What does Guinness Nitro IPA tell us about IPA?

Guinness Nitro IPA

Guinness Nitro IPA

Three things upfront.

First, I used to work for Diageo, makers of Guinness, and I’m currently doing marketing consultancy for them.  On Guinness.  And I have done a lot of work to help launch new Guinness Nitro IPA, the latest beer from the brewer, which is hitting shelves and bars…now.  I was present at the filming and shooting of the ads, the info video and the great photos (like the one above).   I gave feedback on the wonderful scripts by Quaker City Mercantile, and I’m very proud of the minor role I played. (And I was very much a bit part player).

This blog/site makes NO money and no one has asked me to write this, but you might read it as marketing for Guinness, which is your call.  (In fact, as with anything on this site, I’m writing this because a thought struck me and I felt I had something to say.)

Second, this little piece is inspired by the great article by Bryan D. Roth for All About Beer magazine that he wrote to mark this year’s “IPA Day” in August.  You should read it before you continue: here.  I think Bryan is a thoughtful, articulate beer scribe and I encourage people to look to him as a source of provocative commentary on the industry.

Lastly, I love IPAs.  Since hops were introduced to beer as their “spice” or “seasoning” (I read both used equally in books introducing the reader to beer and brewing) centuries ago, IPAs have become their showcase.  Initially because hops are a great preservative, and legend has it India pale ales were developed to withstand the long journey by sea to – yes – India.  But latterly because people love the aroma, taste and invigorating bitterness provided by hops.

Hops as far the eye can see...

Hops as far the eye can see…

So, in America, IPAs are spreading like wildfire, with IRI reporting over 900 IPAs available in the off premise (shops, not bars) and with various sources citing IPAs as 20-30% of all craft beer sold.  With craft beer at 11% of the beer market that makes IPA about 4% of all beer, which is a lot, and the style grew in volume by about 47% in 2014 according to the Brewers Association.

As Guinness launches its Nitro IPA, two questions are popping up: is this even an IPA (apparently not according to an article in Esquire, here), and if it is, does the world need a new IPA?

(I was at the New York launch dinner for Guinness Nitro IPA last night at The Growler on Stone Street and this second question was asked by, I think, Astrid Cook of The Brooklyn Beer Bitch, but I could be wrong.  I didn’t say hi to Astrid – so, hi!)

On the first, is this an IPA?  Yes.  I mean, there’s no legal guidance at all on what you can call an IPA, and while a court of law might feel a brewer is misleading consumers by calling something an IPA that doesn’t meet their expectations, you can basically call a beer whatever you want.  This beer could have been called Guinness Aromatic Ale or Guinness Five Hops and it would be an accurate descriptor of the beer.  But, looking to the BJCP style definitions as most people do, this beer is 5.8% ABV, clocks in at 44 IBUs, has distinct citrus, grass and pine aromas derived from hops and a clear reddish amber hue.  A BJCP judge would call this either an English or American IPA.

And of course, English IPAs have been around for some time.  The American IPA is a pretty recent invention, evolving over the 80s and 90s and really hitting its stride in the past 10 years.  The first advertisement for an India Pale Ale appeared in 1829 (in Sydney, Australia, oddly enough) and the style is generally thought to have originated in the 1760s.  I disagree strongly with the author of the Esquire piece that 44 IBUs is not an IPA (40 is the minimum, but to me aroma and perceived bitterness are more significant than actual bitterness for an IPA anyway) and with his claim that “most American IPAs soar into the hundreds range [of IBUs] and beyond”.  (Unless the man lives on Dogfish Head 120, in which case more power to him!)

But the point of this piece comes in answering the question, do beer drinkers need or want another IPA?  The self-evident answer is: time will tell.  As Bryan Roth eloquently argues in his article, the style is evolving, but it shows no signs of slowing down.  (The Brewers Association recently released a statement postulating the style to replace IPA’s dominance of craft is, and the answer is: there isn’t one.)

Instead of everyone releasing a Cascade- and Simcoe-led 7% 65 IBU “standard” American (West Coast?) IPA, brewers are branching out.  And updating classics, like Ruination 2.0.  Session IPAs are beyond being a fad, double IPAs are fast becoming beer geek heaven and everyone now knows what hop-bursting is, despite it being terminology that is only about 24 months old.  (I think. Right?)


Chart via www.brewersassociation.org

So is there room for another IPA?  You would have thought.  Especially for what I think will be the definitive nitro IPA.   I’ve tried about 6 now (including Ballast Point Sculpin and Victory Hop Devil on nitro, both of which are amazing IPAs) – none of which is equal to Guinness Nitro IPA IMHO.   It’s an IPA that was specifically designed to be nitrogenated, and is brewed with a mash bill and five hops – Admiral, Celeia, Topaz, Challenger and Cascade – to create the body, texture and aroma that will best complement nitrogenated dispense.  Rather than read it from me, hear it from the brewers who designed it in this video.

It’s not a training wheels IPA either – it’s just a different IPA to what many will expect.  It tastes different to West Coast classics like Stone IPA or Firestone Walker’s Union Jack, and it tastes different to East Coast interpretations like Yards’s Amarillo-led IPA, or Harpoon’s IPA, long the standard bearer for the East Coast Style.  It’s smoother (nitrogen bubbles being small), rounder (Irish stout malt and roasted barley help), spicier (thank you Topaz) and earthier (thank you Admiral) than a “typical” IPA.  Hops are the spice of beer and variety is the spice of life.

So in answer to the question “whither IPA?”, I think it will head in lots of different directions.  And that’s great.  Guinness’s will not be the last nitro IPA – there will be plenty more, and hopefully some more good ones. I don’t know if I speak for Guinness, but I personally hope this beer inspires others.  As Bryan Roth says, there will also be fresher, tighter and hoppier IPAs in the future.  More people will have the option to try more great IPA.  Huzzah.  And sláinte.


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