Intro to IPAs for noobs
May 22, 2010 4:20 PM   Subscribe

BeerFilter: I usually like bitter things, but I can't get into IPAs. Please explain them to me in very small words. (Bonus points for recommending interesting ones to try in the New England area.)

I can get into pretty much every other variety of beer, and I love really dark beers. IPAs are a mystery. I get that they're an acquired taste, but I'm having a hard time getting past the soapy flavor. It makes the ones I've tried seem one-dimensional (all! hops! all! the! time!) even when I suspect there's more to them. I probably haven't tried enough to give them a fair shake, but the soapiness is nuts.

Does the acclimation process consist of eventually no longer feeling that they taste soapy, or of accepting that soapiness is an interesting flavor? Or am I doomed to never like IPAs? That would be sad.

(I)PAs I've already tried:
-- Great Lakes Burning River
-- Ithaca Beer Co Cascazilla
-- Saranac Pale Ale
posted by dorque to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
As a former IPA hater, I recommend Long Trail's IPA. Also, Magic Hat's #9 is a nice IPA-ish beer without all the bitterness.
posted by youcancallmeal at 4:29 PM on May 22, 2010

I felt the same way, but I really like New Belgium's new Ranger. It came in one of the variety packs. It isn't crazy bitter.
posted by almostmanda at 4:32 PM on May 22, 2010

I think Wolaver's IPA is a nice, mild IPA and pretty fruity. Harpoon IPA is worth a taste as well.
posted by pintapicasso at 4:34 PM on May 22, 2010

I don't drink beer any more (look through my past questions for an interesting explanation), but Mrs. Quizicalcoatl absolutely swears by Long Trail IPA and Magic Hat #9, so I guess she would 2nd youcancallmeal.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 4:36 PM on May 22, 2010

I think you'd be better off narrowing down the kind of hop flavor that puts you off. There are a great many varieties. I personally really like beers with Cascade (Longhammer IPA), Centennial (Bell's Two Hearted) or Simcoe (New Belgium Ranger). The best way to narrow it down is to try them!

I'd go to a good beer shop where you can make a mixed 6 pack. Try all the IPAs you can find, then follow up on their websites to see which kinds of hops you like.
posted by sanka at 4:37 PM on May 22, 2010

Hm, I've never perceived IPAs as soapy. Perhaps this situation is similar to that with cilantro, in that some people like its flavor and others find it repulsive and having a distinctive soapy flavor. If that's the case, I guess you could learn to love soapy beer, but I think (at least for cilantro) that this flavor perception has been found to be genetically-determined.

There are some IPAs, though, that go really overboard with the hops, like it's some kind of contest to see who can make the most bitter beer. I've had a few unhappy experiences. I do like Flying Dog Brewery's Snake Dog IPA.
posted by indubitable at 4:38 PM on May 22, 2010

IPAs are my favorite beers. I really love the flavor of hops, shit tons of hops. But everybody's tastes are different. I know a lot of people who really don't like, you know, it's cool if you don't like the taste. I really don't like stouts, honestly.

Anyway, good ones to try that I think you might be able to get:
-Lagunitas IPA
-Ninkasi IPA
-Dogfish Head
-Bridgeport IPA
-Pyramid Thunderhead

I don't really like it, but I agree with youcancallmeal that Magic Hat #9 might be a good one to start with, because it's sort of sweet and maybe doesn't have so much of the soapy flavor you're experiencing.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:42 PM on May 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

The American microbrewed IPA is a style that's all about hops. The more extreme ones can definitely be one-dimensional. If you don't like hops, you're probably not going to like IPAs. There is a lot of variation to be found, though -- a Dogfish Head 60 minute and a Stone IPA (two of my favorites) are both predominantly hoppy, but in very different ways.

I found this question a little odd though, because I drink IPAs all the time (I am drinking one right now) and would never have thought to describe them as "soapy." To me, hops can be bitter, spicy, citrusy, floral, piney, and marijuana-y, but I don't get the soapiness. Google indicates that you aren't the only one who's come up with that description, though.

In any case, besides trying different brews, I think homebrewing is a great way to learn to appreciate the subtleties of beer. It's very easy to get into, and when you've handled each ingredient in its pure form and participated in the whole process, you get a deeper enjoyment of the individual elements that make up the finished product.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:49 PM on May 22, 2010

Man, life's too short. If you don't like IPAs, that's fine. There are a million other kinds of beer that you do love. All those IPA drinkers just means that there's more of the good stuff for you.
posted by chrisamiller at 4:50 PM on May 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you can ever get your hands on Pliny the Elder, it's a beer that's been known to start bridezilla-esque brawls.

