National IPA Day: A Look at San Diego’s IPA Culture

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Thursday is National IPA Day and, since we’re in San Diego, we’re certainly in the right place to appreciate the “hoppy” holiday and the well-respected style of craft brew.

An IPA, or India Pale Ale, is a type of beer known for its bold, hop-forward flavors. In San Diego – or, the “Capital of Craft,” as beer enthusiasts see the city – IPA culture has long-thrived as local craft breweries consistently churn out new IPAs, and hop heads gravitate toward them.

According to Matt Zirpolo, president of the San Diego Brewers Guild and owner of the Carlsbad-based Burgeon Beer Co., a great IPA features several key elements: lots of flavor, aroma, and some bitterness from a large dosing of hops.

“The malt should balance out the hops and alcohol while providing a clean, crisp finish that has you consistently coming back for more,” Zirpolo told NBC 7.

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Zirpolo said beloved breweries like Stone, Karl Strauss, Pizza Port, Alpine and AleSmith essentially created the “IPA culture we know in San Diego.”

Over the years, other newer craft brewers – such as Societe, Modern Times, Port/Lost Abbey, and Zirpolo’s own Burgeon – have followed suit, brewing IPAs that have kept the style, well, burgeoning.

Today, Zirpolo said craft beer aficionados, or “hop heads,” seek out those flavorful, aromatic, hops-driven beers.

And they don’t have to look very far.

“I truly believe you will find more IPAs in San Diego than anywhere else in the world,” he said.

Skip Virgilio, AleSmith Brewing Company co-founder and current brewmaster of Gravity Heights, a 12,000-square-foot brewpub that opened in Sorrento Valley earlier this year, called San Diego “ground zero” for hoppy beers, including IPAs.

Virgilio told NBC 7 early local brewers – including Paul Holborn, Pat McIlhenney, Kirk McHale, Jeff Bagby, and Tomme Arthur, to name a few – worked hard to make this an IPA city.

“Brewers and beer drinkers all over the country and world looked to San Diego for great IPAs,” Virgilio said. “A positive local culture developed and continues to develop to nourish the love of IPA. It’s an easy bandwagon to get aboard.”

Zirpolo said San Diego brewers, being the adventurous bunch they are, took the IPA a step further, pioneering a craft beer style known as the “West Coast” IPA.

“We created a version of IPA where there was more hop flavor with less malty sweetness,” he explained. “This made IPA’s more drinkable, flavorful and less filling, which matched the San Diego lifestyle.”

Virgilio knows the importance of offering IPAs to patrons. The beer list at Gravity Heights has plenty of them – and, given the IPA fandom in San Diego, that will never change.

“Almost everyone here wants to drink IPA,” said Virgilio. “Some want hazy, some West Coast, and some want double, triple, black, red, brown, white, session, milk shake, brut. If you offer a few or many, local beer drinkers will be stoked. If you don’t, beertenders will be lonely.”

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How to Expertly Taste an IPA:

For those looking to expand their beer horizons with locally-brewed IPAs on National IPA Day and beyond, there is a way to make the most out of those sudsy sips.

Zirpolo offered these expert tips when tasting an IPA:

  • Take a second before your first sip to appreciate the aroma
  • Smell the “beautiful aromatic bouquet” that the hops lend to the beer
  • Take a sip and taste how the flavor compliments the aroma of the beer
  • Breathe out after your first sip and let the flavors linger on your tongue
  • Appreciate the balance of the beer and the clean, dry finish

“Lastly, as the Czech proverb states, ‘A fine beer may be judged with only one sip…but it’s better to be thoroughly sure,'” Zirpolo quipped.

The San Diego Brewers Guild, founded in 1997, is currently made up of more than 130 local craft breweries. The group’s ongoing mission is to promote independent San Diego breweries and the industry they have built here, together.

In September 2017, during the Guild’s 20th anniversary, founding members of the Guild collaborated on a beer dubbed the “Capital of Craft” which was, of course, a San Diego-style IPA.

In 2017, founding members of the San Diego Brewers Guild got together to brew the Capital of Craft, a San Diego-style IPA.
Photo credit: Oveth Martinez/San Diego Brewers Guild

Cheer to interesting, local brews, San Diego.