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A short history of IPA

Posted by richard on 19th Sep 2014

Lately, we’ve been getting more and more IPA’s (India Pale Ale’s) hitting our shelves. For those wondering what the heck this style of beer is, here is our brief history of the style... The India Pale Ale style originated in England, in 1774, when the British Empire appointed its first governor to India and a demand (and need) for beer in India resulted.

In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s coke (coal) began to be used by breweries and maltsters to kiln malt (the process of roasting malt, which gives beer its colour). Coke was easier to control and produced more heat than wood, allowing maltsters to produce a much lighter colour malt. The invention of paler malts in turn lead to the creation of the Pale Ale, however, brewers found this style of beer encountered stability issues when shipped long distances. To overcome this, brewers began to heavily hop their beers, utilising the acid in hops as a natural preservative. A more stable beer resulted, able to withstand the long and rigorous journey to India (hence the name India Pale Ale). This beer was light in colour, bitter, dry and with a higher alcohol content - in comparison to other ales of the day. 

Today, India Pale Ales are found all over the world with varying degrees of hop, malt and alcohol levels. Very few of these beers are close to the early IPA in style. American brewers typically seek to bombard their IPA’s with massive amounts of hops, both from an aromatic and flavour perspective, utilising some of the more recent hop styles that have come to market. The beers are often quite bitter, with fruit/floral characteristics in their flavour and aroma. These US IPA’s have developed a core following of ‘hop heads’, who crave the bitterness/flavour and pine for the next ‘hop hit’. The American Pale Ale style, such as the James Squire Hop Thief which we have in this month’s pack, is somewhat similar in style to the US IPA, but not quite with the same hop hit.

British IPA’s typically contrast quite dramatically to their US counterparts, with a greater malt profile and lower levels of bitterness. Some of these are said to be decent replicas of the original British IPA, such as the Burton Bridge Empire India Pale Ale, and the Fullers IPA (available on our website).