Beercraft newspaper column #55: A quick look at IPA

India Pale Ale- a craft beer staple

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

Craft beer comes in seemingly limitless variety. Doppelbocks, imperial stouts, and Belgian-style tripels dot the shelves of any beer store worth its salt, and nearly every small brewery makes some form of extreme, unique, or rare beer style, if only for the bragging rights. IPA, however, spans the craft brewing scene from coast to coast. While the style may be universal, and an anchor point for most breweries’ product lines, the flavors of IPA can be intriguingly diverse.

IPA, it should be noted, stands for India Pale Ale. What you get when you order one is a modern interpretation of the Victorian-era pale ale that Breweries in England made stronger and hoppier in order to survive the sea voyage around Africa to its Indian colonial holdings. The hops acted as a preservative, preventing the unpasteurized ale from going bad during the long, sweltering journey. What the colonists tasted was substantially bitterer than the pale ales they would daintily quaff in the social parlours back in Britain.

When American homebrewing and craft brewing got going, IPA’s adventuresome history and crisp hop bite captured the imaginations of drinkers who were used to the far tamer flavor of American light lager. As the craft beer experiment exploded into a full-blown industry, American brewers approached IPA with an experimental spirit, as well as that uniquely American trait of pushing something to its limits of good taste.

Today, American IPA eclipses the British original in every possible aspect except subtlety. We’ve made IPA exponentially stronger, heavier, and hoppier than anything those colonials in India would have experienced.

That freedom from tradition is both a benefit and a curse. The English would argue that a good British IPA, such as Samuel Smith’s India Ale, embodies two hundred years of brewing expertise and an affinity for how to use the hard water of the Trent river combined with noble English hops to create a beer that’s a perfect mélange of body, flavor, and nippy hop finish. Whereas their American counterparts might point out that, compared to Colorado’s monstrous Great Divide Titan IPA, their English stuff hardly has flavor at all, paling compared to Titan’s astringent citrus bitterness, not to mention its near 7% alcohol content (by volume).

Of course, neither side is right in this hypothetical argument. Both Sam Smith India Ale and Great Divide Titan IPA are excellent. The soft, earthy flavor of the English IPA might go very well with an after-dinner fruit and cheese plate, whereas the tangy explosion of flavor provided by an extreme American IPA like Titan would pretty much kill the taste of anything you put in your mouth for the next hour. Ultimately, it all depends on the type of flavor the drinker is looking for.

We kind of lament the fact that American brewers take IPA to sometimes ridiculous extremes. It’s getting to the point where ordering that dry-hopped, double Imperial 12% IPA is the equivalent of ordering the super-hot chicken wings: a display of unadulterated machismo and little more.

But there are plenty of American IPAs (Great Divide Titan IPA being one of them) that wear their bold flavor very well. Brooklyn IPA, Ithaca Cascazilla, and Lagunitas IPA, all readily available in Western New York, combine their bitter flavors, alcoholic warming, and weighty mouthfeel into delicious, uncompromising palate-pleasers that frequently convert beer drinkers into raging hopheads.

And, although they won’t admit it, the English like ‘em too.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to



No Beer School this week

Bruce and I are taking the week off from Beer School this week, but the normal schedule will resume on January 10, at 7:30pm, at Monty’s Korner in Rochester. We’ll probably still be out drinking, though.

Encouraging, I think.

I know this guy who fancies himself a connoisseur of “indie rock.”

“Indie Rock” for those readers without horn-rimmed glasses and trucker hats, is DIY, small-batch rock music which is produced outside the mainstream of the big music companies, often by the bands themselves. Occasionally, some indie bands click with mainstream listeners and gain a big national following.

It’s at this point where the true “indie rockers” sever all ties with that band, because they “sold out.” The subejct of this long-winded and over-elaborate analogy refuses to listen to any band with any following whatsoever, taking the greatest delight in his ability to drop the names of hundreds of obscure garage-groups whose shows draw a sum total of three people (4, if you count the bartender), and thus demonstrate to other people their lack of knowledge and unworthiness to converse with him about music.

Sound like any beer lovers you know?

While there’s still a set of obtuse beer elitists whose true joy comes from knowing more beer esoterica than the average Joe, the embracing of craft beer by the general public means their per capita numbers are dwindling. And that’s encouraging.

It’s encouraging to see women in their early twenties stride confidently up to a bartender and order an IPA. It’s encouraging to see bartenders who can tell you the difference between the our kinds of porter on draft. It’s heartening to walk into a 7-11 and be faced with a choice of ten different beers from your own state.

But, as the indie rockers will tell you, there’s also a twinge of ironic regret. And I do kinda feel bad for the elitists. It’s like they had this special club; this thing that brought them together, albeit to the exclusion of others, and now the doors have been thrown wide open and every douchebag in a sweater vest is developing that formerly privileged knowledge of beer styles and nuances.

But, at the end of the day, this mass interest is what will ensure that “craft beer” is an industry, not a fad, and that we’ll always have the sweet volume of choice we have now. it’s what will eventually make the USA the greatest beer nation on Earth.

If that’s selling out, where do I sign?


Rohrbach has tapped it’s 15th Anniversary Barley Wine

Today is the magic day. Rohrbach is now serving 15th Aniversary Barley Wine, a Bruce Lish brew, out at the Ogden, NY brewpub. The beer tops out at 11%, and, judging from my advance tastings before it had time to mellow, will quickly become a favorite among admirers of the style.

Bruce has had a great deal of success with barley wine in the past, even winning a bronze medal in the category at the Great American Beer Festival. Get the 15th Anniversary stuff while it lasts.


