West Coast IPAs: Fashion or True Style?

It’s a structural feature: Compared to their English big sisters and to their American twins, IPAs from the West Coast are categorically focused on hops. So focused on hops, in fact, that lively discussions have emerged here and there about whether to create a new BJCP category named “West Coast IPA.”

This makes sense because, most of the time, these beers brewed along the Pacific don’t really fall within the IPA style guidelines specified by the Beer Judge Specification Program (BJCP). And I’m not sure that the debate “East vs West” has calmed down.

The basis is that an India Pale Ale is a hoppy, bitter beer with a higher ABV than most types of brews, and is often higher in IBUs. Let’s leave England aside for a moment. East Coast IPAs are balanced, with a malt sweetness, citrus and fruity hop character, and a nice hop bitterness. West Coast IPAs are known for being as bitter as bitter gets (on the subject of extremes, West Coast brewers are also those who produce the highest-alcohol brews the world has ever seen).

Our illustration shows 7 Hop IPA from Rogue Ales (Newport, Oregon), made with a sevenfold hopping that is a bitterness program in itself.

With this type of option, West Coast IPAs have carved out their niche; a niche that removed malt flavour to better celebrate the hops, in an almost monomaniacal obsession. But the result is unarguable: very typical, beautiful, powerful, and even incomparable IPAs.

But fashions pass. Even at home, their popularity has declined… to reappear in Continental Europe, where beers of this style are currently riding a popularity wave.