To be honest, I’ve put off writing about English IPA for some time. The reason for the delay was simply due to the sheer broad range of the style, with its multiple variations, which made it a little daunting to me. Certainly, the modern version is often nothing like the traditional English version. To say it has morphed somewhat over recent years is a massive understatement. As such, what one person considers an India Pale Ale could be quite different to another’s. In this edition, I have decided to half my workload and simply concentrate on the traditional English version.
As covered in previous editions, beer in the UK used to be brown in colour until brewers were able to get hold of pale malt in significant quantities during the time of the Industrial Revolution (mid-1800’s).
The story goes that, during this time, it was noted that certain beers seemed to cope much better with the three or four month journey by ship, from England to her Indian colony. These beers contained a higher level of hops and alcohol than the other beers that didn’t fair so well, so the name India Pale Ale was coined, or IPA for short. Whether this is true is open to debate, but the rest of the story is widely accepted as fact.
The first IPA was brewed by George Hodgson’s Brewery in London, which was situated close to East India Docks, where (you’ve guessed it!) ships set sail for India. Mr Hodgson’s pale was doing well until the big boys up in Burton-on-Trent took notice and decided to muscle in on the action, keen to replace the business they’d lost when their Baltic exports had been scuppered by Russian tariffs on imported beer.
Bass, Worthingtons, Allsopp’s and Salt all took advantage of the huge potential export market of this new style of beer. Continuing to supply the Indian market, they then moved into Australasia, North America and the Caribbean.
So, why were India Pale Ales (allegedly) better suited to the long journeys around the Cape of Good Hope? Hop cones contain resins, acids and tannins that are anti-bacterial and, together with high levels of alcohol, put up a robust defence against infection. As IPAs often contained up to four times as many hops as other styles, this would seem to make sense.
By the time the twentieth century arrived, the overseas markets for IPA were being taken over by new lager styles developed in Germany, which were less bitter and were kept cool by refrigeration. If you know much about the beer market in countries such as Australia and Jamaica, you can make an educated guess which style won the battle. The British brewers therefore concentrated on the domestic market for their pale ale and IPA dropped into obscurity.
It has probably not escaped readers’ attention that, over the last ten to twenty years, IPA has seen a huge new lease of life thanks largely to US brewers, who took this historic style that was given to them 150 years earlier and reinvented it, putting their own unmistakable mark on it. These US brews have then gone on to influence, in some way or other, the vast majority of the current crop of UK breweries. We’ll look at this is more detail in the next edition.
So, what are the typical characteristics of these heavily-hopped, high alcohol English-style beers? They typically have an ABV north of 5% and an International Bittering Unit (IBU) measurement of 40-60, due to the hop content, which is the highest of any English beer style. The aromas and flavours from the hops are pronounced and often enable me to spot an IPA before the liquid has even touched my lips. Citrus and tropical fruits, pine, spice and pepper are often associated. The beers contain Pale Ale malt, with perhaps a touch of Crystal malt. The English hop varieties used include Fuggle, Golding, Challenger and Target, which, as a result of IPA, became world famous in their own right.
Good examples of English IPAs are Fullers Bengal Lancer (5%), Worthington White Shield (5.6%) and Shepherd Neame India Pale Ale (4.5%, or 6.1% in bottle). Confusingly for us consumers, there are some brewers who call their beers “IPA” when they are nothing of the sort. Two examples I can think of are Greene King IPA (a 3.6% bitter) and Caledonian Deuchars IPA (a 3.8% (or 4.4% in bottle) bitter). I can give the latter some slack though, as it was the beer that converted me to real ale!
As for breweries closer to home, we have Acorn IPA (5%), Black Sheep IPA (5.1%), Daleside Square Rigger (4.5%), The Hop Studio India (5%), Rudgate IPA (5.2%), Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery India Ale (5% bottle only), York York IPA (5%). Pedants may argue that some of these are bitters, but I can live with that. I like them regardless.If you enjoy reading our content, please consider sharing with your friends using the sharing buttons at the bottom of each post. Also, you can subscribe to receive notifications about new blog posts via email. Simply enter your email address into the 'Subscribe to Mike's Tap Room' box at the top left of this page.