Celebrated by hopheads worldwide, the West Coast IPA is famous for introducing craft beer fanatics to the wonders of American hops and the taste bud magic that is assertively hopped beer. It is this style alone that can raise its hand and take proud responsibility of leading the change in beer drinkers’ perception of and acceptance of bold hop flavors. This ever-changing style, roughly characterized by its intense hop aroma, pronounced bitterness and above-average alcohol content, is one not to be missed if you truly want to understand and appreciate the wonderful world of hoppy beverages.
Beer Style: West Coast IPA
IBU: 40-70, though some can be higher
The West Coast IPA was born on- you guessed it- the West Coast region of the U.S. But I’d be well-impressed if you could have guessed that it all began with a pale ale and a completely unknown hop variety; one that we have come to love and cherish today- the piney, citrusy, floral Cascade. In the early 1970s, San Francisco Anchor Brewery owner Fritz Maytag had the ingenious idea of using the nearly-forgotten British technique of dry-hopping in order to impart a more prominent hop aroma to the beer. Wanting to make an English style pale ale with American hops, he listened to the advice of a hops-farming friend who suggested the use of a new, West Coast grown hop variety called Cascade. After throwing a massive amount of the hops into the brew kettle during the boil and again when dry-hopping, Liberty Ale was created and beer history was made.
Five years later, the now world-famous Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was born when the brewer decided to create a pale ale using whole-cone American hops, including Cascade. At the time, West Coast brewers had the sole benefit of being located close to America’s hop farms; which provided them unparalleled opportunity to shake up the style by using locally grown hop varieties such as Cascade, Chinook, Centennial and Columbus to infuse bold, unique aromas into their beers. In 1994, Bling Pig Inaugural Ale was brewed by what is today known as Russian River Brewing. By turning up the hop volume and officially marking the “bigger is better” notion of America’s craft beer world, this beer ignited the slow burn that eventually led to craft beer aficionados becoming more accepting of hop-forward beers.
Predominantly a golden hue with clear clarity; however, some variations may be slightly hazy due to starchy adjuncts. Dry-hopped, unfiltered versions may also present a slight haze. Head retention is good and off white in color. Although a slight haze may exist in some variations, when poured next to it’s famous New England style sister, a West Coast IPA will not be nearly as hazy. A great example of this is Aussie based Deed’s Brewing take on a traditional West Coast IPA, Best Coast, which pours with a slight haze but still keeps itself less opaque than any of their New England Style IPAs.
What’s that grassy smell? Don’t worry, nothing illegal here. Those are just the hops, baby. And without an in-your-face, make-your-nose scrunch hop aroma making its way up into your nostrils, you ain’t got a West Coast IPA. However, know this- West Coast IPAs are revered for their bold, tropical and citrus fruit aromas as much they are for their piney, dank, resinous aromas. Aroma is dependent on the specific hop(s) used during the brewing process. Most of the hops used in brewing this style, such as Cascade, Citra, Chinook and Centennial, are known to impart citrusy aromatics, which often teeter on the verge of smelling like pine and imparting dank, grass-like smells as well.
“Beeeecauuse I’m all about that hop, ‘bout that hop, some malts here.” West Coast IPA flavor is all about that hop. The malt base is mild, which gives the bright, fruity notes of the hops a chance to steal the show and take center stage. The hops performance is wondrous on the tongue, with an understated malt presence that keeps your taste buds engaged but not completely scared off by the small army of hop warriors quickly marching across it. This give and take allows the often higher ABV of a West Coast IPA style beer to be disguised by the citrusy, piney flavors suggested by the hops. A solid taste bud-tittling example of hoppy bitterness balanced with solid malt backbone can be found in Feral Brewing’sWar Hog; an American IPA with persistent hop flavors yet nicely rounded out malt friendliness.
Clean and crisp, much like a perfect autumn day. West Coast IPAs are medium-bodied with medium carbonation; basically as medium as we can go here! This style has a much drier feel to it than its New England counterpart with a crisper finish. Drinking this style imparts a feeling of smooth simplicity in the mouth, with slight alcohol warming sensations present in stronger versions.
And there you have it! A dialed-in look into the bold, take-no-prisoners style that has come to define aggressively hopped beers, the style responsible for the fruity, American style hop explosion, the OG of in-your-face, scare-your-momma dankness - the West Coast IPA.
If you’re wanting to try some hoplicious West Coast IPAs for yourself, then make sure you check out Deed’s Brewing Best Coast, AleBrowar Rowing Jack and Brewfist Spaceman, all found on our website and delivered fresh to your door. And remember- hold on to those taste buds and prepare yourself for an extraordinary sensory experience on the tenacious journey to hop heaven and back- this is a West Coast IPA you’re drinkin’.
Jen LeVasseur is an avid craft beer drinker and occasional homebrewer who loves traveling the world to taste different brews. She currently lives in Bangkok, Thailand where she is studying to become a certified BJCP Beer Judge. You can follow all of her beer-related adventures on Instagram at hungry4beer.