What is a West Coast IPA? The Comprehensive Guide

West Coast IPA

The modern West Coast IPA started in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s. It got its name because it was brewed in the breweries located on the western coast of the US. The most well known breweries to launch the West Coast IPA are Anchor Brewing, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and Stone Brewing Company paved the way for this bold hop-forward beer style.

West Coast IPAs were heavily influenced by the Pacific Northwest’s abundant hop varieties, featuring many locally grown hops such as Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook. These hops are known for their assertive flavors and aromas, which contributed to the beer’s characteristic bitterness and citrusy, piney notes.

The popularity of West Coast IPA grew in tandem with the American craft beer movement. With its distinctive flavor profile and a strong following, it quickly became a prominent figure in the global beer scene, inspiring brewers worldwide to experiment with hop-forward recipes. Today, numerous variations of IPA styles exist, all tracing their roots back to the original West Coast IPA.


Hops and Bitterness

West Coast IPAs are known for their assertive hop character, which contributes to a high level of bitterness. Typically, the International Bitterness Units (IBUs) for these beers range from 40 to 70, or even higher in some cases.

Hops used in West Coast IPAs often include varieties such as Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe, and Chinook – among others. These hops provide a strong, resinous, and piney flavor profile, often accompanied by citrus and floral notes.

Color and Clarity

West Coast IPAs generally have a color ranging from pale gold to deep amber, corresponding to a Standard Reference Method (SRM) of 6 to 14. Their clarity can vary from slightly hazy to brilliantly clear, with many brewers using fining agents to clarify the beer.

Aroma and Flavor

Aside from the pronounced hop bitterness, West Coast IPAs exhibit a diverse range of aroma and flavor characteristics. Common descriptors include:

  • Citrus: grapefruit, orange, lemon
  • Floral: notes of flowers and perfume
  • Resinous: pine, dank, earthy
  • Fruity: tropical fruits like mango and passionfruit

While the malt backbone is usually quite subdued in order to showcase the hops, there can still be a subtle biscuity or caramel note present. West Coast IPAs often have a dry finish, which further accentuates the bold hop flavors they are famous for.

Popular West Coast IPA Beers To Try

West Coast IPAs are a fairly new take on the IPA compared to its peers. It is very easy to find them locally. Some of the popular ones to try:

  • Stone IPA: Brewed by Stone Brewing in San Diego, California, this IPA is known for its bold, citrusy, and piney hop profile. It has a 6.9% ABV and a 71 IBU rating, and has been a go-to West Coast IPA by beer enthusiats
  • Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA: This very popular West Coast IPA from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, California, features intense hop flavors and aromas, with a 7.2% ABV and a 65 IBU score. It’s a solid choice and easy find for most local stores.
  • Ballast Point Sculpin IPA: From Ballast Point Brewing Company based in  San Diego (yes, pretty much most west coast IPAs are in California) this IPA boasts bright fruit flavors and a crisp/smooth, bitter finish. Sculpin IPA has a 7.0% ABV and a 70 IBU rating, making it a popular choice among fans of the style.
  • Russian River Pliny the Elder: A legendary double IPA from Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California, Pliny the Elder is considered one of the best examples of a West Coast IPA. With a 8.0% ABV and a 100+ IBU rating, this beer demonstrates the characteristics that have come to define the style.

These are just a few of the options to get started tasting the West Coast IPA. Tasting these will provide a good foundation to enjoy and discover the taste while you branch off an venture to tasting many more kinds.

What food goes well with West Coast IPA?

Pairing the right food with a West Coast IPA can enhance the tasting experience, as the flavors of both the beer and the dish can complement and balance each other. West Coast IPAs are generally hop-forward, with prominent notes of citrus, pine, and bitterness.

With this unique flavor profile in mind, let’s consider some food options that pair well with a West Coast IPA:

  • Spicy foods: The beer’s hoppy bitterness can help to cool your palate when enjoying spicy dishes like Indian curries, Thai food, or spicy buffalo wings.
  • Grilled and smoked meats: The bitterness of the IPA can cut through the richness of fatty meats like hamburgers, barbecue, and sausages, making it an excellent choice to serve at cookouts or barbecues.
  • Fried foods: Foods with a crispy or crunchy texture, such as fish and chips, calamari, or fried pickles, provide a nice contrast to the West Coast IPA’s resiny and citrusy hop character.
  • Savory pizzas: The IPA’s bitterness can cleanse the palate between bites of pizza loaded with flavorful toppings like pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, and peppers.
  • Pungent cheeses: Sharp cheddar, blue cheese, or aged gouda can stand up to the bold flavors of a West Coast IPA and create an interesting taste experience.

Of course, food and beer pairings can be subjective depending on personal taste, so feel free to experiment and discover your own favorite pairings for a West Coast IPA.


Dan Specht

Dan has been homebrewing beer for 8 years and holds a level 2 certifiication as a Cicerone.

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