Decided: West Coast IPA is ...

The definitions are in. West Coast IPAs are:
  • 1) no caramel malts 2) unbalanced (really, no desire to be balanced), leaning heavily toward hops, both of these contributing to 3) a drier ipa than non-wcipas.
  • A heavily hopped IPA with at least 6 percent alcohol and 60 IBUs.
  • The key is a complete lack of balance, no strong malt backbone competing with the hops.
  • It is used to describe an IPA that is high on the bitterness scale and that typically exudes citrus, grapefruit, pineapple, and other fruits. It is thrown around pretty loosely.
  • Gloriously lacking in balance. Just a liquid hop delivery vehicle.

On the other hand, they are also:

  • Just IPA made on the West Coast.
  • If a "West Coat IPA" is all of the things that has been mentioned in this thread, what, then, is an American-style IPA? Do we honestly believe there's enough of a difference between the two to the extent that "West Coast IPA" should be substantiated as its own style?

And finally, Jim F characterized how I was feeling about all of this when he wrote:

I think the term West Coast IPA charitably implies that NW IPA's have intense hop flavor (exceptions exist, but to me NW IPA's are characterized by balance). ["West Coast"] really ought to be California IPA, because that, to me, is where the hop bomb was popularized.

Ultimately, I think you have various flavors of the same fruit. Even if we grant that West Coast IPA is a low-malt, dry, super-bitter hop bomb, it's not really enough to peel it off from the IPA category. It's a step further out on the spectrum, but it's part of the family. I hope (but have no confidence) that the style lords in Denver never decide to add this "style."

That said, I do think that whatever this beast is we're pointing to is very much a species of California. We have scads of IPAs here in the Northwest, but these descriptions just don't fit. (Lots of Northern California IPAs are in the NW camp, too.) The balance point on a beer like Ninkasi Total Domination or Fort George Vortex--or hell, even Hair of the Dog Blue Dot--may be toward hops, but they never jump off a sweet, balancing hop base. Those beers are also deeply aromatic and flavorful, not just bitter. You don't get those juicy. funky/citrusy aromas and flavors if it's cranked too far toward bitterness.

So there: sort of a style, but not enough of one to start arguing about names.