The Real History Of The IPA

Beer & History Dave Drury IPA

By Pints Templars Staff Blogger David Drury


Ah, the IPA…the hopped up creature that has become a must-make for every brewery. The best selling beer style has many followers (myself included) and almost just as many haters. But the deliciously bitter beer we enjoy today has a long history and has under gone many changes since the first mention of it some 230 years ago.


Most people know that the IPA, or India Pale Ale, got its name from the journey it had to take. The British Empire they needed to ship beer all across the globe and, with India being too warm to actually brew beer at there due to the climate, they used to make what was called “pale ales as prepared for India”, “India ales”, “pale export India ales” or something similar…but they were all the same - brews with extra hops that could withstand the long journey across the ocean.  


However, there are some common misconceptions when it comes to the early history. One of these is that these early IPAs were much stronger and boozier than most beers at the time. But that just wasn’t the case. They were a tiny bit higher in ABV but not by much. The only difference was the extra hops.


Another widely accepted misconception is that George Hodgson invented the IPA and his Bow Brewery was the first to brew it in the 1780s. Well, turns out that there’s a whole lot of history here that smarter people than I have found that says it’s just not true. And, instead, it was William Molyneaux that, in a book written 1869, declared Hodgson was the inventor with no actual evidence to support the claim.


Now Hodgson’s “pale ale as prepared for India” was the most popular beer in the East and it was considered to be a very sought after brew…for a while. At least until Bass and a few others dethroned him in the mid-to-late 1820s.


But what you should know is that, as of now, there is no known inventor of the IPA and many breweries made the style…possibly even as early as 1705! But, by the 1760s, brewers knew it was “absolutely necessary” to add extra hops to beer that were sent to warmer climates.


So where did it all start? Well, the name India Pale Ale was first actually recorded in Tasmania of all places…and still wasn’t actually an IPA. On Friday, February 19, 1830, in an advertisement in the Colonial Times of Hobart, Tasmania a Mr. James Grant was selling “Taylor and Co’s Brown Stout, East India Pale Ale, (the best summer drink)” and other beverages…so really we should be calling them EIPA.


Then in 1841, as more railroads were built and transporting beer became much easier, the EIPA became a popular drink not just for troops and aristocrats in the warmer climates but for the general public in the UK as well. And that right there is why the IPA was not lost to history.


The English market for IPAs became vastly larger than it was abroad. Brewers played them off as elegant and romanticized them as something those classy people during the English Raj could enjoy at home. But the fact is IPAs never sold that well in India. Most people drank porters there.


Unfortunately for Hop-heads, the next 100 years or so weren’t that kind to IPAs.


During the late 1800s, lagers became the “it style” and pushed the popularity of IPAs down across the globe. Then, the US made one of the worst decisions ever and decided prohibition was a good idea…which didn’t help, as many breweries closed or didn’t want to make them.

For a fantastic, in depth, study of IPAs read Mitch Steel's book on the subject.

Twenty years later, during World War Two, there were quite a few rations and shortages on products (especially in Europe). Beer was a casualty of those shortages. While beer was still made in mass quantities, the grain shortage during WW2 forced brewers to weaken their pale ales and IPAs. And, as a result, IPAs became weaker and weaker to the point that the term became interchangeable with pale ales. Some pale ales during this time actually had a higher ABV; although IPAs still had the hoppier bite.


In England, breweries continued to make IPAs throughout these troubling times but their popularity and strength were never quite as high as they were in the early 1800s. But in America, they were barely made at all with the exception of New Jersey’s Ballentine Brewery’s IPA being one of, if not the only, continually made IPA throughout that time.


Then, in the mid-1970s, American breweries along the West Coast once again began to embrace hops.


[Side note: Unfortunately for Ballentine, they were sold to PBR in 1972 who then stopped making their beers and closed them down. They survived prohibition and 130 years just to close right before hops were once again embraced…tragic really. But in 2014 PBR revived the original IPA recipe and, sometimes, you can find it in small batches]


The American hop-revival began with San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing and their Liberty Ale, which was released in 1975 to commemorate the bicentennial of Paul Revere’s ride. From there more and more breweries along the Pacific began to revive this lost style. Sierra Nevada joined in with their launch of Pale Ale in 1980. And soon so did many others. So many that by the time 1989 had rolled around the GABF made decided to make IPAs an official category (with Sacramento’s Rubicon Brewing and their India Pale Ale taking home the gold and Liberty Ale getting silver). And, just like that, in a few short years, hops were back…at least in America.


