As of January 2016, the tropical IPA is officially a thing.
Within the span of about a month, five craft brewers distributed in Wisconsin -- including some of the biggest and most influential players in the market -- nearly simultaneously released India pale ales with the word "tropical" in the name, tasting notes or brand imagery. The biggest, California-based Sierra Nevada, even called its new seasonal Tropical IPA.
Tropical IPAs aren't (yet, perhaps) an official style but a subspecies of the hop-forward beer that has been the hyperdrive of craft beer's jump to light speed. They take the style in relatively new directions by utilizing hops with flavors and aromas of tropical fruit like the sweeter citruses, pineapple, mango, papaya, guava and even peach/nectarine. More traditional American IPAs lean toward more bitter citrus like grapefruit and piney resin. Tropical IPAs also are "juicier" and often less bitter than their distinctively dry counterparts.
Astute readers of this column probably already know how I feel about this trend. One of my favorite beers of 2015 was Ale Asylum's Velveteen Habit, an unquestionably tropical IPA, and I struggle to think of a tropical-profile IPA I haven't liked.
While studying these five new arrivals -- "work" that included side-by-side small pours -- I had an epiphany: In order to serve you better, I need to eat more fruit. Most of these beers do not have actual fruit brewed into them, but the hops share chemical compounds that contribute to the distinctive flavors found in far more commonly ingested plants: fruit. So because I cannot remember the last time I ate an actual tangerine or papaya, I'm somewhat behind the 8-ball here. Bear with me.
Speaking of those hops, this column will dwell on the varieties deployed in their respective beers much more than I would for a review of a porter or dopplebock because they are primarily responsible for the relatively wide variation found here, even among beers that have so many similarities. The varieties used can reveal much about the DNA shared between them.
I've listed them here roughly in ascending order of preference. Also included are a few metrics, including subjective and distinct 1-to-10 ratings for bitterness and juiciness. So an extremely dry, bitter IPA would rate a 1 in juiciness and 10 in bitterness.
Let's get tropical.