Sunday, November 09, 2014

Drinking, again! What the heck is an IPL?

You might think that American 'craft' beer brewers had re-written history. Christopher Columbus did not err, they seem to claim. He really did discover a passage to India by sailing west. How so?

As those brewers should have learned in school, Hispaniola, where Columbus beached, was not in India, but in, what came to be known as, the Americas. But that impertinent fact doesn't deter them from designating the word "India" as a synonym stand-in for "America" and American hops — in the so-called India Pale Ale (more commonly referred to only by its acronym, IPA). Then, they heap modifiers upon modifiers upon the term, suffocating it to near-meaninglessness. Meaningless, that is, other than this one thing: lots and lots of American, not Indian, hops. A non-'craft' beer drinker could be excused for her confusion.

Here's a (very) incomplete look at the American India Pale Ale lexicon.
  • IPA (India Pale Ale)
        an ale with lots of American hops.
  • Imperial IPA
        an IPA with even more American hops and
        even higher alcohol levels.
  • White IPA
        an IPA with lots of spices.
  • Black IPA
        an oxymoronically-named black ale, simultaneously pale ...
        but with lots of American hops.
  • Belgian IPA
        an American-made IPA, fermented with
        ester-producing yeasts.
  • Session IPA
        a lower alcohol pale ale with lots of American hops.
And, now comes this thing: IPL, standing for India Pale Lager. What the heck is that?

Gridlock IPL

These so-called IPLs might indeed be lagers but they are not made in India, and they are not made with hops from India. (Are there Indian hop cultivars?)

Industrial lagers that are brewed in India now —such as Kingfisher (also made in in the U.S. for the U.S. market)— are adjunct-laden, non-hoppy beers. What do they have to do with American hops? Nothing. Alcohol-strong, hop-heavy lagers may have been, at some earlier time, exported to or imported from India, but, if so, where is the historical record of that? Show me the record. Ah, I don't think there is one.

Extrapolating an explanation from the result, an IPL, tasty or not, is apparently a hoppy lager, made in America, with American hops, and lots of them. No India in the story. It's another historically inaccurate, geographically challenged, and 'craft'-lazy use of the word "India" as noun-adjective, when what is meant is "America(n)." And how long before there is a contradiction-tugged BLACK India PALE Lager to mirror the Black IPA?

Truth in advertising, 'craft' brewers. Say "American." Be proud of it. Why not simply call a heavily hopped American lager a Hoppy American Lager, or HAL, for short? Or is 'craft' not dependent on truth?



To be fair to the Gridlock India Pale Lager pictured above, it did not create this silliness, but simply followed along. It is an enjoyable beer, a 'collaboration' between Mad Fox Brewing (Falls Church, Virginia) and DuClaw Brewing (Baltimore, Maryland).

Had I not been aware of it being a lager, I might have described Gridlock as a hoppy deep golden pale ale, fermented with a neutral-ester-producing ale yeast. There's a whiff of sulfur in the nose (a prior knowledge observation?), with some crackery-malt and soapy hops. Things pick up in the flavor, where piney hops predominate, with some tropical fruit character in the background. Good finish: hoppy, long, and dry. Good head retention. 5% alcohol-by-volume. It's brewed and bottled at DuClaw.

  • The bottle of Gridlock was bottled in late October 2014, and purchased at a wine/bottle shop in northern Virginia, in early November.
  • Before posting this, I first ran the idea through a Facebook and Twitter filter to gauge response. Little did I expect to hear from Garrett Oliver, beer-author and brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewing Company, but I did. Here.
  • Drinking , Again is a series of occasional reviews of beer (and wine and spirits). No scores; only descriptions.
  • Graphic created by Mike Licht at NotionsCapital.


  1. "India" meaning "hoppy" is no sillier or illogical than "imperial" to mean "strong". Not everything needs to be rational or prescriptive, and the term "IPA ceased meaning one thing a long time ago, decades before American homebrewers decided to define it.

    I'll see Mr Oliver's "Hollandaise sauce" and raise him an "action movie". Do we really want a nightmare scenario where all action films are made to the same formula? Oh wait...

  2. A solid observation. Technically, an "India Pale Ale" doesn't deserve the name unless it was put in a barrel and sent to India on a sailing ship. Today's Craft product bears little or no relation to that original type - even Bass is probably closer, though they quietly dropped the "India" designation from their labeling some years ago.


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