Pale Ales, Double IPA’s, Triple IPA’s, Oh My… What’s the Difference?

Just when I thought I had it all figured out… I walk into the bar and the tap list has a double and a triple IPA.  What the? Ok, I explored the world of IPA’s in a recent article, but I think we need to understand a little more of the IPA terminology. What is the difference between a double and triple IPA?

Let’s Run the Spectrum

Pale ales to IPA’s to Double and then Triple run the spectrum of the IPA and hop flavor profile.  Let’s first off define what each of these are.

  • Pale Ales – these beers are brewed with more lightly roasted “pale” malts.  The beer has an equal balance of hops and malts.  There is still a hop presence, but it’s fairly moderate.
  • English Inda Pale Ale (IPA) – these beers were brewed with extra hops for the long sea voyage between England and India.  This process takes advantage of the preserving qualities of hops.  They are brewed with English hops which have earthy, woody and spicy flavor notes.
  • Amerian IPA – Americans always put their own spin on anything.  American IPAs are no exception.  These beers are much more aggressive on the hops.  When noting the hop and malt balance, these beers lean much more to the hops side.  The flavor notes tend to be more pine and grapefruit.
  • Double IPA – these beers are also known as “Imperial” IPAs.  These beers double or triple the amount of hops, but malt is still added to balance the hoppy notes.  Because of the higher malt content, the ABV of these beers is higher.
  • Triple IPA – these beers take the Double IPA to the next level.  More hops and more malt are added.  This increases the ABV to over 10%.  A benchmark for a Triple IPA is an ABV of over 10% and hitting 90-100 on the IBU scale.

Hard Fast Rules?

As with any craft, beer rules are not fixed.  A heavily hopped beer may not be a double or a triple IPA and it may not be bitter either.  When the hops are added in the brewing process contributes to the level of bitterness on the IBU scale.  Added early in the brewing process, beers tend to be more bitter.  Added at the end, the hops add more aroma than bitterness.  Keep in mind, as the amount of hops increases, the level of malt increases too.  The increased amount of malt tends, at times, to make the beers sweeter and will also increase the ABV of the beer.

The ABV percentage is another loose rule used to determine what kind of IPA the beer is.

The Brewers Association does offer some guidelines:

  • American IPA – ABV of 6.3% to 7.5%
  • Imperial or Double IPA – ABV of 7.6% to 10.6%
  • Triple IPA – anything over 10% ABV

In the end, the brewmaster determines if it is an IPA, an Imperial IPA or even a Triple IPA.  Afterall, it’s their creation and per, the beer is “whatever the brewer decides it is”.

Wait… There’s More?

I found two other IPAs which you might see on a tap menu.  These are great options if you don’t really lean towards a hoppy IPA.  They blend the notes of other styles which make these more approachable beers.

  • White IPA – this beer has a hop forward character, like an IPA, but is blended with wheat and spices used in an easy drinking Belgian Witbier.
  • Black IPA – depending on who you talk to this version was either created in the Pacific Northwest or North County San Deigo.  The roasted malt provides a deep mahogany hue and roasty flavor.

Which One?

If you enjoy the hoppy flavor of an IPA, begin to explore the world of Double and Triple IPAs.  They are offered at most tap rooms and breweries.  If you don’t tend to order IPAs, try a sample at your next visit to a tap room.  You might find a new beer you like… or not.  I still struggle with IPAs.  My husband truly enjoys beers with a hoppy flavor profile.  I, once in a while, take a sip but then return back to my lager, pilsner or wheat beer.  Do you have a favorite IPA?


(credit:,,,, John Verive – LA Times – 2/22/14)

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