Having said that, there's no shame in having a kind of beer you don't like that much. There are tons of beer lovers who have the same issues you do. For me it's wheat beer, I just can't get into it. C'est la guerre I suppose.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 4:50 PM on May 22, 2010

I don't know much about the varieties of IPA, but I know I don't like them alone - I only like them with super greasy food. They are awesome with onion rings! Pairings may help you acquire a taste.
posted by ansate at 4:51 PM on May 22, 2010

Seconding sanka that you need to figure out which type of hops flavor is problematic for you. There are a number of varieties out there. If you think you like citrusy hops, try a Brooklyn Blast Double IPA or a Moylans Hopsickle Triple IPA. Note that there are several sub-varieties of Dogfish Head. All have their strengths. See if you can try them side by side.

It'd also help if you told us what state you're in, so some of us with knowledge about what breweries distribute where can be of more use. If you're in NY like I am, the Bell's and New Belgium suggestions aren't exactly useful :)

Re: ludwig_van's mention of "marijuana-y", if you're into that sort of thing, drop some bank into trying the Oskar Blues Gubna which runs something like $AnArm.ALeg per can but is delicious and with overtones of beer geek hype! *cough*
posted by knile at 4:51 PM on May 22, 2010

It'd also help if you told us what state you're in

Oh, right. I'm in NY.
posted by dorque at 4:57 PM on May 22, 2010

I like Racer 5. It's an IPA that's pretty easy to find here in Oakland, and it changed my perspective on IPAs, which I used to describe as tasting like "mosquito repellent." I was told its hop is "floral," and sure enough, as I breathed in the smell of the beer before taking a drink, it truly did smell like flowers. Since then, I've noticed that not all hops are floral, and so Racer 5 has definitely remained a favorite.
posted by slidell at 4:58 PM on May 22, 2010

I'm not sure if it's going to be available in your neck of the woods, but Bell's Two Hearted Ale is really good. It has a very flower-like hop flavor, and really might be my favorite beer, despite my not being a huge IPA fan. Give it a try of you can find it.
posted by pullayup at 4:58 PM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I like hops, but I'm not particularly a fan of the super-hoppy beers everyone's making now (I am one of the naysayers on Bell's Hopslam). I did, however, love Avery's Maharaja. Everyone says it's excellent and they're all absolutely right.

May not necessarily help you, but Mikkeller is doing a line of single-hop brews right now. They are pricey, but they may be a good way to identify which hops you do and do not like (you may be able to find them on tap and be able to sample them cheaply at a nice bar).

Dogfish Head's 60 Minute IPA is a good one, but do note that Dogfish seems to use the same hops throughout all its beers -- if you don't like them, you're probably not going to like their beers.

And seriously, despite their popularity, it's totally cool to not like IPAs. I think they're kind of fading in favor, and lots of us are moving onto sour beers (so start liking those and be totally ahead of the curve).
posted by darksong at 5:06 PM on May 22, 2010

I lovelovelove IPAs. But once in a great while, I will get served a glass of one of my standby favorites, and it will taste nasty and, yes, soapy. I've always just figured that sometimes there is a bad batch, or the keg gets old, or the glass had some sort of residue in it. Now that you say you find IPAs soapy, I wonder if there is an ingredient that sits on the line between tasting good and tasting soapy, and you are just more sensitive to it?

The only way to be sure would be to taste a bunch of IPAs and see if the taste is a constant. I don't know if the breweries I tend to drink from here are available out your way (I'm thinking of Full Sail, Terminal Gravity, Ice Harbor, and others), but I don't see how you can go wrong by trying the IPA offerings of the breweries you trust for other beers and comparing how they taste. Some are very sweet and floral; others are ridiculously hoppy; most that I've tried from local breweries here sit in the happy middle ground with solid flavor and a nicely balanced bitterness.
posted by Forktine at 5:37 PM on May 22, 2010

I'm a relatively recent (I)PA convert. I avoided them after drinking one too many extremely hopped IPAs (the smuttynose ipa finished it). Over the past couple of months, I've been pushing myself to rediscover the wonders of hops.

