You can think of these beers as a spectrum with more mild pale ales on one end and aggressively-hopped double IPAs on the other. There is a lot of variation within the spectrum and an exception to every rule, of course, but you can follow this as a general rule of thumb.
• Pale Ales - So called because they are brewed with more lightly roasted "pale" malts, pale ales typically have a more equal malt-to-hop balance. The hops are definitely present, but fairly moderate. Beers to Try: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Fresh Hop Pale Ale from Great Divide Brewing Company, and Anchor Liberty Pale Ale
• English India Pale Ales (IPAs) - IPAs were originally brewed as an extra-hopped beer for the long sea voyages from England to India, taking advantage of the special preservative properties of hops to keep the beer fresh. These IPAs were - and still are - brewed with English hops and tended toward earthy, woodsy, and spicy flavors. Beers to Try: 400 Pound Monkey from Left Hand Brewing Company and Brooklyn East India Pale Ale from Brooklyn Brewery
• American India Pale Ales (IPAs) - While the English style of IPAs is still brewed today, American brewers have also put their own spin on it. Our IPAs tend to be even more aggressively hopped, with the balance of hops-and-malts definitely tipping in favor of the hops. American IPAs typically feature resinous pine and bitter grapefruit flavors. Beers to Try: 60 Minute IPA from Dogfish Head Brewery, Centennial IPA from Founders Brewing Company, and Ranger IPA from New Belgium Brewing Company
• Double IPAs Also called "Imperial" IPAs, this uniquely American style takes the craving for hops and runs with it. These usually use double or even triple the typical amount of hops, but also add more malts to balance. The resulting beer has huge hoppy highs and deep malty depths with an high ABV to match. Beers to Try: Stone Ruination IPA from Stone Brewing Co., White Knuckle Double IPA from Marin Brewing, and Hopslam Ale from Bell's Brewing Company.
Had a good pale ale or IPA recently? Do share!
Related: For the Freshest Beer: Buy a Growler
(Images: Emma Christensen)