It can sometimes feel a little overwhelming seeing the many different styles of craft beer available to us. With terms like NEIPA and Hazy Pale thrown around, it can be intimidating trying to navigate the world of craft beer. Understanding the broad categories of craft brews, such as India Pale Ales (IPAs) and American Pale Ales (APAs) is fundamental to understanding the craft beer lingo. So, what exactly differentiates IPA beer from APA beer? The answer may be a little more complex and fascinating than you might have originally thought!
India Pale Ale (IPA)
What is an IPA?
IPA stands for India Pale Ale and these beers can be characterised by their high hop content which in turn makes them more bitter (rest assured, this is in the most delicious way). IPA beers contain a higher-than-average alcohol by volume (ABV), typically around 6%.
During the British Empire in the 1700s, it was discovered that British Pale Ale was not making the journey across to India as the lengthy voyage and warmer climate compromised the integrity of the beer. This was a devasting discovery to the British community and naturally needed to be resolved as swiftly as possible.
As a result, English brewers began increasing the alcohol content (for preservation) and adding hops to the barrels before closing them, desperate to make a beer that would endure the long journey. Upon arriving in India, the beer was pale yellow, higher in alcohol content, and had a delectable bitterness. Thus, the IPA beer was born, and this style of craft beer has seen a steady rise in popularity since its creation – one that was birthed out of desperation.
Tasting Notes for IPA Beer
IPA beers provide your tastebuds with a succulent and tangy flavour experience. These beers have medium-rising bubbles and appear clear to slightly hazy. As the range of IPAs varies so much, many different flavours are present. In a White IPA for example, spices may be especially noticeable. The hop aromas in IPAs are generally intense with strong citrus-like and floral notes.
The hop bitterness can range from mild to very prevalent. Additionally, the ingredients in IPA beers can include water, yeast, traditional hops, fruit juices, spices, pale malts, citrus and more. Notably, the bitterness of IPAs can make the brew more complex to drink, however, we think it makes it all the more delicious!
Alcohol Content of IPA Beer
IPA beers have a higher ABV than most other beer varieties. The average alcohol percentage of an IPA is 6%. However, some sub-styles may be lower (such as Session IPAs), and others may be higher (such as Imperial IPAs). In addition, brewers may limit the alcohol content of several styles to around 5%. However, some IPA beers may have alcohol levels reaching up to 20%!
IPAs, which are known for their higher level of bitterness, have an International Bitterness Unit (IBU) that generally ranges from 50 to 80.
American Pale Ale (APA)
What is APA beer?
American Pale Ale (APA) was the most popular style of craft beer in the United States until IPAs took the lead. American Pale Ale is a malty, medium-bodied beer with a modest caramel taste. Each sip reveals aromas of fruit, pine, and flowers. The gentle flavours and smells are great for both beer novices and connoisseurs, who can choose from a vast array of renditions.
Because APAs are generally lighter than typical English ales, you can expect to see them in golden hues. In addition, APAs feature fewer malts than IPAs but enough hops to still ensure a moreish flavour, which goes down well after a long day or accompanying a favourite dish.
APAs are as aromatic as they are flavourful, and a good brew should maintain the balance between the malt and hops. When you order a beer (of any style), make sure you use the right glassware to incorporate the fragrance into each sip. The two parts (the beer and the glassware) work together with your senses to create a delightful experience.
Tasting Notes for APA Beer
The malt content of American Pale Ales has to balance the modest hop bitterness. As a result, the clarity of these beers can range from somewhat hazy to clear.
The hop flavours can be citrusy, piney, or peppery, depending on the qualities of the American hop. The medium to medium-high hop bitterness combines with the resinous fragrance to create a stimulating flavour in this beer style.
The aromas of American hops generally range from mild to intense in American Pale Ales and especially fruity aromas are more uncommon. The maltiness of APAs complements the hops, to highlight biscuity, bready, and toasted flavours. If the brew was dry hopped, it might have some fresh grass notes that, while they are desirable, should not overpower. The mouthfeel should be smooth, with a light to medium body.
APAs are a pleasant, easy-drinking beer. Brewers and bartenders across the globe tend to describe the APA as a beer that bursts with flavour but isn’t as bitter or hop-forward as an IPA.
APA Alcohol content
The American Pale Ale has an alcohol concentration (ABV) ranging from 4.5 to 6.2 per cent, with an average of roughly 5%. At the same time, the level of bitterness ranges from 30 to 45 IBU, significantly less than an IPA.
So… What’s the Distinction Between APA and IPA Beer?
What separates American Pale Ales from their British counterparts is the use of American hops. These hops are notoriously more pungent and floral than British hops, differentiating the two. As craft beer started to boom and brewers were incorporating more and more hops into their American Pale Ales (and thus, the alcohol content started to rise), the American-style IPA was born. Variants of this style include the West Coast IPA, New England IPAs (NEIPAs), Cascadian IPAs, and the list goes on…
APAs are mellower and sometimes considered easier to drink whereas IPAs are generally more bitter and complex, but still utterly moreish. As both ale varieties are members of the ale family, it all comes down to how each brewery brews their brew!
Regardless of the flavour, another deciding component of a beer’s style is the alcohol percentage or ABV. APAs will generally have an ABV of 4-5%, whilst IPAs ABV content ranges from 6-10%. The best way to tell the difference between APAs and IPA beer is of course to taste them! We love experimenting with different styles and flavours at Prancing Pony Brewery, and have an extensive range of delicious craft beer. Explore our range and if you’re looking to buy IPA beer in Australia, look no further than Prancing Pony.