IPA is dead (White chocolate is not chocolate)

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 (Photo By: Gustav Hoiland Feb 11 2012)

Martin Cizmar, arts & culture editor at Willamette Week, is right.

(Editor’s Note: Brian Yaeger’s views are not the views of The New School – Samurai Artist)

At least about IPAs. IPAs are dead. IPA, like shell art, like God in the eyes of Nietzsche, is over.

OK, IPA as a style isn’t dead. Even Mr. Cizmar acknowledged in the introduction to Willy Week’s impressive Beer Guide that There may be commercial life left in the style.” That’s what he came up with after a heated phone call wherein I reamed him for not including even a single IPA in the Guide’s Top 10 Beers of 2012 list. I mean, c’mon, Hop Lava? Killer Green? Molten Lava? Oh wait, those are all Double Mountain Brewing, but there’s three right there that coulda made the list. I’d actually lobbied for 10 Barrel Brewing’s ISA since it’s one of the more awesome session IPAs (even if it foot-faults on the 5% line of sessionability) and that way he could hold his ground on the NO-IPAthing since it’s an S not a P.


The Big Papa of Portland beer writers, John Foyston, offered up 10 Barrel’s new Hop Project Mix Pack as “a resounding rebuttal to WW’s premature obit.” The package includes three bottles apiece of four alternate or hybridized iterations of their Apocalypse IPA (an imperial IPA, a brown IPA, a black IPA, and a wheat IPA), and the result regrettably corroborates Cizmar’s position. (I say that in theory as I haven’t tried any yet.)

Having said that, I can offer better proof that IPA isn’t dead. In retail parlance, the “category” accounts for 25.2% of the Oregon beer market (a stat gleaned from Rob Maletis of Maletis Beverage Distributing). More than one out of every four beers bought and drank in the Beaver State—total, not just among craft beers—is an IPA. If that stat was a superhero, it’d have to be Captain Insano, because that’s a crazy amount of India Pale Ale.

Furthermore, at the GABF, American-style India Pale Ale has been the most-entered category for a dozen years. No. 2? Imperial IPA. Fourth? American-style Strong Pale Ale, which is scarcely different that IPA. And rounding out the top 5 is American-style Pale Ale, which, let’s admit it, is still more IPAesque than a British IPA.

(Funnily enough, since I left out the third-most entered category, it’s Herb and Spice Beer. Maybe Mr. Cizmar’s affinity for chili beers isn’t so out of step with the brewers themselves.)

Clearly, the IPA category is running at a fever pitch and its popularity is potentially going to lead to its own demise, which I think was Mr. Cizmar’s actual point (but then again, he prefers chili spice to hop spice, so that’ll be my last reference to him, much to Ezra’s relief). See, because consumers are goo goo for IPA, brewers make more and more of them. As referenced above, Double Mountain makes three of them. A recent visit to Crux in Bend yielded six on tap. This all-IPAs all-the-time mentality can become dangerous, not to mention stifle creativity and exploration rather than nurture it, both among producers and consumers.

New Belgium, ostensibly a Belgian-inspired brewery, just introduced Rampant Impy IPA not terribly long after creating Ranger IPA. New Belgium’s branding director Greg Owsley copped to me, “Admittedly, we were the last brewery to do one in America. [Employees] all snuck out and drank IPAs after work. Our ‘beer rangers,’ the marketing reps out in the field, were pleading for one. We wanted [to expand our] portfolio.” Furthermore, they created the Hop Kitchen series, where all but one of the included brands will be an IPA. I recently received a goodie box from Boston Beer Co. filled with the Sam Adams “IPA Hop-ology” series consisting of a white IPA, Belgian IPA, German IPA, red IPA, a double IPA, and something called a Baltic IPA. Easily my favorite hybridization (bastardization?) of the IPA, among Stone’s many recapitulations including their new coffee IPA, is their Green (Tea) IPA! I’m waiting for Mikkeller to dry-hop with Smurfs to make a Blue IPA.


