Pale Ale vs IPA What is the Difference?

Traditionally the main difference between IPA and Pale Ale is that the IPA is hoppier, and also typically a stronger beer with a higher ABV as well as being more bitter. An interesting fact that unless you are a beer connoisseur you might not be aware of is that an IPA is in actuality a Pale Ale; in fact, it is right there in its name India “Pale Ale”. As such when comparing a Pale Ale vs IPA it could be said that an IPA is simply a stronger version of a Pale Ale in taste and alcohol content.

To help you understand the differences between these popular beer styles we will start by taking a look at their history…

The History of Pale Ale vs IPA

Pale Ale came first before the IPA. Back in the early 1700s, the dominant beers were dark ales such as porters and stouts. During this time period, maltsters developed a kilning process for their grains that allowed them to dry the malts to different degrees, allowing brewers to be able to brew lighter-looking and tasting beers. These lighter or paler-looking beers became known as Pale Ales.

Compared to the darker beers these lighter beers allowed the hops to shine through more giving them a more bitter and hoppier flavor, as a result of the extra bitterness they were also referred to as Bitters. The Pale Ale was considered the hoppiest beer on the market for 100 years before the IPA appeared.

There is debate about the origins of the IPA, the most agreed upon origin story was that it was purposely designed and brewed to be shipped to the British colonies in India. It is said that it was purposely brewed with higher alcohol content and a larger amount of hops in order to preserve it during the long sea voyage. Newspapers in 1829 did make mention of this new beer style calling it the East India Pale Ale, over time the name was shortened to India Pale Ale and now it is typically referred to only by its abbreviation IPA.

The original version of this beer would not resemble most of the versions brewed today, the closest would be the English IPA.

What is a Pale Ale?

Pale Ales have always been known for having balanced aroma and flavor characteristics. In most versions of this beer style, you will be able to detect some hop notes, however, they will typically lean slightly more towards the characteristics provided by the malt such as cracker, toast, bread, and biscuit. There are now numerous versions of this style of beer, the English Pale Ale would be the closest representation to the original recipe, other popular examples are Blonde and Golden Ales as well as American Pale Ales or APAs which tend to let the hop characteristics shine through more.

What is an IPA?

An IPA will get most of its flavor from the hops used when making it. Hops come in a variety of different aromas and flavors and can present notes ranging from fruity, spicy, citrusy, earthy, and herbal like to name just a few. They are also typically a more bitter-tasting beer and have a higher alcohol percentage.

Like its predecessor there are now many versions of this style of beer, at our last count, there are 24 types of IPAs with new examples such as the Black IPA arriving on the scene all the time. The British IPA is the closest version to the original recipe with the NEIPA, The West Coast, and the American IPA being some of the more popular and well-known.

Difference Between IPA and Pale Ale 
a picture of a Pale Ale vs IPA
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When it comes to the differences between Pale Ale vs IPA the lines are becoming more blurred as craft breweries are pushing the limits of what defines each of these beers. Pale Ales seem to be becoming more hoppier and bitter tasting with flavor profiles that are now very similar to that of IPAs and brewers are also now producing what they refer to as session IPAs which have a lower ABV and essentially taste and smell identical to many versions of Pale Ales.

Traditionally speaking an IPA should have a hoppier flavor and aroma profile, a higher bitterness level as well as a higher alcohol content typically in the range of 5.5 – 7%. A Pale Ale should have a noticeable but lighter hop profile and a medium body with a lower ABV ranging from 4.5 – 5.5%. Pale Ales are more balanced beers having an equal balance between the fruity, earthy, and spicy characteristics of hops and the biscuit, toast, and bready characteristics of the malt. Whereas IPAs will be more hop forward.

Examples of Pale Ales and IPAs

Since the explosion in popularity of craft breweries, it has become increasingly simple to sample different styles of beers as most of these breweries will have a tap room where all of their selections can be sampled and many will carry a few examples of both Pale Ales and IPAs.

The following are some of the more famous commercial examples of the different versions of these beer styles…

English Pale Ale – Timothy Taylor’s Landlord (The Classic Pale Ale)

American Pale Ale – Zombie Dust (3 Floyds Brewing)

English IPA – Harpoon IPA (Harpoon Brewery)

New England IPA (NEIPA) – Hu Jon Hops (Trailway Brewing co.)

West Coast IPA – Head Hunter (Fat Head’s Brewery)

Double IPA – Florida Man (Cigar City Brewing Company)

Last Call

When it comes to a Pale Ale vs IPA nowadays the lines are blurred and in many cases, it can be difficult to tell them apart; however, in the traditional sense, an IPA should simply be a hoppier, stronger version of a Pale Ale.

P.S. If you brew your own beer be sure to pick up our gift to you of Big Robb’s top 5 favorite recipes from his brewpub. Details are on the side of the blog or at the bottom if you are on your phone. Cheers!

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