Even casual beer drinkers are likely to know what an IPA is, but is it different from a Pale Ale? What’s the difference?
A Pale Ale has a balanced malt to hops flavor and aroma profile. It uses pale two-row malt for a light body and mild malt taste that lets the hop characteristics shine and not overpower. India Pale Ales (IPAs) are hoppier and have a stronger flavor with more alcohol from the fermented malts that are used to balance out the greater hop flavor.
The differences between these two beers vary among the different substyles of each. Continue reading to learn more about these styles, the differences between them, as well as their histories.
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What’s the difference between a Pale Ale and an IPA (India Pale Ale)?
These two beers differ greatly in taste, aroma, and brewing process. They each have substyles that are distinct and classified by history and region.
The main difference between a Pale Ale and an India Pale Ale (IPA) is taste and aroma. The Pale Ale offers a balance between malts and hops. Contrarily, the IPA is characterized by its hop dominance and abundance. IPAs, therefore, use more grains to balance the potent hop flavor and aroma. This creates a stronger beer compared to the pale ale.
The Pale Ale still contains a strong hop profile, but not as strong as the IPA. This leaves more room to develop pale ales into something more than a hop-loaded beer with mostly hoppy characteristics.
Taste and flavor profiles
The difference in taste between the Pale Ale and the India Pale Ale can vary.
Pale ales are lighter tasting and more malt-forward than India pale ales. Although some IPAs are also malty, they’re more on the hoppy side of the spectrum. With a more mild hop flavor, the pale ale can derive flavors and other characteristics from ingredients other than hops. IPAs are more dependent on hops for their flavor and aroma.
This usually plays a role in the beer’s IBUs, or International Bitterness Units.
After reading that IPAs use more hops than pale ales, this next section might be unsurprising to you.
Pale ales range from 30-50 IBUs and IPAs range from 50-70 IBUs. Pale ales are typically less bitter than IPAs. Regular Pale Ales use fewer hops and are therefore less bitter.
Hoppy does not mean bitter, but it is generally true for these styles to differentiate greatly over the bitter characteristic.
Alcohol content (ABV)
These two styles also differ in ABV. Which style has a higher ABV? Are they the same?
Because IPAs use more grains to balance out the hop flavor present in the style, they typically have a higher ABV than pale ales. Pale ales range from 4.4-5.5% ABV. IPAs range from 6.3-7.5% ABV.
The ABV of these two styles has everything to do with their recipes.
Recipe and ingredients
The recipes for these two styles revolve around grains and hops. Those two ingredients are usually the determining factors in pale ales and IPAs.
Since Pale Ales don’t require as much of a need to balance their hops, they don’t need to use as many grains. Since IPAs are hoppier, they require a larger amount of grains to balance the flavors. More grains mean more alcohol.
The Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a great example of the style. A good example of a commercial IPA is Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA.
What is a Pale Ale?
A Pale Ale is a beer that has a strong emphasis on a balanced malt and hops flavor.
This style of beer uses clean fermenting ale yeast and maintains a very approachable taste that can be enjoyed by any beer drinker. There are variations of this style – American, English, New England – that all focus on the hop and malt flavor and aroma.
Let’s learn more about these substyles and the history behind the Pale Ale, pioneered in America by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.
Pale ales originated in England to describe a beer that was lighter than the typical porter or other dark ales of that time.
When the craft beer revolution came to America, pale ales were picked up as their traditional English styles but tweaked and customized with American methods and characteristics.
The drink became lighter, hoppier, more carbonated, and debatably more drinkable. Now, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is credited with leading the pale ale revolution and creating one of the first commercially brewed and loved pale ales.
Modern Pale Ale styles
The pale ale originated in England and was tweaked when it came to America.
There are many variations and subsets of this style, including American, English, and juicy/hazy.
Let’s take a look at the key differences and characteristics of the most notable and popular substyles of the pale ale. Some things to keep in mind include bitterness, ABV, hoppiness, and drinkability.
