Beer – Beyond the pale

For a simple drinking beverage, beer sure throws up an awful lot of conundrums, contradictions and confusion, none more so than the IPA.

The humble India Pale Ale, to address it in the correct manner, is possibly now one of the most widely drunk craft beer styles in Aotearoa.

What’s in a name? Well so the story goes that, in the late 18th century, a style of beer was developed for export to British troops in India. Bronze to amber-red in colour, it was initially believed to be highly hopped, bitter and strong in alcohol, but this is hotly debated these days. However, what is not contested is that these beers were the birth of the modern IPA. But when is an IPA not an IPA? Well, when it’s an APA of course, or just a PA.

Yep, now we even have NZ IPA and a prime example of this variety is brewed in Warkworth at 8 Wired Brewing. Hopwired NZ IPA is a huge tropical punchbowl of a beer and the most popular beer on the local brewery’s roster. It showcases New Zealand grown and developed hops to a spectacular degree. Hops are what make the major difference when it comes to determining the flavours a pale ale, or any beer for that matter, will exhibit. When 8 Wired originally brewed this beer they did so in a small batch of 1000 litres. Today it is exported around the world. Soren Eriksen of 8 Wired claims that probably 50 per cent of the beer that they produce is of the pale ale style. Local brewers Sawmill Brewery and Mcleod’s both offer three or more beers in a pale ale style.

You may have noticed by now that I am referring to our subject matter as just pale ale. After discussions with several brewers, beer aficionados, beer geeks and dedicated taste testers, we came to a general consensus regarding the difference between an American Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, NZ Pale Ale, New Zealand India Pale Ale, American India Pale Ale and a simple Pale Ale… Hops. And after all this, we were certain about one thing. There is nothing simple about a pale ale!

A quick look around the internet and one can find pale ales from Belgium, England, America, West Coast, East Coast, Black IPAs, White IPAs…didn’t actually see one from India though. Some beers even call themselves India Pale Ales when they’re not; such is the clamour to be part of this roguish and bitter family of beers.

What we do know is that this much loved style rewards the drinker with a stunning array of aromas and flavours that vary from beer to beer. From citrus to lychee, from caramel to chocolate, this beer style offers so much to be appreciated and debated. Try a local India Pale Ale next time you are in a good beer bar or brewery and enjoy slowly. Just don’t ask for an Ippah!