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The Great XPA Debate

What is an XPA anyway?

What is an XPA anyway?
With the recent launch of Heart of Darkness’ new seasonal beer, Two Thousand Eyes XPA, we have repeatedly fielded the question “What is an XPA anyway?”

So, let’s look at the basics…
1) “X” stands for “Extra”, this is an ‘Extra Pale Ale’
2) The XPA is a recent (US) beer style that sits somewhat in the no-mans-land between an American Pale Ale (APA) and an India Pale Ale (IPA)
3) This is a beer style that, as yet, remains undefined

What exactly is “Extra” here?
“Extra” might be extra pale in colour, extra light in body, or perhaps a beer packing something else extra to a regular Pale Ale, like higher strength or more hop aroma and flavour. There are even suggestions the name pays homage to the “X” that was traditionally marked on British ale barrels to indicate the strength of the contents. So, is this just a superhero kind of thing? The real origins are lost to the sands of time.

XPA vs Pale Ale or IPA
XPA is a modern twist on the classic Pale Ale but with a larger amount of pale malt, giving the beer a paler, brighter/lighter colour and crisper flavour. XPAs usually have a bolder hop profile and thus more hop bitterness than a standard Pale Ale. Meanwhile, you can expect an XPA to be lighter than most IPAs – lower in bitterness, lower in hoppiness, and usually lower in alcohol.

The Proliferation of the IPA category
The explosion of American (and to some extent British) craft brewing created renewed interest in the IPA beer style. American brewers began producing APAs using New World hop varieties that gave us exciting new flavours; meanwhile with IPAs, they increased the ABV and hopping rates significantly. So, to bridge the gap, they created XPAs to fill the gap between!

However, a significant overlap and confusion has grown that even seasoned beer judges grapple to resolve. We have witnessed the creation of so many sub-styles of IPA – West Coast, which are strong and bitter; New England IPAs (NEIPA) which are hazy and very hoppy, but not bitter; Black IPA; Session IPA, which is any of the sub-styles but weaker; Double IPA (DIPA) which is a stronger version of a more normal IPA; and so on and so forth. The lines have blurred. The end result is that IPA no longer refers to just one style, but a plethora of different styles.

The Future for XPA
Considering the above, is XPA now redundant… or is it here to stay? Is it all just some marketing hocus pocus?

There’s no real standard for what defines an XPA. The style was born in California in 2008 (compared to hundreds of years for some other styles), and there’s no real consensus amongst industry professionals on what it is. Perhaps it’s best to treat this category as an open canvas for the brewer.

Explore. Experience. Experiment. Decide for yourself what the X is for!

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