With hops, there can be two problems: the hops can have a flavor that you don't like, or there can just be too much of them. So my recommendation would be to: A) try some hoppy beers that aren't IPAs. My two current favorites for this (as in both are in my fridge right now) are Victory Prima Pils and Green Flash Hop Head Red ale. B) Try as many (I)PAs as you can. Find a good beer store nearby that sells singles or bombers and buy and try. I really like Stone's pale ale and IPA, but they are pretty pungent. Dogfish 60 minute and Sweetwater extra pale ale have passed through our kitchen recently and were tasty but milder. If you buy a bunch of different ones, expect to dump a few. No reason to be ashamed. Give em all a solid chance, but don't be afraid to decide against one or all of them. Just don't drink another one right after. Cleanse the pallet with a pabst or something (alt suggestion: brooklyn summer ale).

One additional note: you don't drink really hoppy beers the same way you drink a pabst. Set aside some time to drink the beer. It will warm up during this period which will allow subtler flavors to come through. If you are finding the beer particularly strong or dry, it can be nice to have a glass of water alongside the beer. Some purists might dismiss this, but I think it can be useful.
posted by yeoldefortran at 6:09 PM on May 22, 2010

You might find it interesting, if you have any home brew friends, to taste fresh wort right before it is put in the carboy for fermentation. You will find it sickeningly sweet and say to yourself "This really needs some hops to cut the sweetness." It might give you a new point of view about hops and beer.
posted by JackFlash at 6:09 PM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding slidell's recommendation for Racer 5. It is a Northern California microbrew, but it's been all over the place lately. I'm guessing based on your posting history and the fact you've tried Cascazilla (which isn't really an IPA methinks), that you're in Ithaca. Racer 5 is usually on tap at the Chapter House, which always has a great beer selection anyway, so I would check that out. In my experience, the bartender there is always happy to give samples if they aren't slammed (course it's senior week, so I'm sure no one is in the mood to drink ;). It's also on tap at the Ithaca Ale House in the Commons according to their website. I also like the Ithaca Flower Power IPA if it's around.

I'm only in town for another week, but Ithaca IPA meetup anybody? :-)
posted by zachlipton at 7:12 PM on May 22, 2010

I am also not a big fan of IPAs, but Harpoon IPA is one of my favorite beers. I was served it at a bar without realizing it was an IPA, by the time I realized I was hooked. It's a staple for me when I'm in Boston.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:16 PM on May 22, 2010

You could try Nugget Nectar from Troeg's Brewing. It's sort of a malty take on an IPA., and hands down my favorite beer. The maltiness adds a sweetness that balances out the bitterness of the hops. Unfortunately, it's a seasonal in VA as we only get in early Spring and it's sold out within a week or two. I believe it is brewed all year (In Philly I think) so you might have better access to it in NY.
posted by COD at 7:47 PM on May 22, 2010

I have hated every IPA I've ever tasted, except for Dogfishhead 60 (and 90). The brewer doesn't just dump in the hops, he's got some process so you get a really multidimensional flavor.
posted by gjc at 7:53 PM on May 22, 2010

I was tempted to suggest Nugget Nectar too, but not everybody classifies it as an IPA. The seemingly endless supply of it here in Rochester dried up a while back, so it may not be available where you are, dorque.

(Consarnit, zachlipton! I don't have time for a meetup this week but I wish we'd combined our IPA/MeFi/FLX love sooner!)
posted by knile at 8:45 PM on May 22, 2010

You're in NY! Southern Tier is amazing. Their IPA is great and their 2X IPA is ... twice as great. For a strong IPA, the 2X is not that bitter and extremely floral; IMO it's one of the very best classic American "you want hops? I'll give you hops" IPAs.
posted by mindsound at 8:57 PM on May 22, 2010

Bell's Two Hearted Ale is my favorite beer. Very hoppy, but very round and deep. Try it!
posted by 3FLryan at 10:04 PM on May 22, 2010

I'm a big fan of Smuttynose brewery in New Hampshire, and their IPA is one of my favorites. "Finestkind," as the old guy on the label says.
posted by emelenjr at 10:33 PM on May 22, 2010

I like bitter things (black coffee! brussels sprouts!) but I don't like pronounced hoppiness, and would not only agree with your description of "soapy," but would add "ammonia-y."

Bell's makes really, really well-balanced beers that surprise me. Sly Fox, too.
posted by desuetude at 11:11 PM on May 22, 2010

God, ignore the Magic Hat #9 recommendations unless you can't handle real beer flavor at all. If you can, I would recommend avoiding it.

My start with IPA's, which I love, started with pale ale, but graduated with Deschutes Brewery's Inversion IPA when that was all I had to drink. It was either that or not have any beer. I would recommend trying a lot of different types of IPA, but to me at least it comes down to liking coffee, you either like it or you don't, or you acquire your own taste for it.
posted by Carillon at 12:29 AM on May 23, 2010

Agree with the Magic Hat sentiment.

