The initials IPA, are short for; India Pale Ale. The meaning of IPA goes all the way back tot the 18th and 19th centuries. More info
Here at Uiltje Brewing Company, brewing IPAs is our specialty. We love IPA beer and we love adding our own twists and turns to it, so an ordinary IPA, really becomes something special. The beer style IPA is quite popular as we know it, but there is an enticingly rich history when it comes to this amazing hoppy beer we all know and love today!
The initials, IPA, are an abbreviation of the term; India Pale Ale. The term IPA’s origins go all the way back to the 18th and 19th centuries. India Pale Ale was the solution to an ever growing demand for proper refreshment for the British legions in the West Indies. The British empire had troops, emigrants and sailors stationed all over the world. India used to be one of the most vital outposts due to its climate, and it’s herbs, not to mention its strategic position. Yes, there were many advantages of an outpost in India, yet there was one terrible, terrible disadvantage that the Brits probably didn’t take into account when they first decided to settle in India.
The British Indian army was completely parched. Their khaki uniforms soaking up their sweat while they worked all day under the searing Indian sun. Needles to say, they craved for some proper refreshment. Unfortunately, the English soon realized that the climate in India made the brewing of a nice ale impossible. A rotten bit of luck, as a refrigerator wouldn’t be invented for another couple of centuries, which means that the only beers that could be imported were mainly lukewarm, dark, strong beers.
The first Brits that settled down in India, were confronted by the only beer fit for import; Heavy, lukewarm, Porters. A popular choice among Londoners back in the day in order to warm yourself up on a chilly day. A purpose that the tropics welcomed with redundancy, by virtue of the unbearable temperatures.
Most of these Porters were brewed by a company called George Hodgson’s brewery, a couple of miles up the river Lea from the former East India Trading Company’s headquarters in east London. Issued by the government, these Porters were produced by George Hodgson’s, put into heavy, lumber casks, and brought aboard of merchant ships that were outward bound.
The ships carrying the government Porters set sail and began their perilous journey, which averagely took about 6 months, crossing the equator twice. The ships that carried the casks were called East Indiaman. Within these 1000-tonne ships, the circumstances were dire. The hold was a hellish, smelly deck, hazy with heat and full of old sailor’s diseases. With every other wave the ships traversed, the barrels would roll over and occasionally break free from their bounds. As you might expect, the beers usually did not fare too well during these trips. It usually arrived infected, stale, and sometimes not at all, on account of broken barrels, or thirsty sailors.
The East India regiment became all the more frustrated with the poor quality Hodgson’s provided as days passed. Even if the Porters arrived, and wouldn’t kill anyone when being drunk, the dark, heavy beer was not appreciated by the regiment, regarding the circumstances. Hodgson, being as frustrated as his consumers, was making attempt after attempt, yet, nothing worked.
Eventually Hodgson offered another one of his craft beers called “October beer”. Normally this type of beer would age in barrels, to eventually become barley wine after a number of years. This process was commonly done amongst the rich when a son was born. Usually the beer was barreled on the day a son was born, and then drunk on the day the son celebrated his 18th birthday. In order to keep them tasting fresh, the barrels were packed with loads of hops, sometimes using up to 10 pounds a barrel.
Despite being convinced that this last attempt might also be to no avail, Hodgson decided to ship over a number of barrels his version of “October beer” nonetheless. He made this pale ale strong and chock full of hops, which are a natural preservative, much like the tannins in wine. Its strength and savor made sure the ale survived the voyage to India without getting infected or stale. The hops also worked as an ideal counterpart for the sweetness of the malts used for this ale, which made it quite enjoyable as a matter of fact.
On a January day in the year 1822, the first East Indiaman carrying Hodgson’s famous prime picked, special pale ale of genuine October brewing. Superior to any ale that ever reached the far indies, this pale ale was a huge success, which would later be known as India Pale Ale. The British settlers had been longing for such a beer for years! A bright and strong ale, full of hops. A real taste of home, and a boost of antibiotics for infamous illnesses like scurvy as well!
After the prime of the British empire, the IPA’s course changed. During the latter half of the 19th century, the IPA was also introduced to its rightful place, in the English pubs. The IPA also became widely known abroad as the Brits also started exporting these India Pale Ales to the United States. Yet, in Europe, lagers started to take over. Along with the Prohibition in, all brewing was wiped out in the USA, and IPA’s became less and less and less popular until eventually, a shadow of the past.
