We are a passionate country. We are devoted to pleasure. We innovate and embellish upon the joys handed down to us. As a country, we occasionally combust a certain product that we’ve decided we love. Consider the meek hamburger, which found its way to America by way of Europe and East Asia around 1900. Over the next century, we added cheese, bacon, egg, truffles, avocado, special sauce, salsa, macaroni, donuts and countless other components to this simple pressed beef sandwich. It is now far more American than the German town from which it derives its name.
Or consider the Spy Yarn. As a genre, it began – like the idea of counterintelligence itself – in Europe with The Scarlet Pimpernel. It reached broad popular and artistic heights after the Second World War with Graham Greene, Ian Fleming, and John Le Carré, all consummate Brits. Hollywood made a run at it after the success of the James Bond films, though, and over the last fifty years we have produced some the most innovative spy tales of the genre: Marathon Man, The Manchurian Candidate, The Parallax View, and the modern Bourne series, to name a few.
As concerns beer, the most popular adopted style appropriated by America is, without a doubt, the IPA. According to RateBeer Weekly, something in the vicinity of 8% of new beers in the last 12 years were some type of IPA, far outstripping any other beer type.
This time of year carries a distinct connotation for die-hard IPA-lovers: the release of Pliny the Younger. This purported Triple IPA from the Santa Rosa-based Russian River Brewery is the creation of Vinnie Cilurzo. It regularly vies for the top spot on best beer lists of Beer Advocate and Rate Beer, and due to expense of time and treasure involved in its production, it’s only available once a year for a few weeks (mostly at the Russian River brewpub in Santa Rosa but also at various satellite locales in several states). It is never bottled and no longer sold in growlers. Acolytes travel many miles for a mere 10 oz. of the gold stuff.
 Also, Hanna, Munich, The Matador, the Mission Impossible series, Charlie Wilson’s War, Syriana, Spy Game, Spartan, and so on. And on TV, there’s 24, The Americans, and Homeland. Plus the works of Robert Ludlum, David Baldacci, Sidney Sheldon, and Tom Clancy.
 A wine guy originally, but an absolute messiah of American craft beer. Russian River, in fact, is owned by Korbel Champagne Cellars.
 Which I contend makes Pliny the Younger much harder to obtain than Westvleteren 12. The storied Belgian quad can easily be found on eBay or a beer-trading site. Younger appears but one month out of the year and cannot travel beyond the brewpub selling it.
I have never tasted Pliny the Younger, or its year-round double IPA counterpart Pliny the Elder. Next year, I hope to make the sojourn westward for a pull, but in the interim I thought it worthwhile to discuss the evolution of the IPA, an evolution that spans three continents and a three centuries. I’ll go about this methodically, working my way backward through another acronym that has become the anchor-style for ambitious American brewers: IIPA. And as we go, I’ll try to offer some readily-available suggestions for those who, like me, cannot access Pliny the Younger.
So … A is for Ale.
Ale is one of those blanket terms for a family of beer. All beers with top-fermenting yeasts, or yeasts that rise as fermentation progresses, are ales. Ales are forgiving beers; they create ethanol at warmer temperatures than lagers do. They don’t require refrigeration to ferment, and as such are open to experimentation – more hops, more grain, more and different sugars, fruits and flowers – leading to bolder flavors and high alcohol. Moving on:
PA is for Pale Ale.
The Pale Ale is an English creation, and it is with the Pale Ale our historical journey begins. The style should familiar to most drinkers who venture beyond Coors. Flavorful, fragrant hops bounce up against sour bready malts. If you’ve enjoyed a Bass, you’ve enjoyed a prototypical pale ale. They’re mealy, bitter, subtly sweet. They pair great with cheese and starchy pub food.
The Pale Ale was a standby for Englishmen in the late eighteenth century, as the empire’s reach expanded to India. The growing English presence in the sultry jewel in the crown necessitated the export of light, refreshing ales. Problem was the long journey from England to India sometimes proved too much for the pale ale, which arrived in port already spoiled. The answer was an increase in hops. Hops provide not only bitterness and flavor to beer: they also serve as a natural preservative. British brewing pioneers George Hodgson and Samuel Allsopp, separately, began upping hop levels and adding gypsum for clarity. The India Pale Ale was born, which reminds me:
IPA is for India Pale Ale.
