India Pale Ale
By Gregg Smith
What do you look for in a beer? Do you consider a big hop signature,
evident alcohol, and a floral nose among a beer's essential virtues? If you
answered yes, this aggressive British beer should be one of your favorites.
Known as either India Pale Ale, or more simply IPA, the origin of both Pale
and India Pale Ale dates to the late 1700's and a revolution in brewing.
Throughout Great Britain's early brewing history beers shared one
characteristic -- a deep colored murkiness, and it was caused by an error
made during the most fundamental step in beer making.
The problem was rooted in their method of malting, the process of
converting a grain's starch to sugar. Brewers made their own malt by
soaking barley and allowing it to germinate (sprout), but to prevent the
embryonic plant from consuming all the fermentable sugars as food, they
needed to halt germination. Brewers stopped it by "kilning", a process of
drying the wet grain in an oven. Unfortunately, their ability to control
the oven's temperature was primitive and often the grain was kilned to a
darkish hue, which was then imparted to the finished beer.
By the later part of the 18th century the malting process was becoming more
controllable and grains weren't as deeply kilned. Brewers took advantage of
this breakthrough and although the beer was still a deep copper color, it
was comparatively "pale". Thirsty Britains lapped up the newcomer with
abandon and pale ale was soon king of the beers. It was such a momentous
achievement some poets honored it in verse...
"Oh Beer! Oh Hodgson, Guinness, Allsop, Bass.
Names that should be on every infants tongue."
Of course Guinness was included for their famous stout, but all the others
were brewers of Pale Ale. In fact at one time Allsop was of stature equal
to Bass. Hogdson too was famous for his pale ale, and he leads us to India
In the late 1700's Hogdson was the most popular ale brewer in London. With
easy access to shipping from the capital, Hogdson was in position to supply
beer to homesick English colonists around the world. Of these, none felt so
removed, nor thirsted more for the pleasures of English breweries, than the
troops garrisoned on the sub-continent of India. Hogdson rightly believed
it a huge market waiting to be tapped, but how could beer survive the trip
Hogdson used three brewing methods to ensure his ale weathered the journey.
First, he knew hops were a natural preservative. Indeed, it was this
property that first motivated brewers to use hops. Hogdson reckoned an
increased hopping rate would help in transit. Next, he took advantage of
another natural preservative in beer, and he brewed one with an exaggerated
level of alcohol. Finally, he used abundant dry hopping as an additional
preservative, and he rightly thought it wouldn't harm the taste because it
would mellow during the long voyage. He couldn't have guessed better, the
measures not only ensured Hogdson's modified Pale Ale arrived intact, the
recipients considered it an improvement.
Hogdson's modifications resulted in a variation both closely related to,
and distinctively different than, pale ale. To differentiate it from pale
it was bestowed with the name of its destination, thus the birth of what's
known as India Pale Ale.
Characteristics of this beer can, as with other styles, vary somewhat, but
an IPA will always exhibit the alcohol and hopping that distinguished the
original. Hogdson and his contemporaries designed their IPAs with original
gravities of 1070 and above, which translates to alcohol levels of a
whopping 7.5 to 8%. Modern recipes usually attain a more modest level of
1050 to 1060 OG, for a subdued, yet still noticeable strength of 5.5 to 7%.
Specialty malt additions of carapils and crystal contributes to the deep
copper\amber color and provides an undertone of faint but perceptible
caramel. Conditioning favors the mild end of the spectrum but at times
might be considered quite lively when compared with other English ales.
In general, a traditional IPA will possess a nose of perfumey alcohol,
fruitiness, and malt, although newer versions frequently overshadow the
malt with strong hops. English brewers typically use hop varieties of
Goldings and Fuggles, while American renditions of IPA employ Northern
Brewer, Cascade, and Chinook, which project notes of citric or
Big enough to stand up to rich entrees and sauces, they may prove a bit
overpowering for delicate cuisine and seafood. Try them with strong
cheeses, casseroles, stews, barbecue and all manner of red meats. Some of
our favorites include Liberty Ale from Anchor, Young's Special London Ale,
and the old reliable Ballantine's. Of course India Pales are exceptional
alone and though many drinkers favor them in winter they're enjoyable year
round, and to paraphrase... "should be on everyone's tongue."
© Gregg Smith