A crusade for the misunderstood.

czechbanner.jpgMisunderstood. That’s the Czech Republic in a nutshell. This unassuming little republic with the misfortune to be located between two mighty nations that don’t always get along so well has been repeatedly occupied, artificially grafted onto its neighbor state, bombed back to the agrarian age, forced into the fold of the iron curtain, and made to struggle to catch up to the western word after that rusted curtain flaked to pieces. Now on firmer ground, the Czechs get to endure their capital city getting overrun with twentysomething British Easyjetters fighting and vomiting on the cobbled streets of their capital every weekend because the beer is so cheap.

They don’t go to Prague because the beer is good. They go there because it’s cheap.

Jeez, if I were a Czech brewmaster, it would be a real personal victory just to drag myself to work every day. Here they are, brewing some of the finest beer in the on this Earth, and a good portion of the drinking world turns up their nose at it, because it’s low-alcohol lager, and therefore must be fizzy piss. It’s something to drink on vacation, to yak back into the Vltava River from the parapets of the Wenceslas Bridge.

it’s not like Pils gets any respect from the older, more knowledgeable British beer connoisseur. Those Santa-faced CAMRA heads are so wrapped up in their hand-pull that they scarcely acknowledge anything else as real beer- not even good quality local keg bitter.

American beer lovers usually share the same prejudice. Our beer culture, varied as it is, has become so insular that many scarcely perceive golden-hued brew as beer at all. Beer geeks here associate quality with high bitterness, powerful aftertaste, and devastating alcoholic kick.

I’m starting a crusade to right this unjust wrong. Therefore, using images stolen off the Web, I’ve created the banner at the top of this page, urging people who’ve never given real Pilsner two shakes to try a glass. Other bloggers are encouraged to use the banner and take up the cause.

I certainly don’t expect to change minds with this post, but I’d urge you to bookmark this new Czech beer blog, part of the Prague Daily Monitor, as a source of knowledge about this most misunderstood of beers.


Edit, next time I make a banner, I’ll use Illustrator for the text instead of Photoshop. -Mark

Beercraft Newspaper Column #54- I couldn’t think of a topic

The intricacies of flavor
By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

It’s possible to be a geek about anything. Computer geeks go on about processor speeds, mySQL, and World of Warcraft. Sports geeks corner you and drone on endlessly about their fantasy football (or, in our case, fantasy soccer) teams. And it’s just as possible to be a beer geek.

You’ve heard them; they’re the reason you’re leery about wine or craft beer. When self-styled aficionados rattle off comments about “nose,” “finish,” or “mouthfeel,” it makes people who, well, just enjoy a brew leery of craft beer as a whole.

Thing is, beer is so varied in flavor, color, and character that you need that descriptive terminology in order to describe the thing you’re drinking. Let’s go over some of the common terms together, shall we? That way, should we slip into the realm of beer geekdom in a future column, you’ll at least know what we’re talking about. Not that you’ll care.

When you bring a beer into close proximity with your face, the first thing you’ll notice is the visual stuff. We don’t think any of our readers really need a definition of the word color. But we’d suggest you notice head retention. After the initial foam dies down, look for a slight foamy film remaining on top of the beer. This is a signal that the beer is till effervescing, and releasing aroma, which accounts for a big chunk of a beer’s perceived flavor.

Head retention can be retarded by contaminants in the glass, especially oily substances. We all know a dirty glass can compromise your health but, far more worryingly, it can compromise your beer.

Now that the beer is directly under your proboscis, give it a covert swirl; just a little shake of the wrist. This releases the a-ro-ma. Different styles have different aromae. Some, like IPA, smell predominantly of hops, whereas a Doppelbock will carry a bready, sweet malt aroma. The scent of certain Belgian styles will be caused primarily by the yeast.

As we mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago, aroma is an important component of how your beer tastes, so take a big whiff. And for God’s sake don’t drink straight from the bottle. That’s for ‘low carb’ beer drinkers who have a vested interest in avoiding their libation’s flavor at all costs.

And flavor is the ultimate reason you’re even drinking beer in the first place, right? As you know, beer can be sweet and bready, dry and bitter, or anywhere in between. What’s important is that you realize that taste is composed of multiple parts, (the smell being one of them). The initial flavor as the beer splashes across the frontal taste buds is often completely different from the flavor you get as you swallow and the liquid hits the taste buds in the back of your mouth.

We’re not going to dissect the flavors beer is supposed to have; that’s part of the joy of discovery. But you should be warned about off-flavors that can result from poor handling, or screwing up the brewing process.

If you’re pouring beer form a bottle, especially a clear or a green one, you’re going to taste skunk. Ultraviolet rays, such as those radiated at us by the sun, react with the acids in the hops to create 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol (note- that presence of that chemical compound name is evidence of actual research. We promise it won’t happen again). This is actually the same chemical found in a skunk’s butt, or wherever the spray comes from.

This chemical reaction is most prevalent in beers that come in green or clear bottles. On a sunny day, it can take as little as 5 minutes for this flavor to materialize in those vessels, so handle with care.

Another extremely common flavor flaw in beer is Diacetyl, which is caused by yeast reacting to the alcohol synthesis process. It’s a buttery, slippery taste that, while working well in certain styles like Scotch ale and some English ales, sticks out in most beers like a monster truck in a kindergarten.

Brewers usually control diacetyl flavor by performing a diacetyl rest, leaving the fermented beer at fermentation temperature for 24-48 hours. Thus, if you taste this butterscotch flavor, you’ll know the brewer is rushing his beer out the door instead of waiting for the process to reach completion.

OK, that concludes this part of our beer tasting primer. Perhaps we’ll go into greater depth in the future, when we’re having an equal amount of difficulty coming up with a topic. Until then, we encourage you to taste unashamed, and don’t let the terms throw you.


We’ll make a beer geek of you yet.


Bruce is a certified beer judge and commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to