The English India Pale Ale is generally less vibrant and
fruity than its American iteration. Not to belittle it in any way, but I find
its more a pairing drink. I’m more than a little inclined to love a culture’s
beer when I’m immersed in its other culinary fare, and knocking back fried cod with
chef’s sauce or shepherd’s pie or bangers and mash, I cannot imagine a
better paring than Samuel Smith’s India Ale. Coppery and translucent, it pours
with a thick creamy head. Brewed in Tadcaster,
it smells and tastes like England, a musty biscuit bitterness, almost ashen, but with a zesty hop afterthought that enlivens it.
 It’s an English import but readily available at any decently-stocked beer purveyor. The goal for this article is to spotlight beers that tipplers can easily obtain. No guarantees that your town will stock all of them, but most brewers have pretty wide distribution.
In America, the IPA was a natural focal point for the burgeoning craft-, micro-, home-brew movements of the nineteen-eighties. As a canvas for flavor, fullness, and alcohol, it was an antidote to the light-lager dominance of the American post-World War II era. As America prepared to close out the twentieth century, we were ready for a little bitterness.
This bitterness emerged most pronouncedly from the brewmasters of the West Coast in the nineties, who introduced new hops to the recipe – Citra, Simcoe, Amarillo – and began dropping extra hops into brew near the end for additional flavor. So if I’m going to recommend American IPA’s, I have to start in California. A great West Coast starter is the San Diego Alesmith IPA. Golden Amber, translucent, a one finger fizzy head. There are notes of grapefruit, mango, lemonhead, and buttery biscuit. It offers a hard hop taste up front, bursting with pine and lemon, with hearty malt behind.
Another prime West Coaster is Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA. Just a hair lighter than the Alesmith, this San Diego brew pours a hazy gold. It boasts a foresty hop bouquet with sugary orange peel accents. An overwhelmingly orangey prelude gives way to a yeasty main. Not too sweet, it’s a balanced drink, easy on the tastebuds and the stomach.
Before moving on, I have to mention my new favorite session IPA: Founders Brewing’s All Day IPA. The Rapid City institution’s seasonal ale clocks in at an easy 4.7% ABV, it’s not hard to see where this name came from. It pours glassy gold with thin haloing foam. Smells of flora and grapefruit juice, pineapple and pine cone. Drinks fresh and clean, with all the satisfying citric fruit, spice, and bitterness one expects.
Now as I said, the pale ale is a magnificent experimental field for brewers. With new, diverse, and more plentiful ingredients – particularly in the grain department – the alcohol content will surely rise. Consequently, the imperializing of beer has been a dominant trend in American craft brewing. In the modern parlance, a beer becomes imperial when the ABV gets into the neighborhood of 8%. Hence:
IIPA – or Double IPA – is for Imperial India Pale Ale.
The IIPA is one of those prestige styles that brewers are making their name on these days. A middling Double IPA can be just painfully bitter and headache-inducing, but a good one is something to savor. I recently brewed an attempted IIPA (a supposed Pliny the Elder clone), and it involved both a dry malt extract and a malt syrup, dextrose sugar, something in the vicinity of ten ounces of hops over a 90 minute bowl (the foam turned green!) and another five for the dry hop. There’s a definite mad scientist quality to the whole process. So, without wasting day, night and time, here are a few worthwhile IIPA’s to start yourself off.
 Dry hopping involves adding hops to the fermenting beer several days after brewing. It doesn’t add bitterness – which is the result of steeping. Rather, it draws out bold flavors, all those lemonheads and mangoes and pines I’ve been mentioning.
Stone Ruination: Stone Brewing in Escondido is not known for subtlety, but it offers on a national scale beer of exceptional quality and singular character. And Ruination is the IIPA that most drinkers liken to the Russian River fare line Pliny the Elder. At 7.7%, it’s strong without being stupefying. A deep brassy with medium, resilient cream head. There’s plenty of grapefruit and summer grass. The taste finds caramel notes intermingling with the citrus and bready overtones. All of it smacks you fairly hard. It is a blunt hop instrument.
