Hey there! Been a little it, hasn’t it? That’s because I’ve spent much of the last seven months writing a book, stressing about writing a book, revising a book, editing a book and, oh yeah, taking care of a toddler and writing stories. So many stories!
But I’m here to tell you about the book. On September 13, my publisher, Sterling, will release my latest book, Complete IPA. (Want to pre-order it? Click here!) What’s it about? Why did I decide to write it? Thanks for asking! The explanation all starts with a dollar bill. (Note: This excerpt is way expanded from my book intro.)
During the late ’90s, my wobbly undergrad-journalist days at Ohio University, I regularly patronized O’Hooley’s. (Today it has transformed into Jackie O’s, one of the Midwest’s better breweries.) It was a dark and smoky Irish brewpub, popular with bluegrass bands, dispensing brown ales, pale ales, stouts, and other full-bodied crowd-pleasers. What made O’Hooley’s special, especially for a cash-poor college kid, was Power Hour: for 60 glorious minutes, every house draft was $1. A buck! At first I was a greedy, greedy gumdrops, downing three or four in an hour, alcohol, not flavor, my chief concern.
Not every night needed be a blast-off to a blackout. Over time, I started discussing the beers with friends, asking questions, divining why they tasted different. The answers in time led me down delicious tributaries bubbling with monk-brewed Belgian tripels, robust barley wines, rich doppelbocks, and, oh yeah, the occasional India pale ale. Fifteen years back, the IPA was one of many teleporters into a fermented cosmos far more flavorful, far more interesting than what I could gulp from a keg while suspended upside down by my ankles.
What a difference a decade and a half makes.
Beer today is an all-you-can-eat luncheon, glutted with bourbon-barreled imperial stouts, salty ’n sour German ales spritzed with blood oranges, and rustic saisons gone funky with wild yeast. But when people first approach that smorgasbord, empty glass extended, the first (and second and third) selection is often an IPA, the king of contemporary beer.
Whereas for me it was stouts and Belgians that hipped me to a world beyond the bulk-buy lager, mass-produced and massively forgettable, the IPA is oftentimes today’s introductory touchstone of taste. Bitterness and citrus, pine trees and dankness worthy of a weed-filled one-hitter, they’re flavors and fragrances that are easy to grasp, easy to love, easy to obsess over. A generation ago, brewing IPAs made brewers stand out. Now brewers make IPAs to fit in, our ceaseless thirst driving production.
Most every brewer in America, more than 4,300 as of publication and climbing nearly daily, and a growing number around the globe, makes some iteration of an IPA. It’s a category as elastic as it is overcrowded. Those three letters used to be shorthand for bitterness and a fair bit of booze. Now an IPA is code word for flavor. It’s anything and everything, a fever dream filled with hops, kegged, and served cold.
I kind of saw it coming. As a journalist hard on the beer beat since the early aughts, I noticed the uptick in IPAs, the beers growing brasher and more prevalent. However, I thought the wave would crest and crash, followed by another. That’s the nature of trends. The IPA, though, was not a single upsurge; it was a rolling series of swells, some bigger, some smaller, all impactful, steadily eroding prevailing beliefs that beer equaled a fizzed-up yellow lager.
So many waves of IPAs arrived, from every which direction, it was becoming a superhuman endeavor to track them. And it was my job. To provide a concise snapshot of the pervasive, always changing, forever evolving beer style, creating a kind of bitter Rosetta Stone, I resolved to write The Complete IPA. Yes, it’s about beer. It’s also about the ingenuity of brewers taking an idea, taking raw material, and making it massively memorable, utterly distinct, and paradigm shifting—no easy shakes.
Creating a printed document in the forward-hurtling beer world can be thorny, text dated before the tome touches a shelf. I tried to read tealeaves, but with IPAs the only foregone certainty is flux. There’s likely some experimental hop, just taking root, filled with flavors we never dreamed possible in a flower, destined to upend the IPA game forever.
And that’s what keeps me writing and drinking, not necessarily in that order. We’re living in an IPA world. Complete IPA shows you how to drink it in, down to the dollar.