Outside from my admittedly strange “I have to order it if a waiter tells me they put a fried egg on it” rule, the only other habit—read guilty pleasure—I have when going out for a bite is immediately asking what IPAs they have on tap. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, before they can ask if I want water—it’s 100 degrees outside; of course I want water—I ask about their India Pale Ales.
And I'm not alone; recent market studies show that IPAs are more popular than ever. Last year, IPAs were the third most-purchased craft beer style behind seasonals and witbiers, making up 12.1 percent of U.S. craft beer sales. "What’s more," Nielsen Newswire recently reported, "IPAs were the second-largest driver of craft growth in 2013, accounting for 16.8 percent of craft growth." The style is exceptionally popular in Houston—as roundup of our local IPAs demonstrates—as the crisp beer is quite refreshing in our hot, humid climate.
For those non-beer drinkers, a short history: Originally English beers from the 19th century, IPAs were relatively light ales that, over time, gained notoriety for their big hoppy (read: bitter and resin-y) flavors. Rumors have it that the extra hops were introduced to allow it to survive the long voyage to India. Science says the extra long voyage continued the attenuation and fermentation, an accidental discovery at the time. But history shows it was simply beer-makers exploring new brews and catering to their customers' palates.
Today, you can find a wide range of IPAs, often measured by their hop count (IPA, double IPA), by the malts' region (English IPA, Belgian IPA, East Coast IPA, West Coast IPA) or the type or roast of the malt (red IPA, black IPA). While the East Coast usually favors and brews malty, spicy IPAs, the West Coast leans towards hop-heavy creations.
Then there are Texas IPAs. Like many of the breweries and microbreweries taking over the Houston and Texas beer scene, and like the general approach to style in this city, we tend to get an amalgamation of styles and influences. And like so much of what we do, we tend to overdo as well. Many of the IPAs you find dotting Houston are actually darker IPAs (using heavily-roasted malts over lightly roasted malts) or Double IPAs (IPAs loaded up on both hops and malts).
And this is the way I like it. Some beer lovers find IPAs too filling, overpowering, or just utterly offensive. I, however, find them to be both perfect on their own, and great when paired with a hearty burger, meaty, or herb-heavy pizza, or any number of hearty vegetable dishes—think vegetable stew. And black IPAs are one of the few beers that pairs perfectly with game.
One of my favorite Houston IPAs is Karbach Brewing's Rodeo Clown. This double IPA is intense in all respects, but done perfectly so. Their Hopadillo is great too, with the same intensity of Rodeo Clown, but a truer IPA with a lighter taste.
Saint Arnold, of course, offers up a couple of IPAs as well: Elissa and Endeavor, a double IPA with a full hop flavor and a crisp body—another one of my favorites. Rounding out the pack: Hopston from 8th Wonder Brewery; Don’t Fear the RIPA, Double Buffalo, Meer Koebel, and Ginger Citrus IPA from Buffalo Bayou Brewery; Breakaway IPA from Cycler's Brewing; Lightning IPA and Phat DJ IPA from Fort Bend Brewing Co.; Eleven Amp IPA and Mint IPA from No Label; Valkyrie from Southern Star; and the famed Yellow Rose from Lone Pint, to name a few—or most.
Just be careful if you decide to go on an IPA testing adventure. They tend to have a very high ABV, so just a few IPAs can knock you on your butt—a lot quicker than that bland, tasteless American adjunct lager you’ve been guzzling all these years.