The Story of the India Pale Ale

Posted by BeerMaven | IPA | Posted on March 25th

If the concept of refrigeration existed in the 1700s, we quite possible may never have seen the invention of the India pale ale. This beer style is the champion of hopheads with its heavily noted hop presence and although the hops are selected and added for the enjoyment of drinkers during present times, the style originated more out of necessity than preference. Brewers needed to find a resolution to a dilemma— the six month trip from England to India by sea left their beer sour, uncarbonated and generally bad. George Hodgson of East London’s Bow Brewery would solve the riddle through the creative use of the well-known and popular preservative.

Hops were already used in beer at this point as a bittering agent that balanced the malt sweetness in beer. It was also common knowledge that hops added a preservative quality to beer and killed common bacteria and microorganisms. During this time, ales were generally weaker than that are in modern times, and George Hodgson knew that alcohol had similar preservative qualities. A higher gravity and hop presence might just make the beer survive the trip to the warmer climate of India.

Apart from increasing the starting gravity and hopping rate, Hodgson used a process called dry hopping, in which hops are added to the casks when the beer is fermented. These additional hops were there to keep the beer from spoiling for a longer period of time. The new beer would finally undergo its final test and after a six month journey, when the casks were tapped, what the colonists in India found was a bitter, higher density ale that was given the name of India pale ale.

Modern India pale ales, referred to as IPAs, are woody and spicy, with hops dominating, but not overpowering, both the nose and taste. The finish of a well-crafted IPA is remarkably crisp and clean. Instead of hops balancing the sweetness of the typical ale, sweet notes from the malt are added to offset the hop bitterness in these beers, making it almost the opposite of an ale in practice.

There is a growing movement among the microbrew IPAs today; especially west coast IPAs that feature some of the highly regarded hops in America. Well known beer of the month clubs usually feature IPAs now and again as well to introduce their subscribers to the style. Truly in a category of its own, a well-crafted IPA no longer relies on necessity to thrive; and is the preferred beer of choice for many enthusiasts the world over.

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