often have some citrus, spicy, or herbal flavors.
Q: What is the origin and where are both types of beers brewed?
A: While the IPA has its roots in England, North America has become the home to the modern IPA and due to their popularity the new ISA style has begun to emerge.
Q: What are the differences in how each of the beers are brewed?
A: ISAs are brewed to a lower gravity than an IPA, this means that less malt is used and the original wort has less sugar present and results in less alcohol in the final beer. The hoping process will often be different in an ISA as the aim is often to get a powerful hop flavor without tons of bitterness. This is accomplished by adding lesser amounts of hops at the beginning of the boil than you would for an IPA, these hops added early in the boil are what provide bitterness; at the end of the boil a bunch of hops are added for flavor and aroma which a feature that the IPA and ISA share in common.