Badger Hill Brewing co-owner Michael Koppleman sat a purple can of Traitor IPA on the bar.
“Most of what we brew is IPA,” he said. “It’s our hit song.”
Employees of the Shakopee brewery stood at the bar’s far end, nursing drinks and chatting about intricacies foreign to a layman’s ear: IBUs, conditioning, “those damn British.” Beyond a glass partition, a brewer opened the steaming hatch of a brewtank.
“I have a rant about IPAs,” Koppleman said. He’d just been asked to explain some popular styles of IPA, or Indian pale ale, in Minnesota. “But it might go too fast for you to write it down.”
Koppleman launched into his explanation. American beer, he said, favors the “hop-forward” descriptor, meaning many of its craft selections go heavy on the hops. For those who don’t know, the hops give the beer its bitterness. Surly and Badger Hill are both notable Minnesota examples.
“IPAs are the tip of the spear of why there is such a thing as American craft beer,” Koppleman said. “It was people who wanted too many hops in their beer. American beer went from some of the worst stuff on Earth — literally, I’m not joking — to arguably some of the best, and not just in our opinion.”
Germany has American-style craft beer, as does Australia and China, he said.
“IPAs are near and dear to me,” he said and nodded to the can of Traitor, which is a West Coast-style IPA. “We spend a fortune on just the aroma. It’s about the enjoyment.”
Head Brewer Tim Johnson said Traitor IPA has some style overlap, as it toes the line between single and double IPAs, which refer to a drink’s bitterness and booziness.
“Right around that 7 percent alcohol by volume mark, you start to see those things tip over,” Johnson said. “At 8 percent, they become double or imperial IPA.”
On the other end of the booze spectrum is easy-drinking session-style IPA, named for its low alcohol volume, about 3 to 5 percent, allowing for longer sessions of drinking.
“It’s a very American style,” Koppleman said. “All Day IPA from Founders Brewing Co. is a quintessential example of a hop-forward beer without the booziness.”
Johnson explained that other styles of IPA emerged due to hop-forward mentality.
“There’s the black IPA or Cascadian IPA,” he said. “Which is about being a malt-forward beer with a large hop presence.”
There is also a range of IPAs with prominent fruit flavors. These tend to be somewhat sweet and aromatic. For example, Johnson described the northeast IPA as “juicy.”
“It’s not about the bitterness,” he said. “They’re turbid. They’re about being fruity and sweet.”
The Traitor IPA has 70 IBUs, or International Bitterness Units, Johnson explained. A northeast IPA can have around 15 IBUs.
“We have a lot of northeast IPA fans in Minnesota, for sure,” Johnson said. “But you still have a lot of people who like a good West Coast-style IPA, so definitely a lot of those West Coast hops, pine, floral, those types.”
As a bonus, there was also a brief discussion and sampling of a milkshake IPA, which has spiked in popularity in the last five years. Employees at Badger Hill, when bringing out a flight, described it as having a “ton” of sugar, with an expletive thrown in there.
The beer is aromatic, sweet and, of course, slightly creamy. Americancraftbeer.com says due to the addition of lactose, the drink is “just as much smoothie as it is an IPA.” Those fond of sweeter drinks may need to take this one slowly, as the milkshake IPA can still be deceptively boozy.
For a groggy afternoon on the porch, go with a session IPA. When the night is shaping up to be short and self-destructive, or if the world is ending in the next two hours, reach for the imperial, or perhaps the double or triple IPA.