It's difficult to remember that there was an era BIPA (before IPAs,) but man, was there ever. I've been doing a little research and I dug out Jack Erickson's Brewery Adventures in the Wild West from 1991. It's a fascinating little time capsule that goes a long way to shaking my revisionist memory. I was attempting to find out when exactly the IPA thing really got going, so I looked at his listings for the breweries and beers they made along the West Coast. Together, the three states had 99 breweries in business by then. Erickson listed the beers brewed by each brewery, coming up with a total of 235 of them (some breweries didn't yet have beer out, or didn't have regular lines). Of these 235 beers, would you care to guess how many IPAs there were?
Sierra Nevada had been making Celebration for some time, and by '91, Bert Grant had had his IPA on the market for a few years, too. The final entrant was from Rubicon in Sacramento, a brewery that has lived 26 under-the-radar years. (Rubicon was known for IPA, winning gold at the GABF the first two years the category existed, in 1990 and '91.) That's it. There were a ton of amber ales, porters, pales, and stouts (in roughly that order), but hops were definitely not the thing.
For what it's worth, in Jennifer Trainer Thompson's The Great American Microbrewery Beer Book from 1997, things hadn't changed that much. Thompson cataloged only bottled beer, and listed a total of 182 from 37 breweries. Number of IPAs? Eight. Grant's and SN Celebration plus Buffalo Bill's Alimony Ale, San Francisco Brewing Shanghai IPA, Full Sail India Ale, Oregon Ale (a short-lived contract brewery) Oregon Original IPA, Big Time's Bhagwan's Best IPA, and Pike IPA.
It's difficult to imagine a time when hops weren't the center of American brewing, but even the not-very-old don't to have to imagine. We just have to remember. Still, it doesn't seem like things were that barren just 15 years ago.
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