Should We Draw The Line at Purple IPA? #BrewedAwakening

By / Wine + Drinks / September 21st, 2017 / 2

I haven’t been shy in my complaints about the bastardization of the IPA beer style. IPA stands for India Pale Ale, which most people agree comes from the English pale ales brewed hoppy and strong to survive the boat ride to the English troops stationed in India, way back in the 1800s.

You can’t make a Black IPA, White IPA or a Red IPA. They, by definition, can’t exist. P means pale. These new styles, invented (of course) by Americans, are just super hoppy versions of existing beer styles. They aren’t IPAs. I had one Canadian version recently called an Imperial Red Ale. Sure, that’s fine. That works. But it isn’t pale! Even India Black Ale at least makes sense.

One of the last beers I had on my recent trip to Cali was – and I’m not joking – a Purple IPA, called Nordic Lean, at Steins Beer Garden in Mountainview. Although disgusted by the words ‘Purple IPA’, I had to try it, because it was a collaboration between Cali brewery Stillwater and Lervig, from Stavanger in Norway. Also, I love purple.

My brother worked in Stavanger in the 90s for 5 years, and we visited him twice. There were no notable microbreweries there at the time, although the golden lagers and bocks/Christmas beers from local breweries were quite good. I loved ordering beers from Aass, because I thought that joke never got old (It did). They weren’t really a new style micro, though, as the brewery dates to 1834!  If there had been a brewpub in Stavanger, my brother would have been there a few times a week.

Nordic Lean surprised me. It was fruity and sour, and smelled a lot like Rodenbach, the classic sour red from Belgium. Nordic Lean is kind of a dirty, reddish colour rather than purple, and has berries and bitter hops alongside the funky, sour character. I don’t think all purple IPAs are sour, but, either way, I felt this beer did not benefit from the hops at all. It was very strange and had a lot of wild stuff going on. A well made sour beer has balance from the sourness – it doesn’t need hops. They are a distraction.

I had already drawn the line at Black IPA, so Purple is actually quite a ways over.


Craig Pinhey discovered good drink circa 1985 at Ginger’s Tavern/Granite Brewery in Halifax and has been writing about beer, wine and spirits for 25 years. A Certified Sommelier and BJCP judge, Craig lives in New Brunswick where he runs his own writing and consulting business and is the beverage columnist for Brunswick News. He is the only person to have judged all of the national wine, spirits and beer awards of Canada.

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