NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, English IPA is now Style 12C in Category 12 Pale Commonwealth Beer which contains pale, moderately-strong, hop-forward, bitter ales from countries within the former British Empire.
Most English IPA style beers today are really nothing more than an English Pale Ale, coming in at less than 4% ABV. There are some breweries, however, that are brewing good historical examples of the original with alcohol contents around 5.5-6% ABV. Marston's, one of the few large breweries in Burton-on-Trent brews a beer called Old Empire at 5.7% Abv. This beer is an attempt to recreate the original Burton IPA of the 19th century. Some might argue that the latest attempts to brew original English IPA's are actually veiled attempts at brewing the popular American style IPA. To me, if it has Cascade hops in its profile, it's an American IPA.
So why did the English IPA style become mere shadows of the originals? The reason lies in the English beer taxation system. Before the 1880's, tax on beer was paid based on the raw materials used. Then came the "Free Mash Tun Act" which changed the way beer was taxed. Beer began to be taxed based on the gravity of the wort used, or the beer's "alcohol potential". The bigger beers, such as an original English IPA, were taxed at a much higher rate than the weaker worts. Thus, English brewers began making weaker beers and the consumer tastes followed along, much the same way that American tastes followed the weak lager trend after prohibition.
Some beers, such as Bass Ale declare themselves as IPA's in small letters on the labels. This fuels the confusion in the marketplace over what a beer will taste like based on the label's description. Is it a bitter, an English pale ale, a weak IPA, or a decent recreation of the original English India Pale Ale.
As a style though, English India Pale Ales feature late hop additions to highlight the aroma and flavor of English hops such as East Kent Goldings or Fuggles. Most other English beers that feature hops at all, concentrate on the bittering and sometimes hop flavor.
The English IPA is really an English pale ale brewed to a higher gravity and hopping rate. The term “IPA” is loosely applied in many commercial English beers today. It has been (incorrectly) used in beers below 4% ABV.
In the English India Pale Ale style, you will find the best of all three types of hop additions, lots of bittering, lots of hop flavor as well as a big dose of hop aroma. We're talking about the "true to style" IPA's here. Even though these beers are hopped at a much higher level than other English beers, they have much less hop character than even an American Pale Ale.
Generally, these beers have more late hops and less fruitiness and/or caramel are present than in English pale ales and Bitters.
To brew a good English India Pale Ale, the trick is in the hop character and balance with the traditional English toasty and biscuity malt background.
To achieve the hop character, you must use fresh English hops, you must get the right balance of early and late hop character, and you must chill the wort as quickly as possible to maintain the late hop character in the finished beer.
Use a good English pale ale malt such as Maris Otter or Optic, and show restraint on the crystal malt additions.
When choosing a yeast for this style, look for one with a decent attenuation. The beer should finish dry and crisp without being out of balance in the hop bitterness or malt sweetness. If you choose not to use a yeast with a higher attenuation because you want more of the English fruity character, try to use a lower mash temp to make the wort more fermentable and maybe add some dextrin malt to maintain the body.
Another option would be to substitute some table sugar for malt to attain a more fermentable wort. Don't over do it or you will end up with a thin beer that will be out of style for body and inappropriately high in alcohol.
Many homebrewers try to "Burtonize" their water but be careful when attempting this and only do so if you are familiar with your water's profile and adding the Burton salts won't produce a salty sulfury IPA.
References: Information for this web page was adapted from 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, the beer-pages with Roger Protz and Tom Cannavan, article entitled Pale and interesting by Roger Protz written in June 2005, and from evansale.com C.H. Evans Brewing Company Albany Pump Station article entitled India Pale Ale: A brief history written by Geroge de Piro, Brewmaster of C.H. Evans Brewing Company.
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