India Pale Lagers carve out a niche in craft beer

By Beth Newhart

- Last updated on GMT

IPLs have the potential to bridge the gap between beer’s two main categories.
IPLs have the potential to bridge the gap between beer’s two main categories.

Related tags Ipa india pale lager IPL Beer Craft beer

A marriage between India Pale Ales (IPAs) and lager beer, India Pale Lagers (IPLs) have been a small sub-category of craft beer for the past 10-15 years. Often described as ‘strong, hoppy’ lagers, recent IPL launches are fighting for shelf space in the beer aisle.

Lagers make up the majority of the US beer category and traditionally are brewed with a slow, cold fermentation. They are said to have a more ‘clean’ taste and ‘easy drinkability’ compared to their darker, stronger IPA cousins.

IPAs dominate the craft beer industry and use a short, warm fermentation process. They are heavier on the hops, with bolder fruit and spice flavors. IPLs incorporate both styles--they are fermented like a lager but then made with excess hops like an IPA.

“Lagers deserve flavor, too”

The IPL concept has developed a steady fanbase over the last decade, though it’s still a niche beer style with low recognition. Independent craft brewers have been slowly delving into their own IPL recipes, and many still are exploring the IPA-lager hybrid without commiting to the IPL label.

In January, Stone Brewing of San Diego launched the Stone Tropic of Thunder Lager, describing it as “a lager for IPA lovers”​ without actually calling it an IPL. It will be a permanent addition to the Stone Brewing portfolio and available in all 50 states.

Dominic Engels, Stone Brewing CEO, said "More than 75% of US beer sales are lagers – predominantly from Big Beer. So given our history in challenging convention, and our successes in the category of IPAs, we're releasing what I'm affectionately referring to as a 'lager for IPA lovers.' It's finely crafted, intensely flavorful and undoubtedly independent, because lagers deserve flavor too."

Stone Brewing was looking to add “something super flavorful and yet really crushable” to its lineup, and it contains aromas of citrus, pineapple and coconut, followed by flavors of lime, orange and passion fruit. It uses Cashmere hops, a newer variety that is said to “impart flavors of ripe cantaloupe that elevate the juicy qualities of this beer.”

Bridging the beer gap

Small craft player Iron Fist Brewing is helmed by brewmaster Tom Garcia, previously with Stone Brewing. He launched Fresh Perspective IPL this month, a beer with “classic pilsner overtones and a floral bouquet,”​ and “notes of herbal spice, earth, lemon and a touch of honey on the finish.”

Iron Fist is redirecting its strategy after nine years in business, using the launch to focus on ‘short-run tap room exclusives.’ They are released monthly on draft and in a limited batch of 500 cans. Garcia pivoted to small batch beers to have room for brewing experimentation.

“We’re really excited to have introduced a new structure to our brewing that allows us to continuously push the boat out and try new things on a monthly basis,”​ Garcia said.

Other IPLs that hit the market in the last few years include Triboulet from Arches Brewing, a ‘hop-forward lager’ made with flaked high-protein grains; an option from Colorado-based Bristol Brewing; and one from WeldWerks Brewing Co.

Not all are created equal--some IPLs lean more lager, others more IPA. But IPLs have the potential to bridge the gap between beer’s two main categories. For lager drinkers that just can’t stomach a dark stout, an IPL is a fresh way to broaden the palate and ease into heavier beers.

IPL Fist

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