IPA and the ebb, flow and ripple effect

John ShearlockDec 2, '23
High strength and big hops may seem like they're here to stay, but if there’s one thing we've learnt about beer styles and trends looking back through history, it’s that nothing is ever constant. With the complexity of all that is involved, change is simply inevitable.

For a start, It’s only natural for the collective palate to become bored. Something that was once popular, is more than likely to become tired and passé, it really is just the inevitability of human nature and, after all, novelty can only last so long.

Then there’s the macroeconomics of the world we live in, and for which our current situation is a fab example. We’ve just come out of an epically long era of low interest rates (triggered by the credit crunch of 2008), money is no longer cheap and hops and abv are expensive at the end of the day. Whether you like it or not, your local brewer will no doubt be thinking of ways to scrimp and save - meaning those session beers are looking more attractive than they ever did. You may think that you, the consumer, dictates the trends - but, after all, you can only buy what is being made.

Another factor that we often see in the world of drinks is the ripple effect (yeah, I totally just coined that term). The IPA is a great example. A style that originated in the UK but which eventually rippled over to the States, was tweaked in the US craft brewing boom and has since rippled back and beyond to the rest of the world. Look at the big hops of brewers such as Thornbridge and Brewdog and the increased adoption of new world hops by some of the classic stalwart brewers of the UK, not to mention the modernisation of branding. The new world has typically been less encumbered by old brew tech and old mindsets too - and so ripples from the old world to the new and then back again, cannot fail to prompt change, development and often improvement.

So, based on all of this, what’s next?

I guess lower abv is already here, and even no alcohol is becoming more and more commonplace. There’s still more room for the 4% session IPA to expand into, in my opinion - after all - everything in moderation is better than throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

What’s currently rippling - is another way of perhaps thinking about things. Well, you might not think of steam beers and the Californian common as trailblazing styles - but these brews, fermented with lager yeast at warmer ale-like temperatures technically originated in Europe, were adapted by the Americans and have evolved into Cold IPAs, a style that is currently disseminating round the world. What will this become once it has rippled back to Bavaria (for example) and the Germans pick it up again and run with it? Hard to say - but exciting to ponder!

The joy of all this ebb, flow and rippling, which is happening at faster and faster rates, is that you can now almost watch the evolution of beer in real time, and it’s got to be said - it’s fascinating viewing…