Last week, a friend and I found ourselves at the weekly microbrew tasting at the Jug Shop. We tasted 7 releases that were special collaborations. As the beer poured several guys kept were espousing about the history of I.P.A. (India Pale Ale). No one seemed to know the full story. So I did some digging.
Imagine, if you will, a country, England, filled with people who love to drink fine ale. That country establishes one of the great naval forces of all time, and in so doing its leaders encounter many challenges. Not the least of which is the importance of keeping beer on hand for the navy sailors, soldiers and colonists in settlements around the world. Soon realizing that the porter ales didn't travel well across the great ocean blue arriving sour and flat after time and shifts in temperature.
Enter, at the end of the 18th century, an enterprising brewer named George Hodgson, brewer at the Bow Brewery in East London, who was motivated to solve the problem. In doing so he invented a new style of beer–India Pale Ale–which is where it was its key destination for the Royal Empire. His approach included brewing it to a high alcohol level and using more hops than any previous beers. High hop levels can preserve a beer’s flavor in two ways: they have a limited ability to protect beer from spoilage by some microorganisms, and, more importantly, theirbitterness can mask stale flavors. While there is not enough alcohol in any beer to offer serious protection from microorganisms, having more of it will certainly not hurt. So really the magic is the is in the hops.
According to Real Beer:
High hop levels can preserve a beer’s flavor in
two ways: they have a limited ability to protect beer from spoilage by
some microorganisms, and, more importantly, their bitterness can mask
stale flavors. While the beer arriving in India would certainly have
suffered from oxidative staling during the long voyage, it could still
taste acceptable because of the masking effect of alcohol and hops. Original English I.P.A.s were strong, very hoppy beers weighing in at about 7-10% ABV.
This new brew recipe began shipping during the 1790s as Hodgson's India Ale. The drink is called pale ale because they were lighter in color than the popular brown ales, porters and stouts. These copper-colored, reddish-bronze beers were some of the the first beers in the world paler than the more commonly found black or brown.
Hodgson’s export beer was a success, and he worked hard to maintain his monopoly on the Indian beer trade. Eventually, other brewers, notably Bass and Allsop, managed to begin trading their own versions of I.P.A. in India, and some brewers began producing a somewhat more subtle version of I.P.A. for the domestic market.
Today, in America, most I.P.A.s are dry-hopped adding a fresh aroma while removing the bitterness. It averages about 5-10% ABV
The brew tasting that brought this all up was the Schneider & Brooklyn Hopfen-Weisse collaboration, that tasted hoppy, zesty and well very refreshing. (Alc/Vol: 8.2%; IBU: 40) . Very drinkable.