Why do so many people flock to IPAs?
It all comes down to how we as individuals taste. Fortunately for us human beings, we are blessed with taste buds. Our tongue has sensitivity to all tastes and flavors throughout its surface area. The sides of our tongues are more sensitive to sour and salty and the backs of our tongues are more sensitive to bitterness. So if you are a fan of IPAs, you are more likely to be accustomed to bitter flavors and also prone to love spicy foods. You love that piney spicy citrus aroma matched with the bitter taste sensation and the bitter back lingering on the aft of your tongue as the IPA travels along your taste buds’ highway. On the other hand, if you are a big fan of sweet malty beers or clean lagers, you are most likely oversensitive to bitterness and prefer beers such as Pilsners, Red Ales, Brown Ales or a nice amber or even some Pale Ale styles would suit your taste buds favorably.
But back to IPAs. Brewers produce unique flavors from the many types of yeast strains
available, combined with different malts used in the mash process, which help to produce the beers alcohol, color, aroma, and sweet, nutty or toasty flavors. Yeast is actually the work engine behind beer. During the fermentation process yeast digests the residual sugars from the wort produced during the mash process to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. While this occurs, other
wonderful magic is happening, including the production of what science calls esters. Esters are responsible for some of the flavors we taste or off flavors. Some esters can be described as a banana, clove, soapy, buttery, salty, acetic and so on. Certain esters are more acceptable in certain styles of beer than others.
And then we have bitterness and aroma. Most bitterness and aroma in beer comes from the addition of hops added to the boiling process or added during cooler fermentation (dry hopped) or even during the transfer of cool wort (hop back) into the fermenter. There are many different varieties of hops available. Brewing beer is sometimes described as 60% science and 40% art. I like to look at brewing beer as a balancing act. When hops are added in the boiling process, the heat removes hop resins known as alpha acids. This is what produces bittering flavors to balance out the sweetness of certain malts used in the mashing process. Hops are sometimes added after the boil has ended, this type of addition is known as late hopping or dry hopping if done after fermentation. This type of hop procedure will release very little bittering alpha acids into the finished beer, but will lock in the wonderful aroma of the hop itself.
Next time you enjoy your favorite IPA take note of the aroma first. Do you smell a citrus grapefruit, piney, or musty aroma? These are aromas produced from the late hopping procedure. While passing this wonderful ale through your taste buds, pay attention to what you taste. You might experience a hop explosion or upfront bitterness that slowly diminishes, which comes back again as the beer is swallowed and the hop resins coats back of your throat with a lingering bitterness. These are all produced during the boil process.
Next time you are craving an IPA, don’t be afraid to search out and try something new. Expand your palate with some of the newer sour beers that have recently become popular. Remember beer is food; beer has aroma, taste, color and presentation, just like food. So, enjoy and savor the many varieties of your favorite craft beers. We truly live in a great State of Beer! Hope to see everyone at the many beer events, festivals and tastings in 2016. Cheers! — Richard Ruggerio