America loves its India Pale Ale (IPA), the best-selling and fastest-growing craft beer style. But the balance of hops and malt can vary wildly – from aggressively bitter to floral and rich – depending on what beer you buy. The distinction is usually made by geography – whether your beer was brewed on the east or west coast. In general, east coast IPAs are darker and have a more complex malty sweetness to balance out bitter hop notes. West coast IPAs are drier, more aggressively hoppy and lighter in color and body.
Mitch Steele, brewmaster at Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego and author of IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale says the IPA coastal divide was more distinct 10 years ago. “The west coast went extremely bitter and hoppy,” he says, “but over time west coast IPA techniques spread across the country to brewers on the east coast.” When Steele, who started out brewing on the east coast, arrived at Stone eight years ago, he says he was shocked by how much hops they were putting in their beers.
While distinctions between east and west coast IPAs have faded a bit during the past decade (meaning you have to try new beers to know what kind of IPA it is), some classics remain. For some of the best examples of the hop-forward (read: bitter, aggressive) west coast style, try Stone IPA, Bear Republic Racer 5 India Pale Ale, Green Flash West Coast IPA, and Russian River Blind Pig IPA.
The best examples of east coast IPAs – which have plenty of hops, but are more aromatic and balanced by a rich malt – are Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Victory HopDevil IPA, Smuttynose Finestkind IPA, and Fat Head's Head Hunter IPA.