In the early days of the Great American Beer Festival, the beloved India Pale Ale (IPA) was nonexistent. Brewers hadn't even heard of the style and its tasty notes of pine and tropical fruits were unheard of. But all this changed with one man: the game changer. Discover why and how he made IPA the beer sensation it is today!
India pale ale (IPA) has come a long way since its inception in the late 1700s. It has established itself as a classic craft beer style, and spawned a plethora of sub-styles ranging from the light and hoppy to the deep and resinous. However, you may be surprised to learn that IPA wasn't always a thing. In fact, IPA didn't even take part in the early days of the highly-acclaimed Great American Beer Festival.
Founded by Charlie Papazian in 1982, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is the largest professional beer competition in the world. Each year, breweries from all over compete for gold, silver, and bronze medals in nearly 100 categories, based on criteria set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).
At the inaugural GABF in 1982, the beer categories for judging were also quite different from what you'd find at GABF today. In fact, during the event's early days, the tasting competition didn't include the IPA style. During this time, craft beer wasn't as common or widespread as it is today, and many American brewers hadn't even heard of or tasted an IPA. The style wasn't on the radar of GABF judges or brewers.
IPA was born out of necessity in the late 1700s and became popular due to its ability to survive long journeys. The style is distinguished by its high hop content, which acts as a preservative and gives it unique flavor characteristics. Originally crafted in England, IPA was destined to compete in the British brewers' export market to the growing number of British-owned colonies abroad.
Early attempts of shipping the beer to other parts of the world faced issues, as the long and unpredictable journey destroyed the beers during the voyage, resulting in a product that is unpalatable. This led to breweries producing much stronger beers with a much higher hop content, an alteration that proved to be successful; improving both the beer's safety and taste. This is how the beloved India pale ale, or IPA, was born.
The style's popularity quickly rose due to its unique flavor, and it quickly spread from England to all the way to the United States. By the 1980s, IPA started to become a popular style among American craft breweries. Seemingly overnight, all sorts of variations of IPA became available on the market, from the light and citrusy West Coast-style IPA to the big and dank New England-style IPA.
As IPA became more and more popular in the US throughout the 1990s and the 2000s, GABF followed suit and introduced IPA categories in the competition in 1994. As of 2020, IPA has become the most popular style in the festival becoming the most entered style in GABF history. During that same time, GABF continued to add new categories to their competition. Many of these new categories were also IPA-focused and highlighted the various directions the style can take.
Today, GABF hosts a total of 33 IPA categories that highlight a wide range of IPAs, from the traditional to the bold and experimental. These categories include the following: