Don’t like IPAs? Let’s talk about it.

Full disclosure: The India Pale Ale, in general, is my favorite beer style. I love the aroma and taste of hops, from spice, to grass, to dried wood, to pine, to fruit. I love the way the juice of the barley balances out, but just can’t quite keep up with, that hoppy bitterness. It’s a sensory experience with many rewards, and I really can’t get enough. So when I hear people say they don’t like IPAs, it kind of hurts my feelings. I don’t take it personally, exactly, it’s just that I wonder — “Why don’t they enjoy these beauties as much as I do?”

I’ve done some thinking and some reading about this, and what I’ve learned is that maybe you don’t like what you’ve tried so far, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never like an IPA. Some beer for thought:

There are TONS of substyles in the IPA world

I’m not a big fan of Swiss cheese. But I don’t categorically say I don’t like cheese. I do like cheddar, gorgonzola, Havarti, and a whole bunch of other varities.

For example, West Coast IPAs are extremely hoppy. These are probably the ones you’ve had and didn’t like. They probably aren’t for everyone (though I’m a big fan). But is that all that’s out there? Of course not! Try an English IPA. It may have as little as half the bitterness of a West Coast IPA and that might change things for you. The latest fad of New England IPAs utilize hops in a different manner, and don’t put them in at the boil in a way that imparts as much bitterness. This substyle is more about hop flavor and aroma. They are often described as fruity, juicy and floral — none of that sounds bitter to me! A related substyle is the Milkshake IPA, which is similar to the NEIPA, but with milk sugar that doesn’t ferment and gives it more sweetness. Conversely, Brut IPAs use an enzyme to get rid of most of the residual, non-fermentable sugars so you get a dry, almost Champagne-like drinking experience accentuated with hop flavor. And I’m just scratching the surface. Try a few different kinds of IPAs, then make a judgment.

It can be an acquired taste

Do you drink coffee? If so, the first time you had coffee, were you super into it? I doubt it. Sometimes new and extreme (but worthwhile!) flavors take a little getting used to. It’s the same with hops. I remember drinking a Harpoon IPA around 2002 and thinking, “Why on earth would anyone want such a bitter beer?” Now look at me. You could give me a 100 IBU beer and I’d be like, “Think I can run this through the Randle and get it a little more hoppy?” Don’t sip one and throw away the idea of IPAs forever. Try a few, and try them a few times, then talk to me.

Some breweries make bad beer

Let’s face it. Not every brewery does a great job on all of their beers. Some do a routinely bad job on all of them (and don’t last), some do a great job on some, not so great on others, and some do a great job on everything they put out. We’re human. We’re not perfect. So it’s entirely possible the first time you tried an IPA it was just not a very well-crafted one. Maybe the balance wasn’t right. Maybe the hops were old and cheesy.

What’s even more likely is you were drinking a poorly preserved beer. Beer is like milk. It should be consumed as soon as possible and should always be kept cold. Sadly, distributors and retailers don’t always treat beer as well as they should, so it’s possible you got a skunked, oxidized, or infected beer. That happens way more often than you think. So don’t judge a whole style by one experience.

You might be doing it wrong

When I talk to my dad about beer, he always goes back to how he enjoys an extremely cold beer on an extremely hot day after physical labor. Sure. Whatever floats your boat. Do I recommend drinking a West Coast IPA at 38 degrees after a Crossfit workout in 100 degree weather? Heck no! That’s not what these beers are for. Drink your IPA at around 45 degrees. And don’t try to guzzle your IPA. It’s not water (unlike your Coors). These were made to sip and enjoy over conversation. It’s a similar difference between Vodka and Scotch. Shoot Vodka as much as you want; who sips that stuff? But you would never, ever shoot a good Scotch. It’s sort of not the point. Heck, you might even be genetically predisposed to not liking them!

Those beautiful bitters

While I would love it if everyone experienced the joy that I do when I get to cuddle up with an ultra-hoppy ale, I realize that that’s just unrealistic. Just because I know for a fact that Highlander is the greatest movie of all time, and per Ricky Bobby it won the Academy Award for Best Movie Ever, not everyone will agree with that assessment. Same with IPAs. Not everyone is going to enjoy them. But I hope that this article has at least given you something to chew on, and will maybe give you a little incentive to go out there, try some quality IPAs of various substyles, served by caring and passionate vendors, and see if you can’t join the Hopside. Go getchoo some!