Beer 101: IPA

09-16-2016, The BeerVibe Crew


The history of IPA; the India Pale Ale style of beer which in recent years has grown in popularity, is of a beer created for the needs of an expanding empire. The brew was successful, then faded away and was nearly forgotten and then rediscovered by craft brewers.

British India ran from 1612 – 1947. In the early years, British soldiers garrisoned there to defend the Crown’s interests languished in the tropical heat and were willing to pay some of their soldiers’ wages for a taste of home. The beer was good; however, the beer at the time was a dark and heavy porter. It was shipped in stifling cargo holds of wooden sailing ships and often became spoiled and unusable after the six month passage from Britain. The East India Company (EIC) got the beer on an 18-month credit from the George Hodgson’s Bow brewery in London. Therein was a problem. If the beer was unusable and unsalable, then neither the EIC nor the brewery made any money from the effort.

A number of solutions were offered. Among them, they tried shipping unfermented beer to India and adding the yeast upon arrival. (That didn’t work) They tried concentrating the beer at the brewery and reconstituting it upon arrival in India. (That didn’t work, either) These beers were dark porters. In January 1822 a shipment of Hodgson’s October ale, a strong pale beer brewed in October and pumped up with a lot of hops, arrived in India (according to the Calcutta Gazette). Recall that hops have a preserving effect on beer, since hops are anti-bacterial. This hopped-up ale not only survived the long passage to India, but actually improved during the voyage. This was perhaps a welcomed antidote to the British soldiers’ sagging morale problem.

As usual commercial success, jealousy, greed, and competition played a hand in the development of the style. By the 1860s India Pale Ales had become popular in England. The style spread to other lands, including Canada and the United States. Then refrigeration happened and the IPAs gradually faded away, but not entirely.

In 1979, under President Jimmy Carter’s administration it became legal for Americans to brew their own beer. Some home brewers and craft brewers, with a curiosity of what our beer-guzzling predecessors drank, tried brewing IPAs and found them very much to their liking. This eventually led to the American-Style India Pale Ale, with medium to high hop bitterness. Usually with American grown hops. They are characterized also by a fruity-ester flavor, medium maltiness, and medium body.

Two other major styles of IPAs are the English-Style and the Imperial, or double India Pale Ales. Have you tried them?

NEXT: Come back and find out.

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