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The Difference Between India Pale Ale and American Pale Ale

Any time you think of an American IPA or American Pale Ale, they have their roots in another country. Both ales are British island styles that made their way over to the U.S.

The Difference Between India Pale Ale and American Pale Ale

Brewers are pushing the boundaries of American Pale Ale and India Pale Ale like never before, bringing these two styles of ales closer together where the alcohol by volume (ABV) percent hits 6. American Pale Ale has a soft, palatable and not-so-bitter taste, with an ABV between 5 and 6 percent. India Pale Ale has a stronger, hoppier taste with an ABV between 6 and 10 percent.

There are many genres of specialty IPAs. The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) recognizes Belgian IPA, Black IPA, Brown IPA, Red IPA, Rye IPA and White IPA as different avenues with which brewers can experiment within the IPA style. Other authorities recognize Fruited IPA, New England IPA and Session IPA, which retains IPA’s hop-forward flavor while providing a lower ABV range between 3.2 and 4.6. APAs do not have distinguished categories but feature a wide range of flavors including malty, hoppy, wheaty and sweet.

The BJCP classifies American Pale Ale as a Pale American Ale, with vital stats of OG 1.045 – 1.060, IBUs 30– 50, FG 1.010 – 1.015, SRM 5 – 10; and ABV of 4.5 – 6.2 percent. Commercial examples include Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, 3 Floyds Zombie Dust, and Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale.

The BJCP classifies India Pale Ale as a modern American IPA. The organization groups English IPAs with other English-derived beers. The organization groups Double IPAs, which are brewed with more hops than typical IPAs, with Strong American Ales. There is a spectrum of vital stats for IPA subcategories. Vital stats for an American IPA are OG 1.056 – 1.070, IBUs 40 – 70, FG 1.008 – 1.014, SRM 6 – 14, and ABV 5.5 – 7.5 percent. Commercial examples include Alpine Duet and Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA.

APAs and IPAs share a common heritage.

“Any time you think of an American beer, that beverage has its roots in another country. Both ales are British island styles that made their way over to the U.S.,” said Andy Sparhawk, Craft Beer Program Web Manager for the Brewers Association, a trade organization dedicated to promoting the interests of craft breweries and homebrewers.

Andy Sparhak holding a glass of American IPA
“Any time you think of an American IPA or American Pale Ale, they have their roots in another country. Both ales are British island styles that made their way over to the U.S.,” said Andy Sparhawk, Craft Beer Program Web Manager for the Brewers Association.

Sparhawk said APAs often showcase American hops called the “C hops:” Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, and Columbus. A more recent inclusion into the “C hop” category is Citra, which is featured in a multitude of IPAs and APAs that are being brewed today. IPA brewers also use C hops, but are experimenting with additional varieties, including Ekuanot (equinox), Simcoe and Strata hops.

“This has resulted in many varieties of IPAs with a tropical, fruity note. Fortunately the bitterness arms race of the mid 2000s has gone away. We’re seeing IPAs lending a softer mouthfeel with juicy and/or hazy IPAs, and a super dry finish (in) Brut IPAs,” said Sparhawk.

Chris Baker, head brewer for Mother Earth Brew Co., said APAs have moved away from crisp bitterness from crystal malts towards a more balanced profile between hop and malt flavors.

“The days of copper-hued, malt-forward pales with subtle grapefruit and pine notes have given way to more punchy, tropical and stone fruit-flavored APAs. APAs are now much like IPAs but more approachable to drinkers who are making the transition from light, flavorless styles,” said Baker.

Phil Young, a member of the brewing team at Hill Farmstead Brewery, said individual beers can defy expectations. Hill Farmstead brews an American Pale Ale called Edward with a 5 to 5.2 percent ABV.  

Hill Farmstead Brewery
Many hoppy American beers defy expectations, such as Hill Farmstead's lightly funky American Pale Ale called Edward with a 5 to 5.2 percent ABV.  
(Photo Courtesy Hill Farmstead Brewery/Bob Montgomery)

“The goal with Edward was a very hoppy beer with low alcohol content. It was brewed long before anyone had named a beer a Session IPA. There should be no Session IPA. That’s just a way of co-opting the three magic letters of ‘IPA,’” said Young.

Michael Uhrich, chief economist for the Beer Institute, a lobbying group for domestic and international brewers, said he thinks IPAs differ from APAs in that they are stronger and use more barley. Sometimes IPAs involve more instances of hops being added throughout the boil.

“IPAs are difficult to pin down. In the last 10 years, there has been an explosion of interest in IPAs, with a lot of specialty IPAs diversifying into substyles. In addition, with the hundreds of varieties of hops now being used, a lot of variation can come out. American hop varieties have citrus and pine notes. They’re very aromatic. European hop varieties are floral and herbal, a little softer,” said Uhrich, who is also a certified Cicerone.

Scott Ungermann, brewmaster for Anchor Brewing Co., said Anchor’s Liberty Ale® is a good way to understand how IPAs came to diverge from APAs.

“Liberty Ale® is the forefather of all IPAs. It has an ABV of 5.9 percent, so it’s on the border between APAs and IPAs. We still make it according to the original recipe. Fritz Maytag, the former owner of Anchor Brewing, recreated a dry hopped English Pale Ale using full cone Cascade hops in a secondary aging tank,” said Ungermann.

In 2013, Anchor started making other beers that could be easily classified as IPAs.

“That’s when we modified our method of dry hopping to make more hop-forward pale ales and IPAs, including our new Fogbreaker IPA and Baykeeper IPA,” said Ungermann.

Anchor Brewing Co
Anchor Brewing Co., led by founder Fritz Maytag, was a pioneering brewery in terms of crafting IPAs and American Pale Ales. Now, the brewery continues to push boundaries with new releases such as Baykeeper IPA.

If you want to distinguish APAs and IPAs, know that you have many tastings ahead of you. The enduring popularity of both styles motivate craft brewers to experiment.

APAs are generally medium-bodied, have a deep gold to light brown color and feature a toasty and malty flavor profile. IPAs have a wider spectrum, with colors ranging from gold to dark, clarity ranging from clear to hazy and flavor that can be fruity, spicy or roasty. There are Black IPAs with a dark color and a creamy mouthfeel, Rye IPAs with an amber color and a dry mouthfeel and Red IPAs with a red-brown color and smooth mouthfeel.

As you get a taste of what you like, know that brewers are always testing out new hop varieties and brewing methods.

Next year’s India Pale Ales and American Pale Ales might be unrecognizable from this year’s, as brewers continue to explore and experiment with new hop varietals and interesting ingredients.

Beer drinkers’ desire for these two styles will likely not abate any time soon, so expect to see these styles be on shelves for the long haul.

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