I’ve been remiss in not mentioning a New York IPA, but that ends now. One of my go-to IIPA’s is Brooklyn’s own Six Point Resin. Packaged in a can like all the Six Point beers available in stores, the liquid within is a bursting copper. It makes the glass glow. The bouquet is all tropical fruit and booze (Resin boasts a hearty 9.1% ABV). First taste spicy and toe-curling, bitter and acidic, but it subsides gently into slight sweetness. Six Point’s beers are consummately drinkable without sacrificing flavor, and Resin is an easygoing beverage than never lets you forget it’s a Double IPA.
More devilish is the ever-popular Lagunitas seasonal: Lagunitas Sucks Brown Shugga Substitute Ale. Brewed in Petaluma, CA, this double IPA is 7.85% ABV, but that alcohol is nowhere in the tasting. Orange-gold and effervescent, Sucks has a quiet citric bouquet, mostly lemon. Lemon dominates in taste, too. Along with some grapefruit, and yes, sweet brown sugar; it is a dangerous, tasty brew.
 Even by the standard of beer names, that is a weird one. Lagunitas Sucks [etc] was, according to the Lagunitas site, brewed in 2011 to replace the previous popular release Brown Shugga. Brown Shugga (which, yes, is brewed with brown sugar for increased alcohol production) was itself a purportedly a failed attempt at yet another Lagunitas release. So, there.
And finally, if we’re talking IIPA, we have to mention what is probably the most widely popular beer from the most innovative brewery to achieve major market share. That brewery would be Dogfish Head of Milton, DE, and the beer would be the 90 Minute IPA. The titular 90 minutes are the brewing period during which hops are added at a continuous rate. This continuous hopping is the revolutionary process innovation developed by Dogfish founder Sam Calagione; the first continuously hopped brew employed a tabletop football game to sift the hops.
The 90 Minute IPA is a wonder to behold. When I think of the platonic ideal IIPA, it is this beer I imagine. Impenetrable copper tone, thick creamy head. Lemon, grapefruit, pinewood, sourdough bread. The hops erupt on contact with your tongue but are immediately cut with sweet maltiness and citrus. The 9% alcohol is elegantly masked. It leaves an evenly sweet aftertaste. Heavy mouthfeel, oily but crisp. It’s a substantial beer, but definitely still one you could drink on a summer day playing bocce ball. You can savor it at the end of night or pair it with a savory dinner.
 There’s a fine single IPA from Dogfish called the 60 Minute IPA, available year-round. The brewery also produces a 120 Minute IPA what friends tell me exists on the edge of undrinkably bitter. It is available in limited quantities during two windows every year. Ditto a 75 Minute IPA that evidently splits the difference between the 60 Minute and the 90 Minute. I’ve yet to taste the latter two but will report back as I do.
 I take this fact from a glorious profile of Calagione from the New Yorker. It chronicles the brash experimentation at Dogfish Head and serves as a fine primer on the culture of extreme brewing.
 I mentioned that Pliny the Younger is a Triple IPA. You may wonder what, based on the preceding text, Triple IPA stands for. Well, the answer is nothing. It’s more a marketing gimmick than anything. Younger clocks in at 12% ABV; so perhaps a IIIPA is any IIPA over 12%.
The 90 Minute IPA testifies to the enduring end ever-expanding popularity of the IPA in America. Along with its compatriot, the 60 Minute, it catapulted Dogfish Head to national prominence. And no wonder. Beer is, after all, really just something for us to drink and share. We want it to enjoy the taste of it, be refreshed by it, and feel more relaxed as a result of it. The IPA is open to big flavor, big satisfaction, and big booziness. And as I’ve already posited, this country has nothing against bigness. Neither, I suppose, do I. 
 A disclaimer after the fact … there are fair number of well-regarded – even revered – Pale Ales, IPA’s and Double IPA’s I have not had the opportunity to taste. I’ve already mentioned Russian River’s Pliny the Younger and Pliny the Elder, as well as the 120 Minute and 75 Minute IPA’s of Dogfish. A few more: Alchemist’s Heady Topper, Three Floyd’s Alpha King and Zombie Dust, Bell’s Hopslam Ale, Kern River’s Citra DIPA, Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter, Bear Republic’s Racer X. Also, countless others.