When I was younger an IPA (India Pale Ale) was something I usually avoided. The only IPAs available that I was aware of were Charrington IPA and Greene King IPA so I can be excused for thinking the 'I' meant insipid. They were quite low in both alcohol and taste. I remember that the Charrington IPA particularly had very little hoppiness or bitterness.
When I started to travel to the USA I began to enjoy their versions of the IPA. It is probably fair to say that many US brewers now produce at least one IPA in their range. One of the first I remember is Shipyard Fuggles IPA. At 5.8% ABV and using the English fuggles hop it is an excellent attempt at producing an authentic IPA. Of course, many US micros have americanised the IPA by using American hops. These hops are becoming more widely used by UK micros too and are proving exceptionally popular.
UK micros are now catching up with their American counterparts and there are now a large number of IPAs to choose from. Last week I managed to try a number of these in various formats so here is my appraisal of, what I can only assume, are some of the best available. The reason I say this is that they were all superb.
Brewdog Punk IPA (5.6% ABV) - Fraserburgh, Scotland
I tried a pint of this beer at the Brewdog bar in Birmingham. It is only available as a keg beer or in bottles. I found it to be too cold and too fizzy but the delicious hoppy aroma and taste still found a way through. Tonight I bought a bottle to try it at a proper temperature and I am drinking it as I type. It is described as a trans-atlantic fusion although the New Zeland hops are not as powerful as some of the American versions. It has a full fruity taste which did not appear in the keg version. The finish is bitter and crisp.
Thornbridge Jaipur IPA (5.9% ABV) - Bakewell, Derbyshire
I tried a pint of the cask version of this classic IPA at the Shakespeare Inn, Birmingham. A more subtle fruitiness is finely balanced with a full hop aroma. It is very smooth and the sweetness gives way to a superb hoppy, bitter finish. This beer has quite rightly won many awards including the gold medal in the strong ales category at the GBBF of 2010. It is truly a modern classic.
Ilkley Lotus IPA (5.6% ABV) - Ilkley, West Yorkshire
I tried the bottled version of this beer. It is brewed using both New Zealand and American cascade hops and it has a classic golden colour. It has a gentle hoppy aroma and packs plenty of intense fruit flavours particularly mango. It is very smooth and this finely balanced IPA gives way to a gentle bitter finish.
Ilkley Mary Jane IPA (6.0% ABV) - Ilkley, West Yorkshire
I tried this bottled version on the same evening as the Lotus IPA to compare the two. Described as a trans-atlantic IPA with both English and American hops these two varieties combine to great effect. I found this beer to be paler in colour than the Lotus with more citrus and grapefruit notes and a more intense bitter finish. It is probably more to my taste than the Lotus but they are both delightful.
Art Brew Monkey IPA (6.4% ABV) - North Chideock, Dorset
My final bottled IPA is the strongest of the five. It has a perfect golden colour, a gentle hoppy aroma and, as with the Lotus and Brewdog beers, an intense robust fruitiness with both mango and citrus flavours combining. It is beautifully balanced and, as with the others, there is a pleasant bitter finish.
I strongly recommend all five of the IPAs described here. If I had to choose a winner I would select the Mary Jane but it is probably the least authentic due to the intensity of the American hops which give it plenty of grapefruit and citrus flavours.
One thing is for sure - none of these beers could be described as insipid. I will never drink Greene King IPA again.