What is it about an India pale ale that draws such a strong reaction from beer drinkers? Though the hop-happy beer is loved by many, it is spurned by an equal number. So we asked two beer fans who stand on opposite sides of the IPA aisle to explain their strong feelings about the brew. Greg Bauch is an author, comedian and former radio show producer who has never met an IPA he could stomach. Refresh Editor Scott Scanlon's beer of choice is the IPA and he's ready to defend it. Here are their stories.
Should I drink an IPA or just lick this 9-volt battery?
By Greg Bauch
Surely the best part of ordering a beer is choosing from the endless variety available. I like to survey the taps behind the bar, searching for a robust porter, a crisp pilsner, or a hoppy India pale ale that tastes like the bartender ran outside, finished a marathon and then sifted the liquid through their socks, into my glass.
I love beer. It’s my favorite food to enjoy after a difficult day of work or a regular day of work or just a day. Is it better if that beer doesn’t taste like iodine? Yes.
It’s not that I don’t like IPAs, I’ve just never felt refreshed ripping dandelions out of the ground and jamming them down my gullet. I want a dark, rich beer. Give me a Community Beer Works Whale, a Big Ditch Excavator, or on a special occasion, a Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. The darker and thicker and richer the better. I want a beer you would pour over a Thanksgiving turkey.
I don’t understand the IPA sensation. It seems like every brewery in Buffalo is trying to "out-hop" the other. This bitter battle is getting out of hand. I saw a can of beer that boasted itself as a quadruple-IPA. Where is the limit to the acidity insanity? I can only imagine a field of beermakers frantically pushing fistfuls of arugula into brown bottles to capture a sour crown.
I do have favorable options. We live in a golden age of imbibement, and there’s never been more tasty ways to kill brain cells. I toast the efforts of brave brewers, testing the limits of grain, water and yeast. Alcohol is a depressant. Choosing a beer shouldn’t be.
This current craft beer revolution has introduced exciting opportunities for pairings. My wife and I enjoy planning a menu to match our favorite foods with various brews. For example, the roasted malts of an Irish red ale are the perfect complement to a slow-roasted chicken. And, if we’re driving in our car and see the sunbaked, bloated corpse of an opossum by the side of the road, we scoop it up and take it home to pair with a hoppy IPA. There’s a beer for every flavor on the spectrum.
I enjoy a popular, local wheat beer that is often served with fresh blueberries. Sometimes, to enhance the taste of an IPA, I’ll toss in a handful of rusty thumbtacks. The blood released when the thumbtacks puncture my gums creates unmistakable notes of iron.
India pale ales are not worthless. There’s a lot you can do with an IPA that you couldn’t do with a brown ale or dark lager. For instance, let’s say you’re wandering the desert and accidentally swallow a bunch of scorpion venom. You could use an IPA to induce vomiting. There are tasks that do not call for regular, non-terrible beers. You can’t run a chainsaw without that special combination of gasoline and oil.
IPA drinkers will no doubt dislike my attitude and face, but I promise I’m not pretending to be smarter or proclaim that I’m better at drinking beer. I admit I have a gutter palate, both unrefined and bland. I’m happier drinking a slightly sweet, toasty breakfast stout. That fact shouldn’t make an IPA drinker angry, it just means there are more "grass clipping" IPAs for them.
I give IPA drinkers a lot of credit. I mean, I love dogs, but I would never slurp down a frosty mug of dog bath water. That’s true dedication to man’s best friend. I’m a huge Bills fan and I love tailgating, but I have never had the urge to lick the inside of an Orchard Park port-a-potty. I’m not judging. I’m doing the opposite of judging. I’m admiring.
Beer choice is just a matter of personal preference. Can’t I just drink without establishing a lifestyle? I deserve as much criticism for my lack of adventurousness as an IPA fan deserves for guzzling penicillin. A beer does not make the man or woman. A cooler is where we store beer, not an adjective to describe the beer drinker.
So let’s raise a glass to every beer drinker out there and celebrate this renaissance. And, as with the renaissance of the 15th century, there will be plenty of hemlock for everyone!