American Pale Ales are pale with 30-50 IBU and a modest ABV.
They have a clear body and a thin mouthfeel with flavors and aromas that range greatly – from citrusy, fruity, and floral to piney, peppery, and resinous. Ingredients for American Pale ales include pale malt and various American hops that impart a wide range of flavors and aromas.
Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale is a classic rendition of the American style.
English Pale Ales vary a tad bit more in color.
They range from 20-40 IBU and have between an ABV of 4.5-5.5%. They retain a thin mouthfeel and a golden copper body. They have fruity esters from the yeast strains used. The English Pale Ale uses English hops and malts as well as ale yeast.
A great beer in this style is Boddingtons Pub Ale.
Juicy or Hazy pale ale
This substyle is crafted to impart a soft mouthfeel and well-balanced hop bitterness that is silky and smooth. They range in ABV from 4.4-5.4%.
The IBUs in this style can be anywhere from 5-30 and can vary significantly from calculated levels.
The beers can include a ton of hops, either in the boil or, more commonly, during primary and secondary fermentation.
Troegs Haze Charmer is a commercial example of this beer done right.
What is an IPA (India Pale Ale)?
The India Pale Ale, or IPA, is essentially a bigger pale ale.
The IPA heavily favors hops as the main ingredient and, as a result, requires more grains to balance the bitterness that the hops impart on the beer. Because of this, IPAs naturally contain a higher ABV.
The old adage claims that the name India Pale Ale comes from the use of hops to preserve the beer on its way to India from England. Although hops were eventually used to preserve the beer, this tale is only mildly true, and there’s little evidence to prove this side of the story.
Almost just as little evidence can prove against this, though.
George Hodgson’s Bow Brewery on the Eastside of England was the closest and cheapest way for the East Indianman to load beer. Long story short, the presence of hops in beer was made necessary by the 1760s if the beer was being delivered to warmer climates.
There’s no evidence that Bow Brewery was the first brewery to add hops to their beer, but we do know that Bow brewed the choice pale ale in India at the time because of the practicality.
Modern India Pale Ale styles
There are a lot of different styles of India Pale Ales.
The IPA, like the pale ale, originated in England. The most popular styles of this beer are the American IPA, English IPA, New England or Hazy IPA, and Session IPA.
We’ll look more closely at the characteristics of these substyles and what makes them different from each other.
The American IPA is characterized primarily by hop flavor and aroma. These characteristics include anything from floral and citrus to piney and resinous notes. The hops are the star of the show in this style, and the malt flavors have little presence.
American IPAs use American two-row malt and ale yeast with American-variety hops.
Commercial examples include Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and Stone IPA.
English-style IPAs or English IPAs are strong and bitter. They have a prominent earthy and floral hop profile that is balanced more evenly by the malt used. They have a crisp and dry taste.
Ingredients include English-variety hops and ale yeast with British pale malt. The yeast strains used offer fruity esters to the nose.
A good English-style IPA is the Goose Island Goose IPA.
The Session IPA is designed to include the characteristics of an IPA with an emphasis on drinkability. These beers, per official guidelines, cannot exceed an ABV of 5%.
The hop flavor and aroma is prominent in these beers from the lack of grains used. They range in 30-50 IBU. The ingredients, as well as the taste of the beer, vary enormously depending on the hops used and the small amount of grains included.
One of the most notable beers in this style on the market is Founders All Day IPA.
New England or Hazy IPA
Similar to the pale ale version of this style, the NEIPA has a thick and hazy body with a soft and creamy mouthfeel. The aroma and flavors are a product of the hops used. They’re often dry-hopped to heighten the juiciness and citrusy aromas from the choice hops.
Some of the most common hop additions to these beers include Citra, Centennial, and Simcoe for their fruity and bright flavors and aromas.
One of the best NEIPAs on the market is Voodoo Ranger Juicy Haze.