The effervescent golden liquid passes over your tongue as you experience a deep, comforting, malty sweetness. Suddenly, it transforms into a bright, earthy, springlike sensation that awakens your senses in a beautiful balancing act of flawless flavor. Or, you take a sip of beer and the bitterness makes you cringe in disgust. You reach for a Bud Light to wash away that lingering, toxic aftertaste.
These are the two most common reactions to India Pale Ales. As the cliche goes; you either love’m or hate’m. I am a member of the former, my wife the latter. I correlate the taste to spiciness. There is a strange pleasure I get from the “pain” or extremity of the flavor. To my wife, IPAs are simply virulent.
The mark of an IPA is its “hoppiness.” It earned its title during the English colonization of India. Brewers added extra alcohol and hops to their batches in order to keep the beer fresh during its long journey from Great Britain to the colonies. Lots of hops equals lots of bitterness and not everyone loves bitterness.
We all fall into one of three categories; nontaster, taster, and supertaster. To a supertaster, the flavor of an IPA is unbearable. Many believe this was a survival skill during the hunter-gatherer age of human evolution used to detect poisonous or rotting foods. I believe my wife falls into this category (you can find out with a simple test). To a nontaster, bitterness is simply a contrasting taste that adds depth to flavor. This describes me. However, flavor and taste can not be completely explained through science.
When a brewery brews a new batch of beer, it first arrives in the glasses of a tasting panel. During these tastings, the panel members discuss what you would expect; visuals, aromas, textures, and taste, but what may surprise you is their discussion of past experiences, the mood they are in, and the expectations they have before even drinking the beer. There is a very real psychological aspect to flavor. I have a friend who was forced to eat eggs everyday as a kid. Guess what — he can’t even stand the smell of them anymore without becoming naucious.
There are many reasons the IPA is so controversial among the craft beer community. You may be on the side of those who can’t stand them because you come from a proud line of supertaster cavemen or because you have reoccurring nightmares of your mom forcing you to finish those bitter brussel sprouts on your dinner plate. Maybe you love them due to your dull palate resulting from a broken nose received while playing football so the only things you can enjoy are on the extreme ends of the flavor spectrum (my actual situation).
Where do you stand? Do you love or hate the infamous India Pale Ale?