There is no doubt about America’s dominant craft beer style: the IPA. This classic British brew has captured the attention and spending of U.S. drinkers. But how long will the IPA craze last?
That may depend on how well craft brewers can retain the fickle attention of U.S. consumers.
Everything is cyclical in the alcohol industry. So points out Chris Ciskey, owner of Yankee Wine & Spirits in Newtown, CT: “For a while, way back when, there was no interest in bourbon at all, and it was all about clear spirits. Now everything is about bourbon again.”
Such a dramatic shift with IPAs does not seem imminent, though. “I don’t think the craze will ever die down,” Ciskey says. “After all, it was hoppy beers that started this craft brew craze in the first place, like Sierra Nevada’s hoppy Pale Ale.”
Other beer retailers agree. “People will never stop drinking IPAs,” says Geoi Bachoua owner of Bine & Vine Bottle Shop in San Diego, CA. “They’ll always be the lead seller.”
Several factors are behind this sustained popularity. “The fact they’re moderately-priced, relatively high in alcohol and dry with bright flavors,” Bachoua says. “Also, the style is very versatile: Black IPAs, White IPAs, Double IPAs, Triple IPAs, Fruited IPAs.”
Variety is key. Modern drinkers have never been more adventurous and less brand loyal. “I think IPAs will continue on their pace as long as the innovation continues,” says Greg Rixen of the Happy Harry’s Bottle Shops chain in Fargo and Grand Forks, ND. “Whoever has the newest IPA tends to be the temporary best seller until consumers settle back into their favorites.”
What’s helping fuel the IPA craze are “consumers looking for the newest and most unique beer available,” Rixen says. “I think consumers are drawn to the complexity and range of flavors and aromas that IPAs can deliver.”
Which gives the style a plenty of room to grow in terms of supporting a wide variety of beers and brewers. But it also puts pressure on producers to continuously release novel IPAs.
“I guess the end of innovation will be the downfall of the style,” says Zach Gaddis of Staples Corner Liquors in Crofton, MD.
Will brewers be able to come up with these new flavors? Likely, but will they become bored with the style and produce less of it? These are questions at the heart of the future of IPAs.
Right now that need for constant innovation and attention has led many breweries to try to create “white whale” IPAs. These are the small-batch, pricey 4-packs or kegs that customers wait in long lines for, or frantically call around shops in hope of finding. Whether this consumer behavior is good for the overall beer market is a topic for a future column.
In the meantime, don’t expect to see a dramatic decline in IPA sales. A recent rise in craft lagers, the ever-popular porter/stout, and a weariness among craft beer fans towards the dominant style may all cut slightly into the IPA craze. But for the foreseeable future the craft beer market will remain driven by India Pale Ale and its room for innovation.