The United States of Hopiness: A State of the IPA

united staes of hops

My fellow Americans,

Today in America, a brewer began crafting a new recipe that will be enjoyed by millions.

A distributor took a truck full of beer to bottle shops, bars and restaurants.

A beer lover stood in line for hours, waiting for the chance to buy some rarity that will add a notch on their belt few others can claim.

Today, as we sit here and reflect on the bounty of choices we have when it comes to our beer, one thing is clear: the passion of Americans drive this industry and right now and that passion is all about hops.

Here are the results of that passion: India pale ales continue to lead all craft beer styles in growth year to year, 60 percent of Harpoon’s sales are of IPA … outdone by Dogfish Head’s 60 and 90 Minute IPAs, which make up 68 percent of that company’s sales. Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo, the best-selling IPA in the country, saw sales growth of 25 percent last year, bringing in $42.8 million for the company. This doesn’t even count the release of Founders’ All Day (session) IPA, which became the brewery’s best-selling brand three months after its debut and grew 569 percent in 2013. By the end of this year, All Day will account for 35 percent of Founders’ production.

stone-go to ipa-india pale ale
More IPA in 2014.

That’s why I believe 2014 will be yet another breakthrough year for the style. After five years of voting Pliny the Elder as the best beer in America – despite the fact it’s only shipped to a few West Coast states – it’s clear the mythical status of that IPA and its hoppy brothers is enough to make you go crazy for anything that includes those three letters.

Voting begins soon to determine 2014’s “best beer,” and I have no doubt you’ll show your grit and determination again, anointing Pliny as the best beer you think exists, even though that brewer down the street is working hard on something just like it.

The question for everyone popping open a bottle, seemingly running through every beer drinking decision we will make this year, is whether we are going to drink something different. But how can we achieve that when IPAs line shelving and tap walls like never before?

For several years now, beer lovers have been consumed by a never-ending search for the Next Great IPA. It’s an important search – one that dates back to the 18th century. But when our obsession with hops prevents us from trying other beers full of nuance and subtlety, when our typical preferences shut down the potential for enjoying another kind of beer, we are not doing right by our innovative brewers who have skills that surpass the process of dumping pounds of hops into a beer.

sierra nevada-harvest-ipa-india pale ale
Even more IPA in 2014.

Just look at our online discussions. Not only are they focused on finding one IPA to Rule Them All, but our comments and engagement goes on and on with what we believe to be the best India pale ale. Why are there so many to choose from? Because every brewery has to make one these days.

Toward the close of last year, the highest-gaining “bottle” brands at bars, clubs and restaurants were Angry Orchard, Redds Apple Ale, Dos Equis and Lagunitas IPA. That says a lot. It tells us that a brewery doesn’t need a barrage of advertising to reach national recognition, as long as focusing on quality. It may also tell us that having “IPA” slapped across a label doesn’t hurt, either.

My fellow Americans, succeeding in the beer business isn’t easy. Crafting something unique and so universally loved has never been easy. Sometimes brewers stumble, make mistakes and get frustrated or discouraged.

But the beer we want for our kids – when they grow up to be 21, of course – is turning out to be one kind of style, where honest work simply consists of adding more hops. Prosperity for all beer should be widely shared. Opportunity for all styles lets us go as far as our taste buds will take us.

Let’s work together, knowing that a new kind of beer that we’re certain to enjoy is within our reach.

Believe it.



+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac


18 thoughts on “The United States of Hopiness: A State of the IPA

  1. If we’re talking about beer nerds, there is always another beer for us to find that’s not IPA. We know how and we care enough to search out something different.

    But when it comes to craft beer consumers as a whole, I don’t know that I see IPA dying down or even sharing the pedestal with other styles. As Ray Daniels put it on Twitter this past Friday “I really wonder if we’re creating a beer culture where “IPA” tyranny just replaces “American Lager” tyranny.”

