Monday, November 10, 2014

Garrett Oliver on IPLs and style creep.

Before posting yesterday's piece —Drinking, Again! What the heck is an IPL?— I first ran its leitmotif 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.

He posted a comment, which, as would be expected, he wrote in concise and witty fashion, addressing both the specific point and a general, more pernicious, point. Here it is (reprinted with his permission):

The "style creep" thing has gotten beyond ridiculous, and it's now doing real damage to American craft beer. Five or six years ago, you could talk about IPA and everyone knew what you were talking about. Now I have people who are new to craft beer walking up to me and saying "well, if the word 'India' means 'hoppy', and IPA can be white, or black, or a lager, or sour....what does 'IPA' mean?" And I'll tell you the answer....very soon, it'll mean nothing.

Nomenclature is power. Ask the French, who can walk into any kitchen in the world and say "make me a Hollandaise sauce" and get precisely what they wanted. And can get paid more for Champagne than it often deserves. And that cultural power, which we had in our hands, is being systematically trashed by people who say "whatever, who cares?" If you care about the future of craft beer, you ought to care about this.

If you invent a new style, that's awesome. If it's delicious, I'll be the first in line to drink it. But have some self-respect and apply that same creativity to the invention of a distinct name. And maybe 100 years from now a category at GABF will carry the name you made up. Wouldn't that be crazy cool? C'mon, be a real brewer, make some history.

"IPL?" I mean, please.

I'll drink to that ... with a hoppy American lager.


'Craft' brewers use the word "India" as a virtual stand-in synonym for "America" and American hops — 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.
Drinking, again! What the heck is an IPL?


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Tom. Oliver made a similar statement at the beer writing Symposium earlier this year, noting that American beer people are also ruining the mystery of beer by always talking about oddly specific things: yeast strains, hop types, mash temperatures. He pointed out that wine people don't do this, don't ramble on about tannins or how long a certain vintage sat in barrels, and it keeps wine accessible to the people who don't understand all the industry minutiae.

    We're alienating people, whether through muddling of definitions, exclusivity, or through an inability to see just how far out we are geeking.

  2. Whether we like it or not, IP(A) has become only a descriptor, pretty much what what Stout originally was, and it's nothing new.

    On a side note, I get the impression that Oliver is contradicting himself a bit at the end of his comment.

  3. Every time I see IPL mentioned, I think people are talking about the cricket...


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