NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, India Pale Ale is now Category 22 IPA which contains modern American IPAs and their derivatives. This does not imply that English IPAs aren’t proper IPAs or that there isn’t a relationship between them. This is simply a method of grouping similar styles for competition purposes. English IPAs are grouped with other English-derived beers, and the stronger Double IPA is grouped with stronger American beers. The term “IPA” is intentionally not spelled out as “India Pale Ale” since none of these beers historically went to India, and many aren’t pale. However, the term IPA has come to be a balance-defined style in modern craft beer.
India Pale Ales have a storied history. British brewers used economies of scale to make huge amounts of beer. At some point their brewing capacities were greater than the local markets could sustain. Thus the export market became an important source of income.
Porter was probably the first beer to be exported in any great quantity and the style lent itself to long voyages. It was high in alcohol and substantially bittered with hops. But another export market soon became apparent, the homesick British in India.
But to get beer to India meant that the ships had to sail across the equator, down the entire length of Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope, up the entire length of Africa again, and then on to India. And once there, the beer had to last long enough to make it to the customers. It was already known from the export of beer to the Baltics that copious amounts of British hops and a higher alcohol level could preserve beer on long voyages.
Even before the IPA trade took off, beer was being exported to India. The East India Company was the dominant trader to the East and maintained a huge fleet for that purpose.
Officers were afforded great status and were even granted allowances for private trade, which meant they could carry their own goods aboard their ships for trade and pocket the profits, as long as the goods did not conflict with those for which the Company had a monopoly.
The officers therefore kept the shops in Calcutta full of all the comforts of home, including beer. And if you include the sale of excess supplies of beer intended for the sailors, the appetites of expats in India for British beer were being whetted before the invention of the India Pale Ale style.
George Hodgson was a London brewer who first saw the potential for trade with India. His brewery was situated on the River Lea by the Old Bridge in London, a perfect location for transporting beer to the London docks for export.
Early on he made a decision to build his business on supplying beer for the export trade in the growing India market. He acquired a reputation for supplying quality pale ale to the east and soon his beer was simply known as Hodgson's India Ale. This may have been Britain's first export brand.
Hodgson enjoyed a monopoly on this market and utilized extraordinary, if not unscrupulous, methods to maintain his market share. He would flood the market with cheap beer during the prime shipping months to drive out competition, then steeply raise the prices just before the monsoons hit.
He was not very popular with other merchants or the East India Company as well. They soon began to woo other brewers and found an ear in the brewers of Burton-on-Trent who had just lost their export trade to the Baltics when Russia and Sweden built their own breweries and began levying huge tariffs on their beer.
The fact that Burton-on-Trent brewers had a huge advantage over London brewers because of their sulfate-rich water is well known. Even the London brewers at the time knew that Burton-on-Trent brewers could make a superior pale ale which they could not hope to compete with.
Several stories exist on how the brewers of Burton-on-Trent were persuaded to enter the market, but regardless of the reasons, they were soon exporting their beers to India in direct competition with Hodgson.
Their version of the India Pale Ale started out bringing less than Hodgson's but after they perfected the style, their beers were soon surpassing their competition in prices and popularity.
Several factors soon influenced the Burton-on-Trent brewers success. In 1869 Samuel Allsop was successful in attracting a railway to Burton which solved their distribution problems for good. Burton brewers jumped on innovations in the brewing industry including the new "sparging" machines invented by the Scots.
Before long the India markets began to decline and British brewers failed to take the upstart of breweries in India and Australia seriously. By the 1880's the market for India Pale Ale had all but died out as these were now being supplied by breweries closer at home who could supply the needs of the market easily and without the need for the high shipping costs.
The IPA style found a market in Britain but soon lost popularity as temperance movements, the invention and rising popularity of lagers, wars, taxes and other variables soon came into play.
The style never really died out completely in Britain but since its heyday became much more restrained in both hopping and alcohol. Modern versions in Britain are more closely related to bitters than the India Pale Ales of old.
There are a few IPA's being brewed there that resemble true India Pale Ales but these are rare. Luckily for hopheads everywhere, American brewers embraced the style and made it their own.
They not only brewed the traditional British version but typical of American brewers, Americanized the style by adding lots of citrusy Northwest American hops and have even brewed an Imperial version.
Currently the BJCP recognizes three distinct versions of the India Pale Ale, each with increasing levels of hoppiness and alcohol. These are:
An India Pale Ale will always be highly hopped with higher alcohol levels, although not nearly as high as the originals which came in around 7.5 to 8.0% ABV. Except for the Imperial version, modern IPA's come in at between 5.5-7.5% ABV.
Almost all recipes include some crystal malt which gives IPA its characteristic deep copper or amber color and a subdued but perceptible note of caramel.
For some, IPA's can be overpowering in their bitterness and hop flavor and aroma. But for those who crave hops, hops and more hops, this is a staple in their beer diet.
With their fuller carbonation, higher strength and bitterness, IPA's possess the cutting power to match with creamy dishes and powerful spices, such as Indian or Cajun cuisine. Try them with any red meat and especially BBQ.
Information for this article was adapted from various articles at India-Pale-Ale.com, the article entitled On Style - India Pale Ale by Gregg Smith and the North American Brewer's Association, the 2008 and 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, and Brewing Classic Styles-80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew written by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer.
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