Hyper expansion of craft beer, due to an ever increasing consumer demand, has blurred the genres that categorize these quality beers. I’m going to pontificate in this here little beer censure specifically about the new India Pale Ale (IPA) genre now popularly known as ‘Session IPAs’. IPA’s, and American Pale Ales, or APA’s, are actually homogeneous of the Pale Ale style but with a more hop forward flavor. Brewers have now defined a new subpar class of IPA’s known as ‘Session IPAs’ because they still have a (somewhat) extra hopped flavor but offer the alcohol content more signature of a Pale Ale. Sure, you can drink more of them. And, these “session” beers are all the rage right now with all of the neophytes (Welcome!) to craft beer that have finally seen the light and are making the switch from the less flavorful, lower alcohol by volume (ABV) macro brewed beers. However, the ABV of these ‘Session IPAs’ hovers a bit lower to the ABV ranking of an American Pale Ale but with a slightly more pronounced hop flavor, and a more watered down nature…
Really, I understand. Consumers want a beer that they can drink all day but they don’t want to sacrifice that hoppy nature. Great. Drink slower. Avoid Imperial IPAs. Drink less. Don’t start until 5 O’clock. Better yet, add distilled water to your growler as you go. Would whiskey drinkers ever pine for a session whiskey? (Yes I understand it’s completely different, but)…..Hell’s no. Or at least I hope not.
So why does the style assigned to a beer matter? Well, if you are a brewer it matters because a certified beer judge (or CBJP) will judge the flavor, aroma and color of your beer in accordance to the style to which it is ascribed. Most breweries take their finest beers to the GABF (Great American Beer Festival held annually every fall in Denver) only to walk away with no medals (or award winning beers). Often times the brewery will decide to re-enter the same beer the following year but they will attribute the beer to a different, more apt classification, possibly resulting in a medal for the beer which will promote the marketing and sales of that beer and brewery.
Why else does it matter? Because I, the consumer, am sick of buying beers in the store that call themselves India Pale Ales when in actuality they’re Pale Ales, missing the boat on adding the proper amount of hops, or the right kind of hops, or the timing of the brewing of the hops, all of which give IPAs their stature of a hopped up beer. I hear many Pale Ale drinkers complaining in a similar nature in that their Pale Ales are too hoppy, again this is a mis-categorization of the style to which the mistake lies in the hands of the brewery.
But breweries still have the freedom (thank God) to label their beers however they deem fit. One that comes to mind is Rushing Duck’s ‘Divided by Zero’, facetiously illustrated as an “Imperial Session, Pale-Black-Indian Pale Ale AKA West-Coast Style IPA”. Yes, that’s how they bill it, and I love it! But again, I personally know some people who didn’t buy it because of the way it is described. Division by zero results in an undefined number and they have played on that with their definition of what this beer offers.
Maybe I’m being iconoclastic when it comes to the classification of craft beer, I prefer to think that I am simply a confirmed sybarite, confined to my own palate…and beer budget. I suppose it would be pertinent that I should at least suggest a resolution to all of these (craft) world problems. So I elect calling these watery, lower ABV beers masquerading as IPA’s, Extra Pale Ales. That is, after all, what they are.