By Greg B. The English gave us the India Pale Ale style, but good lord, they’re terrible at making it. Sure, that’s a very American-centric viewpoint of both beer and the style, but I have to come right out and say I’m happy that the American craft beer movement has taken this original, humble beer and roided it up into something that would be unrecognizable next to it’s origins. Evolution, in this case, tastes delicious.
And if evolution tastes delicious, what of it’s precursor? Well, I’m sorry to say that most actual English IPA (or most of them in general, for that matter) just don’t really shine. And I think Sam Smith’s IPA is a good example of an English IPA, but it’s worth discussing the beer for a moment, so you can all understand what I mean.
The beer pours a deep golden color with touches of reddish amber, and features a good 1 finger of very creamy light tan head that slowly recedes and leaves a very thick and luscious lacing. The beer (as you can see in the picture) has a bunch of carbonation to show off, which is notably different from most English ales. The aroma is quite malty, and smells of caramel malts and sweeter aromas as well as some musty citrus notes. The flavors are of a sweeter malt ‘tea’, if you can imagine that, with a hint of citrus and those more earthy notes dominating the hop profile, which is notably very minuscule. Telling this beer apart from an English pale ale would be very difficult indeed. The finish is a bit of carbonation and the sweet malt tea flavor that lingers. 5% abv, 1.3/5
How does this differ from an American IPA? A generally average American IPA will tend to be lighter in color, using less caramel malt and more malt of a biscuity or bready character. These malts really provide a structured backbone to the beer, allowing the residual sweetness to hang nicely, as well as whichever hop varieties you choose to use. For an American IPA, the nose may open with a very piney aroma, or perhaps a very citrusy one. And when you drink it, the pine/citrus or spicy hop aromas combine with a good amount of bitters, refreshing the palette. It’s generally not overly bitter, and this is where the good malt backbone holds it all together (and this is where a lot of mediocre IPAs fail. Not in hop usage, but in their malt skeleton to compliment the bitters). American IPAs finish refreshing and still complex. English IPAs finish with the same note they started with: a mild tea.