Bob Brewer answers your questions about the world of beer and brewing.
Brian (via Twitter): Love your Liberty Ale, is it an APA or an IPA?
Bob: This is a good question, Brian, and the answer requires a bit of history.
When we first brewed Liberty Ale in 1975, the term “IPA” (India Pale Ale) was not even close to being as widely-used as it is today. There were only a very, very few commercial examples of India Pale Ale in existence and these were not true IPAs by any stretch. The term “APA” (American Pale Ale) did not yet exist at the time. There were “pale ales” characterized by Bass Ale, and “brown ales” characterized by the likes of Newcastle. Other American brews called themselves “ales,” such as Rainier Ale, but these were often just strong lagers and were typically marketed in the malt liquor category.
Fritz Maytag wanted to make a British-style pale ale with an American hop, which would also employ the almost-forgotten technique of dry-hopping. What he came up with was Liberty Ale, a true “pale ale” with a generous amount of Cascade hops added in the brew kettle, and an additional dry-hop with Cascade for good measure.
By today’s definitions this is a classic recipe for an IPA. However, by the opinions of the style purists of the day (mostly British by the way), it couldn’t really be an IPA because it wasn’t right. The hops weren’t British. It wasn’t brewed over there. Wrong yeast. Too fizzy. And so forth.
This wasn’t of primary concern to us because we weren’t trying to make an IPA, and we never called it an IPA back then. It was just a very hoppy pale ale. And by the way, Liberty Ale wasn’t immediately popular with the beer drinkers of the mid-1970s – with a few notable exceptions, one being Michael Jackson and another being me. With a monstrous (for the day) 47 IBU’s, it was far too bitter for all but a few.
The first craft brewery of note to come along after Anchor was Sierra Nevada, if you don’t count the short-lived New Albion. Sierra Nevada’s first product was Pale Ale – pale and hoppy and much like Liberty Ale, but with different hops and some production differences. Just Pale Ale. Remember, the term “APA” did not yet exist and IPA was still primarily British.
Fast forward a bit to the mid-to-late 1980s and the emergence of many more “microbreweries” (the term “craft brewery” didn’t exist then either). These microbreweries made almost exclusively ales of one sort or another because ales are easier and more forgiving to brew than lagers. Since the American brewing renaissance was incubated on the west coast, which just so happened to have proximity to the premier hop-producing regions in the country, it followed that many west coast brews evolved to be hop-centric.
Moving right along, we soon had hundreds of breweries brewing similar ales, all of which were trying to get noticed. The ranks of the microbrewers of the day were mainly composed of enthusiastic home brewers who had been organized to one degree or another for years. These guys (and a few gals) had developed a formalized process for judging their products and began the process of defining style parameters.
Along the way, an umbrella organization now known as the AHA, or American Home brewer’s Association, came into being. The AHA further defined beer styles and judging procedures, in addition to developing a training program for beer judging now known as the BJCP, or Beer Judge Certification Program. The BJCP has published style definitions and periodically adjusts them to accommodate new beers and the new style variants that seem to pop up on an ongoing basis.
Amid the evolving climate of craft beer styles, the term “IPA” leapt to the forefront by the late 1990s. Pale ales had absolutely ruled for a number of years and were now almost mundane – dated even, according to some – even though they still were very popular and everybody still made one. Besides, “IPA” seemed to sound exotic and special. Just saying “IPA” sounded cooler. Suddenly everybody was brewing an IPA.
While pale ales (or APAs) have pretty much stayed the same for years, IPAs are evolving at light speed. What is an IPA today? That question alone is difficult to answer, as the sheer number of IPAs in the market has pushed the style envelope to the limit. Enter our friends from the AHA, BJCP, Brewers Association (BA), and others to sort out the style definitions, which we will use here. Such is the evolution of style, description and indeed, language. Common usage will dictate the definition, new terminology supplants old, meanings evolve, and we move on.
Now, back to Liberty Ale. We’ll leave the history behind and refer to the classic BJCP definitions as a base point. APA or IPA? (assuming an “American IPA” because of the use of American hops, etc.) The most current style guidelines of these two, as defined by the BJCP, overlap to a great degree. They are also nuanced to the point that I sometimes think that the people who write these things also write horoscopes. The main described difference is that IPAs tend to be more aggressively hopped at 40-plus IBU’s. APA is often described as sometimes being lighter in body and color and having IBU’s in the 30 to 45 range, but can be higher.
Liberty Ale was a hop monster in the late 1970s, but by today’s standards it sits on the low end of the American IPA Guidelines for IBUs and ABV. But it’s still in there! On the other hand, Liberty also fits nicely in within the APA guidelines, albeit on the high end of the IBU scale for the style but well within the ABV range. As I mentioned, we didn’t call it an IPA back in the day because that wasn’t on our radar. Nor did we call it an APA because there was no such designation then.
As it has evolved, the craft beer industry has pretty much defined our beer for us. We can now say that by virtue of dry-hopping, Liberty Ale was the first true IPA brewed in America, post prohibition. But again, by today’s standards and descriptions, it can also be called an APA. Liberty Ale was and still is a pioneering product that set the standard for many others to come. It resurrected the technique of dry-hopping and introduced it to a new generation of brewers. More than a few fellow brewers have told me that Liberty was the beer that inspired them the most when they started out and I take that as great praise for our brewery.
So then, APA or IPA? It doesn’t matter where one chooses to place Liberty Ale. It fits comfortably as either, and also stands alone in a category all its own.
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