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International IPA Day is here again!
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HOP HEADS rejoice! Your day to celebrate is here. The first Thursday of August (August 3 this year) is designated as International IPA Day.

An India Pale Ale, or IPA, is a style of beer that has been around for a long time but recently became one of the most popular, if not the most popular, beer styles on the craft beer market.

IPAs accounted for 271 of the entries in the 2016 World Beer Cup, the largest beer competition in the world. That was the most of any beer style and almost 100 more than the next largest group.

Just about every craft brewer has an IPA in their lineup, so hunting down a good one will not be difficult. But with such a large number of beers available, it can be hard to know what to look for.

Today’s IPAs are heavily hopped and often bitter in flavor, but this was not always the case. The earliest IPAs were closer to what we would call pale ales, meaning they were brewed with light or pale malts and lightly hopped.

One exception was the so called October beer. October beers were heavily hopped pale ales and intended for cellaring for up to two years.

A version of an October beer brewed by the Bow Brewery in England is generally considered the earliest IPA. Not everyone agrees with this story but it’s as likely as any other:

In the late 1700s Bow Brewery was located near the docks of the East India Dock Company. Owner George Hodgson used his connections, and a generous credit line and location made them popular with sailors and traders heading to India.

Though probably not as high in alcohol as many think, Bow Brewing’s October beer seems to have not only fared well, but improved, in the long trip from England around Africa to India. Remember, October beers were intended to be aged already. Bow’s beers became popular not only in England but in India as well.

Later Hodgson’s son, who had taken over Bow Brewing, over-reached and made a series of unpopular changes to his businesses practices, ending Bow’s IPA supremacy. Other breweries were commissioned to match Bow’s October beer.

The water in England’s Trent Valley was harder than London’s water and produced a brighter beer than could be made in London. This new bright, hoppy beer based on Bow Brewing’s original was soon being shipped not only to India but to North America, where IPAs have been popular ever since.

The first regularly produced modern IPA was Anchor Brewing’s Liberty Ale, which set the standard for West Coast IPAs. West Coast IPAs are hoppier than their East Coast rivals, which tend to have more malt flavors to balance the hops.

The West Coast’s love of intense hops is often attributed to the proximity to the hops fields of the Pacific Northwest, where most U.S. hops are grown. The double IPA is said to be an American invention, but is merely an IPA with a greater than 7% ABV.

While August 3 is International IPA Day, there are plenty of local IPA options you can enjoy:

Battlewagon, Service Brewing. Biscuit and caramel malts balance out the numerous hops added to this brew. Cascade, Chinook, Galena and Mosaic give a variety of citrus and hop flavors. Newly released in cans, Battlewagon is readily available now.

Inshore Slam IPA, Coastal Empire Beer Company. A blend of four hops keeps this beer from being too bitter. Inshore Slam clocks in at 75 IBUs. IBUs are International Bittering Units and are a measure of how bitter a beer is. The higher the number, the more bitter it is.

Hoplin’ IPA, Southbound Brewing. Five different hops make for a blend of citrus and pine in Southbound’s medium-bodiedIPA.

Swamp Fox IPA, Moon River Brewing. Named after Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion, the malt flavors are the defining characteristic of Swamp Fox.