If you are turned off by IPAs you've probably been drinking massively unbalanced beers that aren't really getting it right. Try Ridgeway (its a british IPA) if you can find it. If you're in Western MA, Table and Vine is the place to find it. Also Bluebird Bitter. Its not an IPA, it is much milder.

Hops added at different times give different flavors (and different hops), so keep trying. Laguinitas is one of my favorite go-tos for IPA. A lot of my friends like Racer 5 but they're more hop heads. I'd try "British Bitter" style, or regular Pale Ales from a few people and read the label - what are the kettle hops, dry hops, etcetera. You'll start to get a taste for things.

BTW: Brooklyn just released Sorachi Ace ale - brilliant Sorachi Ace hop flavor. Oh yes, and Everything Southern Tier makes is amazing. But they're always huge on alcohol and flavor, so beware if you want something milder to get you hooked :)
posted by debaser42 at 1:49 AM on May 23, 2010

My go-to IPAs lately are Sierra Nevada's Torpedo and Dogfish's Shelter Pale Ale. The Torpedo is about as IPA as IPA can get. Shelter Pale is a lighter ale, not India, so less hoppy and more user friendly. If you don't like either one of those, you probably aren't going to like IPAs in general and I'd forget it and start looking at Hefewiezens, which are perfectly lovely in summer.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:03 AM on May 23, 2010

Just to weigh in, I also dislike Magic Hat's line, but I also dislike Belgians and white beers like Allagash. I do like really intense beers like Arrogant Bastard and almost everything from Dogfish except that weird peach thing they do, and stouts and porters. So maybe something to consider is what flavor palette you like in general and see if there's something in the IPA realm that suits you and if not, disregard IPAs.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:06 AM on May 23, 2010

You'll probably have to wait until next February, because it's highly seasonal, but I used to be convinced that I didn't like IPAs until somebody handed me a Bell's Hopslam at a bar last night. It's sort of like going through the "too hoppy" tunnel and coming out the other side.
posted by jferg at 5:17 AM on May 23, 2010

Er...'one night', not 'last night'. Not awake yet.
posted by jferg at 5:18 AM on May 23, 2010

If you can find it, give the O'Fallon 5 Day IPA a try. It's got the intense flavor, but it's really thick and warm besides that. It turned me onto the genre, where I used to feel the way you do about it.
posted by invitapriore at 7:23 AM on May 24, 2010

I had a discussion about this with a few friends last night who are beer geeks. General consensus is that the current fad in American IPAs has led to some massively unbalanced beers.

I also like bitter things (100% dark chocolate, black coffee, black tea, etc..) and I really enjoy a lot of different types of beers (including Belgian lambics which are an decidedly acquired taste). I, however, absolutely loathe Cascade hops, which are the prevailing hop currently in use in most American IPAs. Obviously this is just me and many people enjoy them, but to me, they taste like a revolting combination of pine tar and mosquito repellent, and I can't get past that.

Some people are disgusted by the aroma of "moldy cellar" or "sweaty horse", which is a characteristic of many Belgians, particularly those brewed with "wild" yeasts, i.e. lambic. If that's the case, why bother trying to drink something your nose tells you is going to be horrible? The fun thing about beer is that there are so many varieties, you're bound to hit on something you like. Even "buttered popcorn" (malolactic fermentation?), which is considered a brewing fault in most artisan beers, is something many people like, which is why cheap Mexican beer remains popular.

IPAs don't necessarily have to smell and/or taste like freshly sawn pine boards (classic Cascade hops aroma), they just have to be "hoppy". Different hops impart different characteristic aromas. According to the beer geeks I talked to (several of whom do their own home brewing) they also really shouldn't be noticiably sweet, malty, or yeasty. I think the agreed upon IPA standard is a light, dry, bitter, refreshingly hoppy beer; good for drinking on a hot summer day. Some of the overly sweet, malty, and/or high gravity beers are sort of veering off-type, at least for classic IPA standards.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:29 AM on May 24, 2010

I Love IPA and agree with the previous post in that current microbrew standards of IPA are pretty loose. With that said, I like 'em hoppy, here are my faves:

Green Flash (absolutely stellar)
Stone IPA
Lagunitas IPA
Racer 5

But there are so many out there I have not had.

Enjoy the process.
posted by silsurf at 5:55 PM on May 25, 2010

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