Cooking Tips | 7 August 2015The History of the IPA Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Happy International Beer Day! To celebrate, we’re sharing the history of the India pale ale from The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer! For beer recipes, tasting tips, and so much more check out www.beerbookmonth.com! The history of the India pale ale is a tale that many beer geeks love to tell and most beer writers have written about at some point or another. There is even an entire book dedicated to this awesome style (IPA by Mitch Steele, and it’s a great read). Although the who, what, where, and when is a bit hazy and disputed, the simple and abridged version of the story goes like this: The India pale ale was a highly hopped pale ale, often higher in alcohol, developed by English brewers in the late eighteenth century for export to India. Elaborating on that statement is tough, and most people end up perpetuating a misinformed, yet slightly more glamorous, version of the actual story. The following is my well-researched and, I hope, mostly correct version of the myth, the legend, the India pale ale. Back in the 1700s, almost everything was shipped by, well, ships. It took most cargo ships anywhere from four to six months to travel from England all the way down and around the entire continent up to India. At this time, beer was stored, transported, and conditioned in wooden barrels. Conditioning in this particular situation refers to an additional fermentation that occurs after the primary or first round of fermentation. It’s a process of maturation and natural carbonation. But we can talk about that later. Wood is extremely porous, making these shipping vessels highly susceptible to oxygen and bacteria, both being enemies of beer and just about everything perishable. Wet and humid with fluctuating temperatures and constant agitation, old wooden ships were potential breeding grounds for infection but also ideal conditions for conditioning (like that word play?), depending on the style of beer. Exporting beer from England to other countries was not exactly a new and different practice for English brewers. England’s rich history of colonization made beer exportation extremely pertinent. After all, one couldn’t let those poor English soldiers and settlers go thirsty, right? In the late eighteenth century, a brewer named George Hodgson of Bow Brewery made nice with the traders at the East India Company, whose ships were harbored a stone’s throw away from the brewery. Hodgson gave the ever-thirsty traders a liberal credit line of eighteen months, which made him quite popular with the crew, to say the least. Hodgson’s relationship with the East India Company allowed him to dominate the beer export market for nearly forty years. Ships transported several styles from Bow Brewery to India, but the most popular, by and large, was his Hodgson’s October beer—a style that is now referred to as “old ale” or “stock ale.” Traditionally, October beer was a slightly stronger, highly hopped beer, somewhere between pale and amber in color, made to last anywhere from one to two years. Both alcohol and hops have antiseptic properties that make them sturdy barriers to bacteria, which increases the shelf life and, in this particular case, the ship-life of beer. Since October beers were brewed with more hops and booze, they were also ideal beers for export. This is where the story tends to get a little fuzzy. Although Hodgson’s October beer was the inspiration for what is now known as the India pale ale, it was not invented on purpose, per se, to survive the export to India—a common misperception and the most popular story told. It is important to note that October beers were not the only beers that survived the export to India. Porters and other brews were also taking the four-month tour around Africa, but it was the October beers that were the most popular. The most likely reason for this is that the rocky shipping conditions expedited the maturation process of the beer, making it taste as if it had been in the barrels for double or triple that amount of time. This probably means this particular beer tasted better when it landed in India than when it left England, hence people loving it. On a side note, this practice was also common for the aging of fine spirits and wines, like cognac and scotch. There are a few distillers today that still employ the tradition of rapidly maturing barrels of spirits by shipping them around the globe for months throughout the rocky ocean waters. But I digress, where were we? Oh yes, the IPA. After forty-odd years of exporting beer to India, Hodgson left the brewery in the hands of his sons. The kids got greedy, pissed off the East India Company, and essentially got the boot. This opened the door for other English brewers, specifically those from Burton-on-Trent, to go after the brewery’s lost market share. The Burton brewers borrowed a chapter from Hodgson’s book and started brewing their own extrahoppy pale ales. One key difference is that their versions were more attenuated, meaning drier with less residual sugar, which allowed the bigger hop profile to really shine. Eventually, the beer-swilling publicans in England found out about these hoppy pale exports, and the IPA soon eclipsed the porter as the hometown favorite style. Notice the tricky language, because up until this point the style was still not called the India pale ale. The IPA name did not appear in writing or in advertising until 1841—nearly sixty years after Hodgson had first started shipping his hopped-up October beers to India. Buy from an Online Retailer In North America: In The UK: Pull up a stool and learn about beer with the Wench! Craft beer is officially everywhere: there are now more breweries in the United States since any time before prohibition. At the local grocery store, the beer aisle is as big as the cereal aisle. At the bar, it’s increasingly hard to choose a beer–the IPA is stronger than the ESB, right? In this book, Ashley V. Routson (aka The Beer Wench) provides the first all-in-one guide that demystifies beer and makes learning fun. She’ll quickly bring you up to speed on beer styles, the brewing process, how to taste beer like a pro, and how to pair beer with food. Unconventional tastings, delicious recipes from killer craft breweries, eye-catching photos–and, of course, plenty of beer–means there’s never a dull moment. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.