Ask the Bartender: What’s so India about India Pale Ale?

Due to the popularity of the Cisco Whale’s Tale on tap and Harpoon’s and Long Trail’s India Pale Ales (IPA) in bottles last week, I orderd a keg of Cisco “Indie Pale Ale” to serve this Thursday at Venture Cafe.  Last Thursday, a few Indian entrepreneurs expressed their surprise at the name “India” Pale Ale, because India is not known for its beer, or any alcoholic beverages for that matter.  Thus, to prepare for my tap duties this Thursday, I’ve researched the history of this style of beer to discover how it came to be associated with India.

If you read my last blog, it should come as no surprise that as an ale, the IPA originated in Britain.  The birth of the Pale Ale took place at the turn of the 19th Century, when brewmasters discovered more efficient and controllable methods of kilning malt.  They produced a lighter-colored malt that resulted in a higher level of enzymes, which in turn converted more of the malt starches into fermentable sugars.  The problem with this new Pale Ale was that it did not survive long shipping distances, which were becoming more common as Britain sent its first Governor to India and increased trade in the late 1800s.

George Hodgson, an enterprising brewer at the Bow Brewery in East London, solved the problem and began shipping Hodgson’s India Ale during the 1790s.  To create a more stable Pale Ale, Hodgson and later British IPA brewmasters increased the amount of hops they added to the beer, taking advantage of the natural preservative created by the acids in hops.    Alternatively, they added yeast to reduce the amount of soluble sugar in the brew, decreasing the possibility that micro-organisms attracted by sugar would spoil the beer on its long journey to India.  These methods produced a lighter-colored, dry and bitter beer, with higher alcohol content compared to its ale cousins.  IPA served solely as an export until 1827, when a British ship leaving London crashed and auctioned off its store of IPA.

Since then, creative brewmasters have produced many variations on the IPA.  The British buyers of the shipwrecked beer clearly enjoyed the new brew, but later versions proved to be less hoppy and alcoholic than the original.  American IPAs continue to be dry-hopped like their English ancestors (an extra dose of hops is added to the beer after fermentation), but incorporate American hops, which tend to be much more flavorful with fruity, floral and citrus character.  See what you think of the Cisco IPA this week!

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One thought on “Ask the Bartender: What’s so India about India Pale Ale?

  1. Pingback: IPA: Which Is The Best Coast? | Kegomatic

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