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Know your IPA from your APA

If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between IPAs and APAs, we’ve got the answer. IPAs are hop-and-alcohol-heavy pale ales, and APAs are malt-and-hop-heavy pale ales with a lighter character.

The pale ale family came into being in the 18th century following the development of coke, a clean-burning form of coal that allowed maltsters to create a lighter-coloured malt rather than the charred, dark, smoky version that led to dark and roasty beer. However, pale ale was only relatively pale, and the original pale ale is now considered dark. Nonetheless, its invention altered the beer world.

This new-fangled beer was shipped in casks to India and other places. But unlike darker porters and stouts that age well, pale ale did not always survive the long journey to the warmer climate in the best condition. As a result, a hoppier, more alcohol-heavy beer evolved to handle the journey to India without degrading too much, and thus India pale ale, or IPA, was born.

Pale ale and IPA remained largely unchanged for nearly two centuries until the microbrewery revolution in the United States in the 1980s.

These new brewers didn’t set out to change the world. In fact, some went back in time by brewing a classic British Pale Ale with vibrant citrus-pine American hops. Another revived the nearly forgotten art of dry-hopping – the addition of hops to beer after fermentation. These brews redefined what a pale ale could taste like in America. Soon everyone in America was creating their own interpretation of a pale ale. This style eventually became known as American pale ale or APA and distinguished itself from its British ancestors using American hops.

A good APA maintains a balance of malt and hops. However, the hops are more assertively pungent and floral than their British counterparts. To further complicate matters, as emerging microbreweries competed for attention, these APAs gradually became hoppier and higher in alcohol content, giving birth to the American-style IPA. Whereas a British-style IPA is malty, even buttery, with fruity esters and a hop character that delivers herbal and blackcurrant notes, an American-style IPA has a cleaner, leaner malt base and uses native hops’ bold citrus and pine characters to create a more hop-forward drinking experience.

Surprisingly, the distinction between British and American IPA is much clearer than between APA and American-style IPA.

An APA at around 5% is very well balanced in malt and hops. On the other hand, the malt in an IPA is more subdued to let the hops shine. As more brewers experiment with styles, the distinctions between pale ale, APA, and IPA become increasingly blurred. They are pushing the boundaries of American Pale Ale and India Pale Ale like never before, bringing these two styles of ales closer together as the alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage approaches 6. With an ABV of 5% to 6%, American Pale Ale has a soft, palatable, and not-too-bitter taste. India Pale Ale has a more robust, hoppier flavour and an ABV of 6% to 10%.

If you want to tell the difference between APAs and IPAs, you’ll need to do a lot of tastings. However, both styles’ enduring popularity encourages craft brewers to experiment.

APAs have a medium body, deep gold to light brown colour, and a toasty and malty flavour profile. IPAs have a broader colour range, ranging from gold to dark, clarity ranging from clear to hazy, and flavours ranging from fruity to spicy to roasty. Black IPAs have a dark appearance and a creamy mouthfeel, rye IPAs have an amber appearance and a dry mouthfeel, and red IPAs have a red-brown appearance and a smooth mouthfeel.

The Book Club – Shoreditch has an extensive range of beer on tap, bottled and canned. Some of our ales include Hackney Hopster pale ale, Hobgoblin IPA, Shipyard APA, and 3 Weiss Monkeys White IPA.

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