    1. That Daniels quote is pretty spot on. I recognize that the rush on IPAs has no reason to stop – from either the business or consumer side – and I’m just fine with that. I think it was the case that the more I’ve read about the beer industry in recent weeks, the more business plans for upcoming quarters seem to be built around IPA. (In my opinion)

      Again, not a good or bad thing, but just an incredible trend. Originally this post was supposed to be a broad view (that one is coming) but I couldn’t turn away from all the IPA news.

  2. Excellent post. I, for one, am growing tired of the hops arms race but I recognize that IPAs aren’t going anywhere. What excites me more is a more atypical beer that knocks it out of the park.

    1. I love IPA. However, my taste for that style – like other beers – is getting to the point where I’d like more nuance. I’m on a kick with homebrews right now to make IPAs showcasing single hops because I’m just enamored with their individual flavors. I like IPAs to learn about the construction of each beer, not to tear the enamel off my teeth.

      That said, one of my favorite beers I’ve had in recent months was a homebrew ESB.

  3. Bonus points for those who can pick out all the lines/phrasing I took directly from the State of the Union!

  4. Interesting post. Personally I enjoy a good IPA as much as the next person, but it would be awfully boring if I limited my choices to just IPAs. In trying to understand the most popular craft beer style, some style categories start with a significant handicap.

    High abv beers like Imperial stouts, Barleywines, Tripels and Quads are almost by definition going to sell less. Drinking one Rochefort 10 is approximately twice the alcohol (11.2% vs 6.2%), calories (339 vs 186) and four times the money as one Lagunitas IPA.

    Sour beers are harder (take longer) to make which makes them more expensive. To my knowledge there aren’t any Flanders Red Ales or Guezes out there that sell for $10 a 6 pack.

    I think Lagers have to overcome the fact that they are perceived by many to be not that different from mass produced beers (even if that picture often doesn’t mirror reality).

    Taking those biases into account there are a limited number of contenders for the title of most popular style: IPAs, Amber Ales, esbs, Wheat beers, Porters, (non imperial), Stouts, maybe Saisons. It’s not obvious to me why IPAs are at the top of this group in terms of popularity. Because you can pack them with more intense flavor? Because they are more “American”? Because they are either cheaper or easier to make? Because it just happens to be the fad at this moment in time? Any theories?

    1. Interesting you mention lagers, which have been receiving lots of IPA-like treatment. Widmer has a new India pale lager, Sam Adams made their IPL a year-round offering, Ballast Point has one … and this is just the start. Hell, even Budweiser was experimenting with an IPL in their brewer’s mix pack this winter.

      IPAs certainly have a distinct American quality to them, especially those that perform so well. They’re bursting with flavor and many don’t offer the nuance or depth other beer styles offer. When it comes to price point, research I’ve done for previous posts suggests that matters less when it comes to craft beer, especially to its largest segment in Millennials. That’s not to say it doesn’t matter or won’t sway customers, but if someone finds something they like – or influenced by another to try what they like – price doesn’t play as big of a role in craft beer.

      All this may roll into a post I hope to get to next week as something of a sister post to this one.

      1. You’re right IPLs seem to be growing in popularity a trend that is likely to continue. Tastewise I find the difference between an IPA and an IPL to be rather subtle, so maybe to the general public they are variations on the same theme. I’ll look forward to the follow up post.

      2. IPL’s that I’ve come across are awful, but it’s more about trying to put a square in a circle with the names and less to do with the beer itself. Southern Tier Krampus called it self an Imperial Helles Lager but it was 100% IPA made with lager yeast. It made me mad to drink that beer simply because they went and bastardized the ever living hell out of one of my favorite beer styles. I’m not saying a beer like that shouldn’t exist, but trying to cram these hop bombed lagers into existing styles that are supposed to be about subtle nuance like a Helles is nothing but annoying. They’d be better off just calling a beer like that American Hop Lager and trying to start a new style rather than wedge themselves into existing definitions.

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