I like beer – especially IPAs – and I'm just fine if you don't
By Scott Scanlon
So you loathe India pale ales.
I’ve heard the judgment, jokes and downright derision. But believe me when I say this: I’m not crying in my beer.
That would water down the delicious taste.
I’ve embraced the growing selection of hop-forward brewing styles that come in lots of yellow hues that don’t remind me of what my beer will look like as it leaves my body.
Today we live in a golden age of beer, with lots of choices. The beverage traces its origins back 7,000 years to the Middle East, when it was a favorite drink of Egyptian pharaohs. It forged a foothold across Europe in the ninth century, when monks and other brewers began using hops to give it a longer-lasting shelf life.
British imperialists created India pale ale in the 19th century by adding even more hops to better preserve quantities headed to its far-flung colonies, particularly the territory that gave it its name.
Many IPA naysayers badmouth the style as far too bitter for their underdeveloped taste buds. They know not what they speak.
There are roughly a dozen styles of IPA, ranging from mild to wild. Session IPAs, lower in alcohol, tend to be clean, crisp and very drinkable. West Coast types, which fueled the latest international craft beer boom, tend to be medium-bodied and highly carbonated, with tropical fruit notes. New England IPAs – king of the crafts these days – are cloudy in color because they’re unfiltered. They’re more fruit-forward, with less carbonation and bitterness.
Other styles include the subtly pine-flavored East Coast IPA, sweeter Belgian and Milkshake IPAs, and caramel, roasted black IPA. All have different taste profiles from the dozens of different hop combinations and other ingredients that can go into their making.
International Bittering Units, or IBUs, supposedly help describe the bite of these beers – but can be of limited help because adding extra malt to an IPA can bring it into a more moderate balance.
Open-minded beer drinkers – bent on exploration and unafraid of change – are almost certain to find several IPAs preferable to the less-pleasing, corn-based brands consumed by those so very, very set in their ways.
IPA pairs well with tacos, burgers and barbecue, spicy dishes, salty foods and fried foods. Did somebody say chicken wings?
Bad beer pairs only with one thing. More bad beer – and maybe cigarettes, another taste bud killer. I wouldn’t know.
The results for those who go overboard on these beers can be devastating to waistlines, fulfilling sex lives and brain cells needed for coherent political discussions.
Four IPAs, you call an Uber, go home and fall asleep in the recliner.
IPA names are more colorful, too.
Bud is a first name. Coors is a last name. Blue is a color that doesn’t describe the beer inside. Light is colorless.
Hayburner (Big Ditch), the Surge (Resurgence), Destination (New York Beer Project) – these are three IPAs with names that match their character. I recommend all three. They’re all brewed locally, not far from Buffalo by multinational corporations that probably pay less in taxes than almost all of those who drink their beers.
Coors, at least, is owned by a U.S. company that also own Molson and Miller.
Bud is owned by Belgian brewer InBev, as is Labatt. The latter brewing company’s American spinoff, Labatt USA, is a subsidiary of FIFCO, based in Costa Rica. That said, Labatt USA, headquartered in the Buffalo Cobblestone District, does make some fine IPAs at its innovation brewery there.
Let’s be clear. Those who drink IPA don’t care what beer you drink. They know that all beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy – though Ben Franklin didn’t say that, as many wrongly believe. He preferred wine.
In my case, when I was young, busy and poor, any beer-fueled distraction would do, especially on weekends, but I always wanted something more.
I’m that guy who drank Michelob while my friends in the Southtowns tortured their taste buds with Genesee and worse – Genny Light. One hangover after a six-pack of the brand was a nightmare I never chose to relive.
I’d rather have a trio of IPAs any day than a 12-pack of Busch or Natural Light.
Some adults collect baseball cards, go fishing, hit the casino. Have at it.
I’d rather watch sports and drink a flight of craft beer – mostly a combination of IPAs, with a lager, Pilsner or porter thrown in for fun. I do like fishing, though. If you invite me on your boat, I’ll bring the beer.