In conclusion, the problem lies not in these beers’ lack of great flavor, but in the seeming necessity to market every new beer by piggybacking off a killer style’s popularity. One key to CDA’s success is calling it a Cascadian Dark Ale instead of a Black IPA. One reason beers like Deschutes’s Chainbreaker will suffer an ephemeral life cycle is that it’s called a White IPA. White chocolate is not chocolate. It’s a derivative of chocolate containing cocoa butter, but chocolate requires actual cocoa! If I sauté broccoli in cocoa butter did I make green chocolate? White chocolate is an abomination used to sell a disgusting confectioner’s creation using a delicious marketing name. (Of note, RateBeer.com added four new style categories to the site’s listings but on the subject of White IPAs opined, “we could take the philosophy of getting excited about every trend of the week in American brewing, but instead we take the philosophy of being a little more timeless in our approach, favouring things with a little staying power.”)

Likewise, just because IPAs entail a boatload of hops that doesn’t make every hoppy beer an IPA. It’s time brewing companies stop white-chocolatizing their brands.

Brian Yaeger

Brian Yaeger is the author of Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey. He contributed to the Oxford Companion to Beer and writes for All About Beer, Draft Magazine, CraftBeer.com, Portland Monthly, Willamette Week, and more. He earned a Master in Professional Writing (with a thesis on beer). Other than GABF, his favorite, can’t-miss event is the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest where he’s drawn to any band with a tuba. Along with his wife, Half Pint, he runs Inn Beervana Bed & Beer in Portland where he also lives with his baby boy I.P.Yae, and German Shorthair Pointer, Dunkel. 

24 Comments

  1. Andrew Elliott

    April 22, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    This: “Likewise, just because IPAs entail a boatload of hops that doesn’t make every hoppy beer an IPA.” Finally, someone else writing with some sense! RIS: boatload of hops. Old school Mild (talking 19th century) had boat loads of hops! Old school stouts and porters: boat loads of hops! Quite literally boat loads as that’s how they had to be transported to Burton and the Scottish Breweries, tho London it was more convenient. Yes, those Scottish beers had boat loads as well.

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  2. Booze Traveler

    April 22, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    Great article. Some very true words to be found here.

    I think that a lot of IPA’s continued popularity can be traced to newer drinkers of beer from smaller brewers. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “I’m a hophead” from people who have only been drinking non-macro beers for a few months, having recently joined the fold of those who demand better from their beer. They shun the richer, darker, more flavorful beers as “too heavy”, preferring to pound their chests over their ability to drink liquid that tastes like grass. They think it makes them sound like they’re a hardcore enthusiast, when many enthusiasts’ palates have grown tired of overly-hopped beers with no dimensions except the aroma of cat urine and the taste of grapefruit. Hopefully these new folks will expand their horizons, and many, including myself, have made it a mission to do so. I want them to experience the glorious world out there beyond the hop fields.

    I enjoy a well-done IPA quite a bit and crave them regularly, but I don’t consider my ability to swallow something with 1,000,000 IBUs a trait that makes me an enthusiast. It would seem that many do, and quite a large number seem to think that you *must* be able to do so to even be considered a true beer enthusiast. When almost a quarter of all beers sold in Oregon are of this style, I can’t help but think there is a huge chunk of beer exploration, brewing capacity (assuming at least 24% of all capacity is being dedicated to IPA production, based on sales) and beer innovation are being missed by virtue of this IPA craze.

    I applaud the new takes on IPA-like beverages, but too wish, as you do, that they would stop calling all new, “hop forward” beers IPAs. You bring up the fine example of Cascadian Dark Ales. Descriptive and perfect for the style.

    If you must come up with a name for a new style you’re producing, be at least somewhat creative. Don’t piggyback on an established style. Heck, you’re the one creating it. Part of the fun of creation is you get to name your creation!

    Thank you for your article. Hopefully more will read and take heed.

  3. Chris

    April 22, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    “And rounding out the top 5 is American-style Pale Ale, which, let’s admit it, is still more IPAesque than a British IPA.”

    If by “more-IPAesque” you mean “more like an American IPA”, then yes it is, but please don’t suggest that American IPAs are more “authentic” than ours. I very much doubt anything brewed in 19th century Burton tasted of grapefruit.

