By Madeline Stefan

We are winding down our “Back To Basics” series, and this week we are diving into one of my favorite styles – IPAs. Admittedly, my pre-Legion, beer-shy self had been mostly scared of this style, as people have pretty polarized opinions on it — and I myself was afraid of the bitterness. After tasting it and learning so much about the brewing process, though, I have a tremendous amount of respect for this style of beer. In fact, IPAs deserve a lot of credit for the recent explosion of the craft beer scene.

IPA stands for India Pale Ale; the name owes its origin to Britain’s colonial relationship with India. When India was a part of the British Commonwealth, the English developed a strong, hoppy beer that would survive the long journey via boat from British ports to India where it would serve to satisfy colonizers who longed for British beer. Hops have antimicrobial properties that helped the beer keep, and slightly elevating the ABV of these English IPAs aided in this process as well.

The IPA’s you are probably most familiar with, though, never went to India — and many of them aren’t even pale. American IPA’s are different than English IPAs for those reasons, and also because, like any New World version of an Old World Beer, we’ve bumped up the hops. American IPA’s are made with New World Hop varieties like Cascade, Centennial, Citra or Columbus.

The brewing process of American IPAs makes them decidedly hoppy with a supporting malt flavor that leads to a dry finish and an abundance of citrus and floral flavors and aromas.

When you taste and smell the citrus in an American IPA, you might assume adjuncts are responsible. But actually, oftentimes this citrus is the result of hopping the beer late in the boiling process, or via a method known as dry hopping. Dry hopping a beer involves adding hops after the beer has been boiled, usually in the fermenter. This allows the hops to contribute their aroma and citrus flavor without all of the bitterness.

Alexa Long, our head brewer here at Legion, explained to me how she and Scott go about the dry hopping process: “We dry-hop all of our IPAs at least once — usually twice. Depending on the beer, we wait until the it’s either completely fermented or mostly fermented; then we take a heap-load of hops…and dump them directly into the fermenter. The beer will soak up these hops for about 3-6 days before kegging. We typically keg IPAs straight from the fermenter to retain as much hop aroma as possible.”

Within the American IPA style there are two subcategories: East Coast and West Coast IPAs. East Coast IPA’s are different in that they have a stronger malt presence and therefore more of a balance between hop bitterness and malty sweetness, which allows for the aromatic notes of citrus, floral, pine, spice, and tropical fruit to be displayed more prominently.

Here at Legion, our flagship best-seller is Juicy Jay, our East Coast IPA. Our brewers wanted to highlight the hop flavor and aroma of an East Coast IPA, rather than the bitterness. Juicy Jay showcases Mosaic, El Dorado and Cascade hops that combine to create a hop-forward, clean and refreshing flavor profile.

As I mentioned earlier, the citrus flavor and aroma in many IPA’s comes from the hops themselves, not citrus adjuncts –and Juicy Jay is no exception. My favorite part of pouring at events around Charlotte is telling people that there’s no grapefruit or mango in Juicy Jay, it’s just the hops. The expression on their face says it all.

At the outset of this post I told you that I have a lot of respect for this style of beer. Maybe I’m a beer nerd at heart, but how amazing is it that our brewers can manipulate hops to mimic a citrus fruit so closely that people assume we’ve added it to the brew.  If you haven’t tried Juicy Jay, you’re seriously missing out. For lack of a better word, this beer is awesome.

Our IPA blog post comes with perfect timing. This Saturday, August 5th, is Legion’s 2nd annual IPA Fest. We’ve got dozens of Charlotte-area breweries coming out to pour their IPAs and celebrate the history of this awesome beer style. Now that you’re an IPA expert, grab a ticket ($15 online, $20 at the door) and come taste, share and celebrate these awesome beers.