If anything is constant in the India pale ale segment these days, it’s change. IPAs—the most popular style among craft beers—continue to evolve despite an overall slowdown in microbrew sales, with the emergence of new substyles, popular packaging, and a bevy of new brands. “The IPA boom hasn’t slowed down,” says Mikey O’Brien, craft beer buyer at High Spirits Liquors in Providence, Rhode Island. “For every pilsner we sell, we sell two IPAs.” Not surprisingly, New England-style hazy IPAs are the biggest driver for the segment at his store, O’Brien adds, pointing to releases from breweries like New York’s Finback and Other Half. The retailer estimates that High Spirits stocks hundreds of IPAs, generally priced $14-$17 a 4-pack of 16-ounce cans.
Similarly, Dan Chacon, beer buyer at Denver’s Argonaut Wine & Liquor, says sales of IPAs at his store remain robust thanks to the steady stream of rotational products. “With so many varieties these days, it helps to keep things interesting for consumers,” he says. IPAs at Argonaut are typically priced at about $16 a 4-pack, with brands from local breweries like WeldWerks and Outer Range being most popular.
The hazy and imperial trends at High Spirits and Argonaut are in line with national trends, with the new substyles driving much of the IPA excitement. According to market research firm Circana, some of the hottest IPAs over the last year included newer entries like New Belgium’s Voodoo Ranger and Juice Force hazy imperials, along with Sierra Nevada’s Big Little Thing imperial. Longer-established stalwarts, however, like Elysian Space Dust, Lagunitas, Founders’ All Day, and Cigar City’s Jai Alai IPAs, all fell. “The substyles keep things interesting,” notes Jason Perkins, brewmaster at Maine’s Allagash Brewing. “With almost every brewery today making an IPA, a certain style can help to differentiate a brewery.”
Colorado’s New Belgium has transformed consumer lust for new and rotational IPAs into a success story for the Voodoo Ranger brand. While the line’s imperial IPA is the segment’s top performer, according to Circana, Juice Force hazy imperial, with a 9.5% abv, is surging. “Last year was Voodoo Ranger’s best year ever for both our new and existing beers,” says brand manager Michelle Robertson. “We continued to see positive growth, with Voodoo Ranger imperial holding its position as our top-selling brand.” The introduction of Juice Force IPA last spring, meanwhile, “surpassed expectations and became the best craft beer launch ever, recruiting new and already loyal fans to the Voodoo Ranger family,” Robertson adds. Earlier this year, the line was further extended with Fruit Force IPA, and according to Robertson, “we’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm” for the new entry, dubbed a “fruit punch IPA.” In addition, the Voodoo Ranger “Hoppy Pack” variety pack continues to grow by double digits.
Allagash, another long-established craft brewer, recently released Hop Reach, its first year-round IPA. Perkins says that while the brewery has produced numerous IPA one-offs over the years, and doesn’t typically introduce a lot of core beers, the motivation behind Hop Reach’s release was for a “timeless IPA,” not one that fit neatly into a certain substyle definition. After 17 test batches, Perkins and his team settled on the brew that he describes as “an American IPA,” citrusy and tropical, with piney notes. Early response to Hop Reach—which is available in 20 states—has been fantastic, Perkins says.
For some IPAs, single 19.2-ounce cans are seeing success. “All pack sizes are an important piece of the Voodoo Ranger portfolio, but Voodoo Ranger is the go-to for convenience, and nothing is more convenient than 19.2-ounce cans,” Robertson notes. In Rhode Island, O’Brien says 19.2-ounce cans are growing in popularity as more breweries offer them.
IPAs on draft are also performing well. Atkins Park restaurant in Atlanta offers five IPAs on draft out of 16 taps—plus six more in bottles and cans—all priced from $5-$8 a 12- or 16-ounce serving. “We rotate some of our taps weekly or bi-weekly,” says general manager Elizabeth Howell, and they frequently feature IPAs from the likes of SweetWater, Creature Comforts, and Monday Night brewing companies. Overall, Howell adds, “we sell a good number of IPAs,” including 11,000 servings last year alone, just on draft.
Retailers and brewers agree that as the IPA segment continues to reinvent itself, its future is bright. “I don’t see any other style stealing thunder from IPAs,” says Chacon. New Belgium’s Robertson also sees further gains ahead, saying, “the IPA category has opportunity to grow as it evolves with new drinker preferences.”