There once was a time in Minnesota when you knew what you were going to get if you ordered an IPA.

Just five years ago, the West Coast version was the constant of the ever-popular India Pale Ale. Now you’re more likely to find an East Coast IPA on a brewery or bar’s menu. But what’s the difference?

When I’m at a brewery I sometimes hear people’s disdain for any and all IPAs, not knowing just how different the two styles are, and the sub-styles that have been crafted since. Buckle in, because we’re about to lay it all out.

Another note: while there are style guidelines, not every brewery follows them. One place’s pale ale could have just as much flavor as another’s IPA.

West Coast IPA

This style is usually known for showcasing citrus and pine flavors atop a malty, caramel backbone. And it can be quite pithy or bitter. These beers are also clear instead of hazy like the East Coast IPA. They’ve waned in popularity, though there are still a couple of good local examples hanging around. Life’s Too Short (LTS) Brewery serves up Inspiration, which is a nice American IPA that skews toward the West Coast style. Surly’s Furious is basically the easiest West Coast to get in town, even though the brewery doesn’t label it as such.

East Coast IPA

All the rage these days, an East Coast IPA has some distinct features. Most importantly, they are usually fruity. As in, people will wonder if they are drinking something that has actual fruit in it. Actually, what you’re tasting are the hops – galaxy hops give off melon, and the strata hop imparts a nice tangerine flavor. These beers can sometimes be pithy, but it’s the fruit and sweetness that really pleases people. They’re also milky and cloudy, with a pillowy mouthfeel. Forager only makes hazy IPAs, and Little Thistle makes a bunch of them too. Forager’s Regal Hops and Little Thistle’s Stratagalactica are currently two of the best you can get locally. Neighboring Decorah’s Toppling Goliath also sells cans of its hazy IPAs in town.

Milkshake IPA

A sub-style of the East Coast IPA. Basically, pump one of those full of lactose, vanilla, and fruit. We don’t see these often in town, but Eau Claire’s Brewing Projekt makes them consistently. Barrel Theory does every once in a while. Forager and LTS both have them on tap. Both these and the smoothie IPA are difficult to do with balance. Some overshoot the vanilla and lactose, others the fruit.

And a few more sub-styles...

Smoothie IPA

See the milkshake IPA entry above!

Session IPA

This denotes an IPA with a lower ABV, meaning you can drink one or two more than usual.

Black IPA

Once a popular style, this IPA is dark like a stout. The flavor is often a balance of pine, citrus, and roast (think coffee, bitter cocoa).

Double and Triple

If an IPA is a double or triple, it means more alcohol. A triple will typically be above 10 percent ABV, whereas a double is between 7 and 9 percent.

Belgian IPA

Yeast is key here (OK, it’s key for every style on here). These tend to have a sweeter, malty edge, though some taste like citrus, pith or pine, and esters (banana, pear) from the Belgian yeast. Some just taste like a Belgian tripel. This style displays quite the range.