India Pale Ale (IPA) is a beer style characterized by high levels of alcohol and large amounts of hops
. It is said that the style got its name because of its popularity in India and other parts of the British Empire in the 19th century, much for its ability to manage to keep its freshness during the long sails to the outskirts of the Empire. But is that the whole explanation?
After having had a huge popularity in the late 19th century, interest waned and the style almost fell into oblivion. After spending most of the 20th century as a shadow of its ancient popularity, interest in craft beer exploded again in the late 20th century.
This time, the popularity and interest of American home brewers was driven, only to once again become the most popular beer style on the planet.
Of all the beer styles, IPA is the most romatized, mystified and misbehaved. It still inspires the harshest debates, the greatest reverence and the wildest guesses.
I will try to bring some clarity to the debate, on where the style comes from and why it is still so controversial today. But let's start from scratch!
The problem with telling you about when and who created the style, is that the style existed at least 50 years before someone called it IPA, most likely it existed far earlier than that.
Beer brewers in England in the 17th century were well acquainted with making beer with a high alcohol content and a lot of hops, which could then be stored for a long time. So-called "Stock Ales" and "October Ales" were brewed and stored for up to 10 years, to obtain a vinous type of beer.
In the 17th century and until the beginning of the 19th century, beer was sold under generic names (i.e. there were no "brands"), dealing with Pale Ale, Porter & Cider, etc. We can deduce this from, among other things, advertisements in Indian newspapers and shipping documents that have survived from the late 18th centur
y. So we know that the technology existed and that beer was delivered to India. We also know from the shipping documents, that the beer arrived in good condition and was approved by the buyer after verification.
We have all heard the story of the 'poor British soldiers of India, who could not have their beloved Pale Ale' and that the beer that arrived was corrupted and that this would be the origin of the creation of the IPA. Let's call that story a little.
- In 1665 Portugal bombay renounces to the British and thus begins the colonization of India.
We don't know much about what kind of beer they drank in those early years, but we do know that some cargo ships brought small quantities of beer which they then sold expensively to thirsty English
men in India.As prices were high and availability limited, many preferred the cheaper local option Arrak (Palmvin). The problem with Arrak was (is still today in India) that it is unclean and often diluted
. It is said that the first Englishmen who tried Arrak died within 12 hours (probably methanol poisoning). The problem of Arrak escalated with the number of Englishmen who came to India and came to harvest many lives in the coming decades. Life expectancy of a European in India for the period was 3 years.
So here one can guess that some beer connoisseurs were not primarily driving the need for a cheap and popular beer that could be shipped to India, rather it was the high death rates and the short life long of soldiers and other representatives of England that was the driving force.
- 1716 first confirmed the presence of Pale Ale in India
The lives of the English in India were probably quite tedious and was very much about driving away the time between the arrival of the various cargo ships. A favorite occupation seems to have been drinking. From a l
etter-form reprimand sent from the British East India Company to its commander in Madras, we learn that the company does not see with ease the eyes of the notes consisting of "24.5 dozen Burton Ales and Pale Ale" (a grand party to say the least).
It should be admitted that "Pale Ale" is a somewhat diffuse concept here and covers all kinds of light Ale.
- In 1780, beer imports are established
From ads in the newspaper we see private cargo ships advertising out their loads, almost exclusively it is about Pale Ale, Porter and Cider.
- 1790 we see the first beer brand
"Bell's Pale Ale" is the first fire to appear in India, only to be followed by several others, not least the famous Hodgson's Pale Ale.Geor
ge Hodgson's Brewery in London has sometimes been designated as the IPA's inventor, but that's simply not true. But what Hodgson did, however, was develop the beer style, so to the point that he almost knocked out all his competitors. No mean feat!
So at the end of the 18th century we know that the beer flows into India, that it can handle the 6-month journey and that we now have established beer brands. But still not a trace of IPA!
England 19th century
- 1830 first ad for East India Pale Ale
Hodgson's Brewery is now starting to sell "East India Pale Ale" England, mainly to returning Englishmen who have been stationed in India.
But in order to produce East India Pale Ale without first sending the beer on a 6 m sea voyage (through a variety of climates), the beer was stored for 18 months before it
was sold. At the World's Fair in 1851, the things that were proud of in the British Empire and British culture are presented. None of the major brewery of the time is present, but soon after, IPA becomes a popular drink in London's fashionable nightspots. Even doctors prescribed "Wine of Malt" as a medicine against magåkommor and for general well-being.
It can reasonably be assumed that the East India Pale Ale sold in England and a "sea-ripe" Pale Ale sold to India had some similarities, but they are unlikely to have been identical. Both may well be c
onsidered developments of October Ales, however, the different maturation processes are said to have developed two different beers.
Usually we hear the story tell us that at the end of the 19th century and the advent of the Industrial Age, IPA disappears as a beer style. With some brief explanations. This is probably because the story today is usually told by microbrewers with a penchant for Ale (my own guess).
But what really happened at the end of the 19th century?
With industrialism comes innovations such as engine drive ships, cooling technology and a better understanding of how brewer's yeast works , which in itself should have benefited beer exports in themselves.
But as the transport time to India drops from 6 months to 3 weeks, the technology with "sea-ripened" Pale Ale disappears.
But the real IPA killer is the combination of cooling technology and better brewer's yeast.
In 1883 Carlsberg Bryggeri succeeds in purive lager yeast and in combination with improved cooling technology, thus paving the way for mass production of high-quality lager
s. England may be resisting the onslaught of the new popular lager beer, but India does not.Except for
the new fly with lager beer, drinks such as Gin, Tea and other various alcohol-weak drinks are given hold in the Indian entertainment.
By the end of the 19th century, the almost entire export market for "India pale ales" has disappe
ared. As the 20th century begins, the demands, from the growing sobriety movement in England, of lower alcohol content in beer are growing.
The combination of these phenomena leads in practice to "India pale ales" disappearing completely from the market.
So to summarize the early history of India Pale Ale (IPA):
- It was not good beer taste that drove the beer style IPA
- IPA as fire was probably never sold in India
- The IPA shipped to India was unlikely to be similar to the IPA sold in England
- Historical IPA was a stored beer style
In a future post I'll go through IPA in the 20th century and until today