You can’t approach a beer tap or fridge these days without being overwhelmed by a variety of India Pale Ales. You can get a hoppy IPA, a juicy one or a hazy one. West Coast vs. East Coast is as fierce a debate among beer snobs as it is among old school rappers. And the battle isn’t likely to be settled any sooner.
Let’s be clear: The IPA isn’t going anywhere—especially today, which is National Drink Beer Day. It’s the dominant style of craft beer (and, increasingly, macro beer makers). Last year, the IPA category grew by 16%, increasing sales by more than $176 million, and boasted a 30% dollar share of the beer market, according to IRI Worldwide. But that doesn’t mean other styles aren’t gaining momentum.
The IPA category has become so massive, in fact, that some splintering is occurring. Hazy and Juicy IPAs (known to some as “New England Style” IPAs) were separated as their own category in this year’s Great American Beer Festival awards. And the field immediately became the most entered category, with 391 entries. (Alarmist Brewing’s “Le Jus” took top honors).
Juicy/hazy IPAs deemphasize bitterness and often highlight hop flavors and aromas that bring tropical fruits to mind. And the category has changed the minds of many people who thought IPAs weren’t for them.
That success has piqued interest among brewers to find other ways to ride the IPA wave.
Brut IPAs are one subgenre that’s quickly gaining a following. Like champagnes of the same name, this is a very dry beer and one that’s highly effervescent. The beers use a common beer making enzyme that has traditionally been used for imperial stouts and triple IPAs that break down sugars and reduce the malty, sweet characteristics of a beer.
“Brut IPA is… a beer style I’ve seen popping up in many states including California, Colorado, New Jersey, Virginia and more,” says Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association. “It is also a style made to pair with food and could even be of interest to wine drinkers. It’s a style, to me, that shows a lot of promise.”
Another IPA offshoot that’s becoming a favorite of beer drinkers is the Milkshake IPA. And in many ways, it’s the complete opposite of a Brut IPA. Brewed with lactose for a fuller body, the beers tend to lean on fruit and vanilla for flavors. At GABF, the style was definitely in demand, with offerings like Odell Brewing Co’s. Cloud Catcher (one of the rare milkshake IPAs that doesn’t use any additives) going quickly.
There’s a lot more on the beer scene than IPAs, of course. Sour beers continue to win over people, especially those who have historically favored beer. And lighter styles, like lagers, wheat and blond ales, and kolschs, are coming back into favor.
“I’m bullish that the larger umbrella of lighter styles and lagers will continue to grow in craft,” Brewers Association economist Bart Watson said in May. “One reason why? Craft drinkers are telling us they are more interested in these styles than they were a few years ago.”
In the first half of the year, sales of American lagers are nearly double what they were a year ago, with a $10.5 million jump in sales, according to IRI Worldwide.
Boston Beer Co. was on the leading edge of this trend last year, with the release of Sam 76, a lager with a mild hoppy punch that has helped the company rebound from slowing sales of its flagship Samuel Adams Boston Lager and other offerings. Through July 15 of this year, Sam ’76 has sold more than the equivalent of 319,600 cases. (That’s nearly 8 million beers sold since it launched in January.)
“The same way people care about the ingredients and the making of their food choices, they should care about the ingredients and the making of the beer they’re drinking,” says Jim Koch, co-founder and chairman of the Boston Beer Co. “It’s slow beer vs. fast beer. At Sam Adams we’re committed to educating drinkers about what’s in their beer and brewing with traditional, artisanal methods and ingredients for the best beer possible.”