Okay, let me just start off by saying that I fucking love IPAs. In fact, pale ales, in general, are just great from session pales to hoptastic imperial or double, even triple IPAs. But let us also be real. The market has become flooded with them. And here in Vietnam, it is no exception. If you go to a place like Standing bar and count the pale ales, you will find that most of them are one. This influx of IPAs is no surprise as when someone is just getting into craft beer, Indian Pale Ales or IPAs are usually the beer they know. It is like the gateway beer of craft brews. Unfortunately, like certain other gateway substances, most don't even leave the entryway. While I am not condoning drug use, when it comes to beer this is just sad. Also, this in a way goes against the philosophy and joy of craft beer. The whole point was people wanted something new and to explore the wider world that it this grain fermented wonder of human achievement. Beer is likely one of our first inventions and has a long and winding history. What we know of as beer today is a relatively recent thing in beer's history. Hops were considered a medical herb before its inclusion, and before hops made it into beer, a fruit and spice mixture was used. But then when hops were discovered to do the same effect but better it completely replaced gruit. I won't go too much into detail, but if you wish to read more of the history, I will share links below(1).
So then what? What beer do I try? Honestly, there is no real answer to that. You just have to try. Lucky for us, if you go to a place like Standing Bar, Furbrew, and C-Craft you can always ask for a taste. While many other places serve craft beer, I am not sure they are open to sampling or will understand, but it doesn't hurt to try. There are over one hundred styles of beer, and that is a constantly changing number with the craft beer scene. Check below for a moderately detailed list of beers (2). Yes, IPAs and Pale Ales do lend themselves to the kind of climate we have in Vietnam. Styles like Porters and Stouts are for those cold days, but hey, Hanoi has a winter of a sort. Then other styles require separate infrastructure for brewing such as wild fermentation which is not easy to do when just starting out. Also shameless plug time. That is why I started this site. In hopes to share to others the wider world of beer.
There are so many good styles that offer a unique characteristic to the beer world. And yes many of us are used to a good old bitter, porters and stouts. But there are some styles worth your time even if you had tried them before and were not a fan. Styles like Saisons (3). While in my early days I was a hop head like any other over time I wanted something new, and I found that in the humble Saison. A farmhouse ale that has an incredibly complex flavor and an often high amount of Alcohol. (this is not a traditional thing but seems to be the current trend of craft Saisons.) This style is a great beer for a hearty meal. Plus it is a Belgium beer style, so you know it will be good. Sure they may come off as sour, and I've even heard a patron at a bar say this isn't a beer when drinking it once. The Saison is an excellent example of a beer that still has the moderate bitterness many of us like but exceptional flavor for those not so into the bitter bite of hoppier beers. Lucky for us there are now two excellent examples of the beer with Pasteur Street's Spice Island Saison and Furbrew's Hanoi Saison.
Barleywine(4). This is a beer that will fuck you up if you're not careful. Pronounced in bitterness and highly alcoholic but still rich in caramel and toffee flavors giving you a robust dignified style. While there is not much around as of now, I know Furbrew has one in the workings, and Pasteur Street with Fuzzy Logic made one.
Okay, stay with me hop heads (I'll talk about IPAs again), but Wheat beers and I mean American Wheat Beers (5). Now I am talking about the trend of craft breweries to have wheat beers usually with an added fruit flavor. Often people consider this the girlie drink considering they tend to fall just below 20 IBUs. Just that is very unfair for women and the style itself. The Amercian wheat beer is so complex it's hard putting it under a unified style. Here they tend to have the fruity flavor especially. Yes, it is not as bitter as your Imperial IPAs, but if you read the history of hops you'll find fruit was in beer far longer then hops has been.
Finally, there is one more thing I need to address with IPAs (6). It is a kind of Pale Ale, right. We can all agree on that. So then how is a black IPA (7) even a thing? Don't get me wrong. I love the Black IPA, The Horror from Heart of Darkness, but it 's not a pale ale, as would be more like an Indian Black Ale, but it is better called what it is, an American Black Ale. Even the Rye (8) IPAs are more of brown ale in color. Once again, The Rye IPA from Fuzzy Logic is a good beer. The problem is IPAs sell, but brewers want to try new things. In many ways, it is our faults. We craft beer drinkers want IPAs and brewers market their beers that may have a connection to an IPA as one, for us to try their unique creations. So do craft beer in general a favor and try more beers.