Bell’s, Bridgeport, Dogfish Head, and Stone all came forward in the 90s and weren’t shy with their hops giving us beers like Two Hearted, Bridgeport IPA (one of the original West Coast IPAs), East IPA from Brooklyn (who is the only brewery to actually call it was originally called, so props to you guys!), and of course any and every beer that Stone released.


Over time scientists and brewers got more involved and began creating, breeding, and manipulating hops and yeasts – which they’re still doing today. There are tons of beers that use “experimental hops” and new varieties.


But it was in the early 2000s that breweries began using different yeast strains and making these new hops; hops with more piney notes or, mostly, more fruity notes. And, speaking of fruit, let’s not forget all the things that can be added to IPAs.


It was Dogfish Head that first added fruit to an IPA way back in 2004 when head owner Sam Calagione decided to pour some apricot juice into a seasonal IPA, which he then called Aprihop. You can still find that beer today (although I’m sure the recipe has since been tweaked).


Pretty soon after IPAs were soaring. And IPAs infused with fruit were, and still are, everywhere! Every brewery seems to have a grapefruit or mango IPA. Sometimes it’s to hide imperfections in their beer. But sometimes it’s just a really good addition that makes it easier to drink.


But it wasn’t just hops. The yeasts breweries used even began to change and evolve. The biggest example of which is the Brett beer.


There has a huge resurgence of Brettanomyces in beer recently. But Brett has always been around…brewers just hated it for the first 400 years. Initially, Brettanomyces (which means British Fungus in Greek) was a wild yeast that grew naturally on fruits and ruined beer, wine, and even the very fruit it grew on. If your beer had Brett in it during the 1700s or 1800s…you dumped it.


It wasn’t until relatively recently that brewers discovered that, under the right conditions, Brett was a great additive to IPAs because it continued to change the flavor over time and not actually ruin it. It added some nice spice and funk to the beer that you couldn’t find with Saccharomyces (the yeast used in most beer).


Around this time, the early 2000s, and with U.S. fully in love with IPAs, the world began to take notice. And, what was originally a British export, was now imported all over the globe from America. Breweries in the UK and Scandinavia picked up on them first but even places like Belgium and New Zealand began producing IPAs in mass. And, with more breweries making IPAs, there was a lot more experimentation and creation.


You know how cranberries have somehow snuck their way into every kind of juice (cran-apple, cran-grape, cran-mango, cran-lemonade [how is that a real product!])…well, that’s what IPAs started doing to beer in the past two decades; as a multitude of sub-categories have slowly emerged – from black IPAs to Belgian IPAs to sessions, and doubles, and fresh hop, and East Coast, and West Coast, and barrel-aged, etcetera, etcetera…but let’s not forget the newest craze - hazy IPAs.


Hazy IPAs go by a plethora of names: NEIPA (which stands for both North Eastern IPA and New England IPA), Vermont IPA, double dry-hopped IPA, and simply hazy IPAs. But, whatever you call it, it’s all the same – super hazy, super juicy, and almost like drinking alcoholic OJ (if done right).


The first credited variation of the NEIPA was Stowe, Vermont’s The Alchemist and their still highly demanded beer Heady Topper. Soon others followed like Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Trillium, and Treehouse. It has slowly spread across the country as more and more people craved this new softer, creamier style of IPA. Tired Hands in Pennsylvania. Mikerphone in Chicago. Monkish in California. Today it seems like every place tries to make an NEIPA.


And there you have it. From an unknown start back in the 1700s to an unknown future. IPAs have been around a long, long time and, based on how many people still love them today, they’ll be around for a long while more.


But, one thing’s for sure, they won’t stay the same. The evolution of the IPA will continue and who knows what kind of IPA we’ll all be drinking in twenty years…but I can’t wait to find out.

 For more beer history, please visit the Pints Templars Library

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