India Pale Ale or IPA as it is more commonly known has long been one of my personal favorites. This style of beer has diverged into several styles recently. There are three officially recognized styles (English Style, American Style and Imperial or Double) and a fourth (California), which has yet to become official. In fact most of the development of the American IPA has occurred in the Pacific Region (California, Oregon and Washington).

The IPA style originated in England when the British were colonizing India in the 1800s. The initial attempts at shipping British Ales to the expatriates failed miserably as the beer was barely drinkable. Five weeks in rough seas with no refrigeration are not ideal conditions for beer. George Hodgson, a London brewer developed a new style containing higher levels of alcohol and hops which both acted as preservatives. India Pale Ale was a big hit with the colonials and also became popular back in England. These original IPAs were 7-9 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) and up to 150 IBUs (international bittering units), which are both pretty big numbers compared to modern British IPAs 3.5-5.5 percent ABV and up to 40 IBUs.

American IPAs are more like the original, big beers, high in alcohol and hops with enough malt character to provide balance with the hops. The Imperial or Double IPA style is basically more alcohol and more hops. One of the reasons for this is the American market encourages (as I have until I am blue in the face) drinkers to me more adventurous and try new tastes. Hops are similar to hot chilies in that; the more you are exposed the higher your tolerance is. Okay enough with history and numbers let us talk about beer and food.

The greater San Francisco Bay Area is home to some of the best IPAs (Double IPAs as well) in the country. We will start up north in Anderson Valley (well I did say greater) whose Hop Ottin is a classic, Russian River in Santa Rosa makes several versions Hop2it, IPA, Hoptime Harvest and Pliny the Elder which is a Double. Moonlight Brewing makes Bombay by Boat IPA, which is wonderful. Marin Brewing in Larkspur is another good one. Opening Day IPA at San Francisco’s 21st Amendment and The American Beer Festival’s Gold Medal winner Drake’s IPA from San Leandro round out the list.

Dining with these big beers calls for big flavored food. Highly spiced foods from Mexico, Thailand and Indonesia are excellent when accompanied with IPA because the alcohol puts out the fire and the hops cleanses the palate. IPA also stands up to stronger flavored fish like Salmon and Artic Char with a butter sauce. Meat and game dishes are another excellent choice. Beer and food pairing is fun either at home or in you commercial foodservice operation. So get out there and try some new beer, hold a food and beer pairing event or come to one of mine.



Chef Bruce