  4. Bill Night

    April 22, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    10 Barrel’s “result regrettably corroborates Cizmar’s position” that IPA is dead?!? Sadly, Cizmar’s review calling 10 Barrel’s mix-pack “four otherwise mediocre recipes” regrettably corroborates the position that Martin doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    Brian, you should try those beers, they’re delicious (well, the Wheat IPA is a noble failure, but not a drain pour).

    • ElGordo

      April 22, 2013 at 7:39 pm

      You mean the Wheat IPA that Cizmar describes as being “in the style of Shock Top”? This guy just keeps digging his hole deeper each week.

    • Anonymous

      April 22, 2013 at 8:00 pm

      Sorry there, ElGordo, it is absolutely in the style of Shock Top. Very similar quality, too.

      -Martin Cizmar

    • ElGordo

      April 22, 2013 at 10:54 pm

      I stand corrected, as upon further research I see that Shock Top does bottle something called a Wheat IPA. I didn’t realize Shock Top was becoming a full product line rather than just an A-Bomination of a Belgian style. Regardless, I thought the 10 Barrel was a little thin, but still a pleasant beer with a nice citrusy hop character.

    • Samurai Artist

      April 22, 2013 at 11:01 pm

      Martin,

      you really need to be more specific, we are not all as familiar with the entire lineup of Shock Top products the way Willamette Week’s editorial staff is.

    • Anonymous

      April 22, 2013 at 11:35 pm

      Ha. Yes, Ezra, I should be more specific.

      -Martin

    • Bill Night

      April 22, 2013 at 11:46 pm

      With all the scorn heaped on Shock Top recently by beer geeks, I wonder how many have actually tried it. I haven’t, but my curiosity is about to get the best of me.

      And if Shock Top’s Wheat IPA is anything like 10 Barrel’s, I’ll buy Martin a 4-pack of Dogfish’s India Brown Ale so he can see if he still thinks it’s better than 10 Barrel’s India Brown. Wait, let’s call it Bend Brown Ale, and claim it as a new style.

    • Anonymous

      April 23, 2013 at 12:20 am

      Awesome, looking forward to those beers!

      -Martin Cizmar

    • Jon Abernathy

      April 23, 2013 at 6:56 am

      Bill, actually their “Bend” Brown is actually last year’s Oregon Brown Ale. So they already beat you to it.

  5. Jeff Alworth

    April 22, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    When I was in Bavaria, I kept encountering hellesbier. Obviously that means it, too, is destined to collapse in popularity. I also detect the fall of bitter as England’s fave cask ale–it’s gotten way too over-exposed, too. I kid, obviously. Hoppy beers have become our cultural preserve, and they ain’t goin’ anywhere fast.

    Brian, I’d be careful before you eulogize Chainbreaker, too. I just saw the 2012 IRI/Symphony numbers, and Chainbreaker was killing.

    • Anonymous

      April 22, 2013 at 8:14 pm

      Not to argue with an authority on German beers, but doesn’t Helles basically serve as the German equivalent of an American light adjunct lager? No one here is arguing that light beer is destined to disappear.

      If English bitter had never been threatened, would CAMRA have been needed? Also, you could probably argue that English bitter is basically the country’s equivalent of an easy-sippin’ light beer. Certainly not “bitter” compared to most NWIPAs.

      My larger point is that beer styles ebb and flow and that IPA is ready to ebb, and ebb hard… Remember, Dortmunder and Weissbier both once had a market position similar to the IPA in the contemporary Northwest.

      And then they didn’t.

      -Martin Cizmar

    • Jeff Alworth

      April 22, 2013 at 8:40 pm

      Martin, you need to define your terms. Are you talking about the whole market or the craft market. Germany is a poor analogue to the US: there are no “German equivalent of an American light adjunct lager.” Hellesbier is definitely not equivalent. That’s why I distinguished “cask ale” in my second example, too.

