In American craft brewing, IPAs reign supreme
The quest for top honors in American craft brewing has come here, to a hotel ballroom marked “restricted access.”
More than 140 bottles of American-style India Pale Ale sit stacked in donated Bud Light and King Cobra boxes, labors of hop love brewed by a cast of characters that includes an organic chemist, a man with a grim reaper tattoo and a guy who wants to make a beer that tastes like orange sherbet mixed with hot fudge ice cream.
Over the next nine hours, beer identified only by number will get sniffed, scrutinized, swallowed and spit out by judges at the 29th annual Great American Beer Festival, the world’s largest beer competition.
Only one American-style IPA will win gold, making it the craft beer equivalent of winning “American Idol.” Since 2001, no other contest category has been as competitive. “Every brewer wants this one,” as one judge put it.
It’s a simple case of supply and demand: the IPA’s popularity is soaring among brewers and drinkers alike, a testament to a maturing American beer palate and this country’s rich supply of hops in the Pacific Northwest.
“As you go through the journey of beer education and appreciation, hops and big hoppy character are something most people eventually gravitate toward,” said Greg Koch, CEO of Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido, Calif., a pioneer of the style. “They are just extraordinarily satisfying on the palate. Words almost fail for me. I feel like waxing poetic, and then my eyes sort of get soft. It’s a romantic subject for me.”