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West Coast IPA: The Perfect Marriage of Bitterness and Citrusy Goodness


West Coast IPA (India Pale Ale) beers have emerged as a prominent style within the craft beer movement, captivating beer enthusiasts with their distinct characteristics. Renowned for their bold hop presence, West Coast IPAs strike a delicate balance between pronounced bitterness and vibrant citrusy flavours. In this article, we will delve into the origins of West Coast IPA, explore the brewing techniques that contribute to its unique profile, examine the key elements of bitterness and citrusy goodness, and highlight some notable examples of this beloved beer style.


The Origins of West Coast IPA

Historical Background

The roots of IPA can be traced back to the 18th century when British brewers began developing a hopped beer style with higher alcohol content and increased hop levels to withstand long sea voyages to India. Fast forward to the modern craft beer era, and we witness the evolution of IPA into different variations, including the West Coast IPA.

Brewing Revolution on the West Coast

The West Coast of the United States played a pivotal role in shaping the West Coast IPA style. Breweries such as Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Anchor Brewing Company, and Stone Brewing Co. were instrumental in introducing the world to the hop-forward and bold flavours that characterise West Coast IPAs. They embraced the use of local hop varieties and pushed the boundaries of what an IPA could be.


Brewing Techniques for West Coast IPA

Malt Bill

The malt bill of a West Coast IPA typically consists of pale malts, such as American 2-Row or British Maris Otter, which provide a clean and neutral base for the hop flavours to shine. Additionally, small amounts of speciality malts, such as crystal or caramel malts, may be used to add some complexity and colour to the beer.

Hop Selection

One of the defining features of West Coast IPAs is the bold and vibrant hop character. West Coast brewers often opt for hop varieties with high alpha acids, such as Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe, Amarillo, and Citra. These hops contribute intense bitterness, as well as distinctive citrus, floral, and pine aromas.

Hop Additions

West Coast IPA brewing involves multiple hop additions during the brewing process. Bittering hops are added early in the boil to extract alpha acids and create a solid foundation of bitterness. Flavour hops are added towards the end of the boil, contributing additional hop character and complexity. Finally, aroma hops, often added during whirlpool or in the fermenter, lend their enticing aromas to the finished beer.

Dry Hopping

Dry hopping is a technique commonly used in West Coast IPAs to enhance the beer’s aroma without adding significant bitterness. This involves adding hops directly to the fermentation vessel, allowing the hops’ essential oils to infuse the beer with intense citrusy and resinous aromas.


Bitterness in West Coast IPA

Understanding IBUs (International Bitterness Units)

IBUs measure the bitterness of beer, with higher values indicating greater bitterness. West Coast IPAs typically have higher IBU ranges compared to other beer styles, ranging from 40 to 100 IBUs or even higher. However, it is essential to note that the perception of bitterness is also influenced by other factors, such as malt sweetness and hop flavour.

Hoppy Bitterness vs. Harsh Bitterness

The bitterness in West Coast IPAs comes primarily from the hops used during brewing. The hop-derived bitterness is typically clean, crisp, and pleasant, providing a refreshing contrast to the beer’s malt sweetness. It is crucial to distinguish this hoppy bitterness from the harsh bitterness that can arise from over-extraction of tannins or improper brewing techniques.

Balancing Bitterness with Malt

To achieve a well-balanced West Coast IPA, brewers carefully calibrate the amount of malt sweetness to counterbalance the hop bitterness. The pale malts used in the malt bill provide a light and slightly sweet backbone that complements and supports the hop flavours, resulting in a harmonious interplay between bitterness and maltiness.

Citrusy Goodness in West Coast IPA

Hop Aromas and Flavours

The hallmark of a West Coast IPA is its vibrant citrusy character. The hop varieties used in these beers impart a range of citrus aromas and flavours, including grapefruit, orange, lemon, and tropical fruit notes. Citrus-forward hops like Cascade, Amarillo, and Citra are often employed to enhance these desirable characteristics.

Grapefruit, Orange, and Tropical Notes

The choice of specific hop varieties and brewing techniques greatly influences the citrusy profile of West Coast IPAs. Grapefruit notes often stem from hops like Cascade, while orange and tropical fruit flavours can be attributed to hops like Amarillo and Citra. The combination of these flavours creates a refreshing and zesty experience for the palate.

Citrusy Hops and Food Pairings

The citrusy goodness of West Coast IPAs opens up exciting possibilities for food pairings. The bright and zesty hop flavours complement a wide range of dishes, including spicy cuisine, grilled seafood, citrus-infused salads, and even tangy desserts like lemon bars. The beer’s citrus notes can provide a delightful contrast or harmony with various flavours in food.


Notable West Coast IPA Examples

Showcasing West Coast IPAs

Flavour Profiles

Each notable West Coast IPA brings its own unique flavour profile to the table. “Torpedo Extra IPA” boasts a pronounced hop bitterness with citrus and pine notes, while “Stone IPA” offers a balanced blend of hop bitterness, tropical fruit flavours, and a crisp finish. “Pliny the Elder” is revered for its aggressive hop profile, showcasing notes of grapefruit, resin, and floral undertones.

West Coast IPA beers have revolutionised the craft beer industry, offering a delightful balance between pronounced bitterness and citrusy goodness. From its historical roots to modern brewing techniques, the art of crafting West Coast IPAs has evolved and continues to captivate beer enthusiasts worldwide. Whether you’re drawn to the intense hoppy bitterness or the vibrant citrusy flavours, this beer style provides a truly remarkable drinking experience. So, next time you find yourself craving a perfect blend of bitter and citrusy, reach for a West Coast IPA and savour the harmonious marriage of flavours that this style has to offer.