      I heartily agree that styles change and preferences do, too. That doesn’t mean that all styles are likely to be popular everywhere or that some styles are destined to fall out of popularity. Dusseldorf, Cologne, and Bavaria resist the dominant German style: why? When Brits are drinking cask ale, they’re drinking bitter, not porter or mild: why?

      In the Northwest, people drink saturated hop ales (which I think are actually defined more by their flavor and aroma than by their bitterness or alcohol strength). That trend has only been growing and far from showing any signs of fading, has gained strength in the last five years. Indeed, the fact that there are these weird hybrid styles that have grown out of the IPA category (blacks, whites, etc) is further proof that hops are the key.

      The other huge variable in the development of style has always been culture. The styles of Britain, Belgium, Germany, and the Czech Republic have shifted over the centuries. But the traditions have had internal integrity that dates back at least two hundred years. A 21st century English ale tastes more like a 19th century English ale than it does a Czech lager. And so on. What we’re seeing is the development of culture here. It’s going nowhere except up.

    • Anonymous

      April 23, 2013 at 12:37 am

      Hey Jeff,

      Let me say up front: I have never been to Germany. I cannot really talk specifically about that market.

      However, I’m not sure I agree “craft” and “whole” markets are different things. That distinction has, in my experience, been an American innovation and one many drinkers here don’t even see. To most, Blue Moon is Breakside is Bud Black. I tend to define styles across markets by analyzing what role the beer serves in its society. How I determine what’s an analog: In what situations do people drink the beer? Not that Wikipedia is a definitive source, but Helles doesn’t get it’s own article there. Rather, it’s listed as a variant on the pale lager. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helles#Variations

      Michael Jackson called Helles “an everyday beer that is golden in colour.” To me this suggests its role in German society is more like the American adjunct lager: http://www.beerhunter.com/styles/hell.html

      So, for that reason, I call it an equivalent. Germans drink Löwenbräu in situations where Americans drink Bud and Miller Lite. That means it’ll be with us as long as there are football matches to watch and lawns to mow.

      IPAs are another thing. People drink them when they’re looking to enjoy a flavorful beer. The problem: there’s been an arm’s race to stand out and many new IPA recipes stand out by being overly hopped. This means they’re totally unbalanced and, ultimately, flawed beers. People do get tired of tasting the same flavor over and over again. Call me crazy, but I refuse to believe drinkers here or anywhere really want unbalanced one-note brews.

      My argument: Because so many Oregon breweries make similar IPAs, people are already reaching for something new. And thus the 10 Barrel box.

      So far, the problem of IPAs getting boring has been solved by developing all these easy-to-market variations. This is a short-cut solution—it’s easier to make a new type of IPA than to educated drinkers on other options. Lots of people know they like IPAs, and are open to trying more of them, while wanting little something different. So they order a “wheat IPA.” Everyone wins—the brewery sold another beer, the drinker got something new. Except after awhile drinkers realize having an overly hopped beer that masks other desirable flavors is not a good thing. And they get into malty stouts, because they’re something new. And then sours, and then saisons…

      And, eventually, if they’ve developed a truly exceptional palate…. maybe they get to chili beers.

      -Martin Cizmar

    • Jeff Alworth

      April 23, 2013 at 4:47 pm

      Martin, now that we’ve thoroughly bored everyone… My comments below.

      However, I’m not sure I agree “craft” and “whole” markets are different things. and To me this suggests its role in German society is more like the American adjunct lager.

      It seems like you’re contradicting yourself here–and also contradicting the point of “IPA is dead.” (Obviously the biggest selling type of beer in Oregon is mass market lager, not IPA.) But leave that aside–I don’t have a dog in that fight. One thing you have wrong is the characterization of hellesbier. It’s not a German style, it’s a Bavarian style. Going back to the dawn of lagers in the 14th/15th century, Bavarians liked dunkel. When light lagers came along, they rebelled and refused to accept them. When Spaten finally released a helles in the 1890s it almost caused a schism among Munich’s breweries. But eventually Bavarians began to accept them. In the long history of lager brewing in Bavaria, only dunkel lager and helles have had anything like mass market appeal. Pils don’t sell there, and helles isn’t really sold outside Bavaria.

