India Pale Ale – The Origin Story to Today
Happy National IPA Day! This day is celebrated by Hop Heads every year, since 2012, on the first Thursday of August. So, crack open something Hoppy, and take a sip anytime I say… hop, hops, or IPA! If you watch the video, you can also take a sip every time my mic gets weird. Oy. I’m getting a new mic.
Today we have all sorts of IPAs, East Coast, West Coast, New England, Red, Black, Brown, White, Sour, English, Belgian, Rye, Double, Triple, Milkshake… There are probably like 25 more IPA styles I forgot or, do not even know exist yet. Well until the States craft beer scene took off in the last 40 years, IPAs were just slightly hoppier Pale Ales.
Anyone who is into good beer these days (or has a friend who is) has heard the basic IPA origin story about British troops stationed in India, who couldn’t seem to get a decent beer. Unfortunately, a lot of the beer shipped to them, got dumped because it turned to shit on the trip to India from Britain. This was during the 1700s, and the beer was basically set up to fail. It would be brewed in Britain, put into wooden casks, loaded onto a boat, and then took 4-6 months to go around the tip of Africa to East India. This meant the beer endured very cold temperatures, then hot, then cold again. It also spent a lot of time in basically a wave pool, with bacteria like, Brettanomyces. Brett can hide in wooden casks and infect the beer causing it to get funky (and not in a good gose kind of way). This is especially true if the beer gets warm, which was happening!
So, time, heat, lots of waves, and bacteria caused the beer to go bad before it could be enjoyed. What to do? They didn’t want to brew in India, because it was too hot, so they needed a better way to protect the beer in route from Britain to India. Enter HOPS!
In my HOPS beer school back in June (video below), we learned that hops don’t just make beer smell and taste heavenly, they can also act like a preservative, and can fight off bacteria! Some strains work better than others. At first, the beer being sent to India was an amber colored highly hopped October beer. Adding the hops gave the beer a fighting chance to keep that bacteria at bay while the beer endured warmer temperatures than it should have. Britain shipped beer other places as well, but so long as the beer stayed cold, it didn’t spoil like the beers sent to India did. So, in the 1760s British brewers loaded beer with hops that were meant to be sent to India, and the India Pale Ale was born.
Like a lot of beer history, there are differing stories, and a lot of assumptions, so no one knows the exact origin story. Nevertheless, there is a lot of fun information out there. Bass actually claims that IPAs become popular in England after barrels of beer were recovered from a sunken ship, that was heading to India, and apparently the English then tapped those kegs and started drinking.
The following century, the 1800s, British brewers began adding hops to beers that weren’t going anywhere. It’s believed this was just a marketing strategy. The first hype beer, perhaps? Or maybe a result of that sunken treasure. Either way, these IPAs are not the hop punches or haze bois, we’ve grown to love and cherish, they were much milder. An English IPA even today, is milder than what we have in the States. There tends to be more of a balance of hops and malt, rather than the hop forward beers of America. The Beer Judge guidelines actually state that an American IPA is “an interpretation of the historical English style, brewed using American ingredients and attitude.”
When a brewer across the pond makes a super hop forward beer, it’s generally called an ‘American IPA.’ So, we got the IPA style from England, and then we torpedoed lots of hops into, and inspired them right back! Brew Dog Punk IPA from Scotland, is a perfect example of this. Brew Dog’s owners have said that Sierra Nevada actually inspired them!
The torpedo comment is a direct reference to Sierra Nevada’s ‘torpedo process’ of adding hops. Ken Grossman (owner of Sierra Nevada), actually created a machine to get the most out of his hops, while brewing some of his hoppier beers like Celebration and Torpedo Pale Ale.
Today, the Beer Judge Certification Program only refers to IPAs as their acronym, IPA. This is because these beers are no longer made to send to India, so they are no longer India Pale Ales. An IPA today is a hop forward beer with aroma and flavor dominated by hops, and not just the bacteria fighting off ones. However, that is continually changing. One book I have from 2013 described a TIPA as a, “palate wrecking bomb to both your taste and sobriety,” I have had a few TIPAs this week that were both smooth and not overly intoxicating, if enjoyed at a reasonable pace. IBUs (International Bitterness Unit), don’t seem to be as important as they were even five years ago.
You got eat food if you’re drinking some high ABV hopped up beers! So, what to eat? IPAs can act as a palette cleanser rather than a wrecker, and they can cut the spice in food quite well. Some of the foods recommended to pair with IPAs (maybe not milkshake ones…but you never know) are cheddar cheese, spicey foods (maybe hot wings), and carrot cake. Make sure it has the cream cheese frosting. You got a three course meal right there!
In conclusion! Whether you’re adding lactose, Belgian yeast, fruit, or marshmallows to your IPA, don’t forget those delicious hops! Our IPAs in the States today, may be nothing like the first ever India Pale Ale, but without the first I wouldn’t have been able to buy the 6 different IPAs I bought today! So here is to all those British troops that demanded better beer! Cheers!