What's that you say? You can't age IPA? You have to drink it fresh for best effect? Well folks, that may be true of today's more one dimensional IPAs that accent the hop over malt more than ever before. I tell you, though, that that just is not the case for many IPAs, especially those with a solid malt backbone to support the hops.
Think about the first IPAs. They were nowhere near as hoppy as today's American versions, yet they survived the journey of six months from Burton to Bombay just fine. In fact, they were meant to be aged, and if a bit of time was good enough for those beers, I'm sure todays brews can weather the sands of time just as well.
I get what brewers are trying to do by insisting their India Pale Ales should be drunk fresh. They want you to experience all that explosive fresh hop flavor, or at least they want you to because that’s what today’s beer geeks want. But consider again those first IPAs were very different indeed, hopped with Fuggles and East Kent Goldings most likely, those grassy English hop varieties. These did not have the intense flavors (or the alpha acid levels for that matter) today’s American hops pack, and yet they aged out just fine.
Take Westbrook IPA for example as one I’ve hung onto. Tonight I'm drinking a can I've had for about a year, and it’s fantastic. I'm not saying you should always sock it away, far from it. If you like your IPAs young, drink ‘em young. If you prfer to age the, then do that. You bought them after all. Just don't think that IPAs are beers that will somehow go bad overnight if not consumed within 60 days. It doesn't work that way, and never has.
My can doesn’t tell me to drink this beer before you get out of the parking lot of your favorite liquor store, but it does say this:
A base of pale, Munich, and Carapils malts is just enough to contain the massive hop flavor and aroma packed into this highly drinkable IPA. A blend of four American hop varieties is added four times in the kettle and twice in the fermentor for a complex and layered hop experience. Best served at 45-50˚F in a tulip or English style pint glass.
Westbrook IPA has 60 IBUs and 6.8% alcohol by volume. It’s a bit on the pricey side at $10.99 a six-pack and $7 a draft pint (see below). That’s the only fault I find, and a half star demerit for the price.
Westbrook IPA pours to a bright orange color with a thick creamy head formation and an amazingly resiny hop nose. A fine layer of Brussels lace coast the sides of my glass as the liquid descends. Taking a sip, the thick chewy caramel is a welcome development, and it really coats the tongue in a big wave. The hops are here still folks, and they waste no time taking over. Big and resiny, loaded with pine, orange, and grapefruit citrus. The beer finishes very bitter, and very resiny in aroma. Delicious, (gasp) even after a year.
Now here’s the interesting part. I had forgotten that I had had this beer fresh, too, but when I saw that it was already on the spreadsheet I use to track beers I’ve tasted, I found the following notes from August 10th, 2013 on draft at Taco Mac (and it doesn’t get much fresher than that unless you drink it at the brewery).
Westbrook IPA from South Carolina. Resiny, herbal nose, tasty caramel malt body, big resiny pine tar finish that mingles in some grassy minty aroma. Very long dry bitter finish. Excellent standard American IPA, 6.8% ABV, $7.
The tasting notes are not all that dissimilar, I got big resiny pine in both samples and perhaps more caramel malt and citrus after aging. They were both delightful, though.
So as Yukon Cornelius might have said, you drink your IPA the way you want, and I’ll drink mine the way I want. Let’s stop with the judgment calls, shall we?
And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.
*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.