      Using an American frame works for most countries (sort of), but really doesn’t work for Germany. At all.

      (Parenthetically, I’d caution against relying on Jackson for information about country trends. Most of his work was done between the mid 70s and 90s and a ton has changed since then.)

      My argument: Because so many Oregon breweries make similar IPAs, people are already reaching for something new.

      This is one of those things we’ll have to wait and see. You think we’re at the top of the IPA bubble, and I think we’re only starting to see IPAs displace everything else. I suspect (and predict) that hoppy ales will constitute about half the Oregon market in 20 years (possibly much less time than that). Time will tell.

    • Anonymous

      April 23, 2013 at 5:03 pm

      OK, now we’re there! This is the discussion I’ve been wanting to have on the subject—with bold predictions on both sides.

      Jeff Alworth: “I think we’re only starting to see IPAs displace everything else. I suspect (and predict) that hoppy ales will constitute about half the Oregon market in 20 years (possibly much less time than that).”

      Martin Cizmar: “[A]fter awhile drinkers realize having an overly hopped beer that masks other desirable flavors is not a good thing. And they get into malty stouts, because they’re something new. And then sours, and then saisons…”

      As you said: time will tell.

      -Martin Cizmar

  6. Champs

    April 22, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    I don’t know where this is going.

    If you replace “hop-forward ale of a certain color” with “common style plus funk and candi” would this be the same article? Adding “Belgian” to anything seems to get people excited, too, not that I’ve seen it done to barleywine (don’t get ideas, people) yet.

    The craft beer drinker’s palate is in constant shift. Have you sampled the revived Cinder Cone Red at a Deschutes pub lately? It’s a flashback to the 90s, and I don’t mean that entirely as a compliment. Widmer rose on the hefeweizen, but that brewery would collapse if that was its only beer. If a dozen IPAs seem excessive, it’s preferable to no innovation at all. You don’t have to lead every trend, but you certainly have to follow. Ignoring shifts in the market is the kiss of death.

    It’s a mistake to think there is consensus around the Cascadian Dark Ale moniker. CDA is brewed well outside the confines of the Northwest, and arguably wasn’t even invented here. I’ve heard everything from CDA to IBA to India-style black ale, to the derisive BHP (BS Hoppy Porter).

    And for what it’s worth, I like white chocolate in small doses.

  7. Anonymous

    April 22, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    Who gives a rip what any of you pretentious “experts” say. I’ll drink what I like and won’t be influenced by you snobs at all.

  8. Ron

    April 22, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Thoughtful article. In my opinion, I’m amazed that IPA’s haven’t hit a point of saturation long ago. It’s the Energizer bunny of beer styles. I love a great big aromatic IPA just as much as the next person, but I’ve been slightly disappointed over the last 15 years or so that IPA’s get so much attention, especially in the NW, while there are so many fabulous beer styles out there to be sampled. Plus it’s bordering on gimmicky now, this IBU arms race….

  9. Dan

    April 23, 2013 at 12:34 am

    The problem is there are very few excellent IPAs in Oregon.

  10. Brian Yaeger

    April 23, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Brian Yaeger

    April 23, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    I think all I can add is this: IPA as a style isn’t going anywhere (but up, to plant my flag more in the Altworth camp although it may sound like I’m hedging, but I don’t think 50% market share for IPA or even hybridized IPA will happen in 20 or more years). Basically, I think it boils down to this: Beer lovers love hops the way wine lovers love grapes. And while there are many blended wines, the notion of blending every conceivable style, color, and adjunct with the style name IPA has already grown gimmicky. It’s a step backward for creativity.

    Chainbreaker is a delicious beer. I have enjoyed it many times and will continue to, but in the future, it will have to drop the “white IPA” label and just become “Chainbreaker.” Once breweries drop that marketing ploy, it will free the brewers and drinkers to explore new flavors and varieties more freely. And maybe if they stop putting IBUs on labels and chalk boards, people will start drinking those flowery saisons, those Helleses, those British Dark Milds without the scorn of their peers for daring to drink insanely-hopped elixirs.

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