So you’ve decided to take up homebrewing. You’ve bought starter equipment (or received a kit as a gift). You have a reference book or two. And you’ve obviously found the Craft Beer & Brewing website. You’ve used your acute need for bottles as justification for buying more beer. All that’s left is to pick a recipe and get to it.
So what will it be? Pale ale? Brown ale? Hefeweizen? Porter? All are good choices, for sure. But I’m here to advocate for IPA. It’s the ideal beginner beer and one you should seriously consider brewing for your first batch. Read on to find out why.
IPA is delicious and tastes best fresh.
Few styles match IPA for the variety of flavors available to the homebrewer. While experienced brewers coax complexity out of special yeasts, sugars, and malts, hops let anyone achieve phenomenal flavor with little effort.
Today’s hops range from herbal to grassy, resinous to citrusy, and fruity to berry-like. Look at some of the hops varietiesused in our IPA recipes. Simcoe packs a punch of citrus, pine, and berries, while Citra offers up notes of passion fruit, mango, and peaches. Amarillo conjures up orange groves, Nugget could be an herb garden, and Nelson Sauvin may very well moonlight as a white wine.
In addition, IPAs require very little aging. In fact, IPAs taste best fresh because hops aroma and flavor fade quickly. So when you make your first batch an IPA, you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labor much sooner than you could with a style that improves with time.
IPA is forgiving.
Experienced brewers would rarely recommend that you start with Munich Helles or barleywine. Light lagers such as Helles give you nothing to hide behind if your technique isn’t perfect. And potent styles such as barleywine present special fermentation challenges and require extended aging.
But IPA isn’t picky. It showcases robust hops character that can cover up many mistakes. When your beer features so many hops, you might not even notice the subtle bubblegum notes of a warm fermentation.
And unlike styles that rely on complex lists of specialty malts to achieve their unique personalities, IPA’s hops focus guarantees that you’ll make great beer with what’s available. Virtually all homebrewers enjoy ready access to pale malt (or pale extract) and caramel 40°L or 60°L, which are all you need to turn out a great IPA. In fact, when choosing malts for your India Pale Ale, simplicity is best.
IPA is versatile.
IPA has come a long way since those legendary casks sailed from London to Calcutta. Today’s IPA is more a spectrum than a style, and brewers are pushing the limits of what it can be. Try your own experiments. If your homebrew shop is out of Amarillo hops, try Centennial. And if they don’t have Centennial, try Citra. More than any other style, IPA uses malt as merely the canvas upon which you paint a hoppy masterpiece. And you have an immense hops palette at your disposal.
So if you’re just starting out in this rewarding hobby, sure, you can brew a pale ale. You can brew a brown. You can make a Hefeweizen. But for total flavor bang for your effort buck, IPA makes others pale in comparison.