After a long time living in the dark, a couple of North-American breweries rekindled IPA beer in the 1970’s. Using American ingredients, mainly hops, were a revelation as most people living in that era, never tasted India Pale Ale before. New Albion Brewing was the first to venture into this long forgotten area. Even though their adventure only lasted for some years, they pushed the United States into a brewing revolution.
Over time, more and more American breweries started to follow and brew beers with all the hops they could gather. Along the way, the breweries became more experienced and they started experimenting with all kinds of flavors, hops and even fruits. A huge variety of different IPAs became available for the public throughout the 1980’s. Bearing in mind that 50 years earlier the American beer market simply ceased to exist overnight, the American beer industry basically had a fresh start. There were absolutely no boundaries, nor were there traditionalists to listen to.
Regardless of the fact that the Lagers were extremely popular in Europe at this time, the Hoppy beer style had completely taken over in America. The United States, mainly in the Pacific northwest, grows a greater variety of hops than anywhere else in the world. There are endless combinations to make and different flavors to explore with these American hops. Some are soft and citrusy, whereas others are rough and dry, and sometimes even fruity.
Was this all there was to this story?
Well, it’s a story indeed, a fairytale even you might say. Yes, George Hodgson was a brewer. Yes, he also used hops for conservation. But mister Hodgson was a shred businessman first.
A quick detour to our favorite beer seasoning; hop! We could write pages full about this near-magical raw material, but for now we’ll stick with the fact that hops were being used exclusively in beer production in Western Europe ever since 1100 AD, due but not limited to the effects on aroma, taste, and conservation in beer and brewing. From the 14th century on this additive would find its way into the British brew kettles, and 18th century George Hodgson was certainly aware of the positive side effects hops would bring to the table.
George Hodgson did not ‘invent’ India Pale Ales. What he did do, was selling his Stock Ales (beers that meant for maturing) to the captains of the East India Company that found the location of George’s Bow Brewery very convenient for docking their tall ships. Add to this the generous credit George granted the captain-traders sailing East, and the Bow Brewery soon was a big player in international trades. But was it just those Stock Ales? Often it is said that the would-be-IPAs were the only beers that would come out unscathed from the 6 month journey, but as it turns out this is another fairytale; porter was according to historical records far more popular (and cheaper). There was twice as much porter shipped than any other ale — apart from ciders and madeira.
Unfortunately for George greed got the best of him. To milk out trading he decided to set up his own shipping company to circumvent working with the EIC captains. In order to make his own business more competitive, George raised the prices for the EIC, and pulled their credit.
The captains didn’t go down without a fight though, and soon found other breweries willing to work with them. In Burton-on-Trent there were breweries that for a long time brewed dark Porters and sweet Burton Ales, both widely spread in Imperial Russia. Sadly high excises stopped their profitable business, but karma connected the seeking captains and the empty-handed brewers in Burton-on-Trent. They started brewing beers to meet the demand in — among other countries — India, and the rest is history. As it turned out, the water being used for brewing was rich in calcium sulfate which resulted in dryer and bitterder Pale Ales (calcium sulfate helps converting starch in sugar). Modern brewers *burtonise* their water, to make it more suitable for IPAs.
Brewers like Allsop and Bass would profit enormously, and started advertising with terms like Pale Ale as prepared for India, but the first known mention of India Pale Ale come from and Australian journal, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser.
George Hodgson’s Bow Brewery closed its doors in 1849. The developing roads and railways between London and Burton-on-Trent meant a deathblow for the once-prosperous beer manufacturer.
Concluding: IPAs were not invented, but an evolution on the October and Stock Ales & Bitters. IPAs were not brewed in a large volume, but found their popularity instead later on in their own backyard England where it competed with amongst others porter. Two World Wars and the rise of lagers foreshadowed the untimely death of the style, only to resurrected across the pond in the United States; ushering in the craft beer revolution around the turn of the century.
After this “American beer revolution”, IPA’s former glory was reinstated, along with many newfound and diverse flavors. Now to skip ahead a couple of decades, to the present, IPAs are immensely popular around the world. Not just the ones made in America, but also a lot of Dutch and British IPAs. It has become very easy to get your hands on a fair IPA, now that the internet plays a role. You can order IPA online and have it delivered within a blink of an eye.
The Dutch beer market, in contrast to the Belgian or German beer market, is experimenting a lot with different ingredients, without having to answer to traditionalists. There are many Dutch craft breweries that make delicious IPAs. Right here at Uiltje Brewing, we pay a tribute to the reinstatement of IPA by using only the best hops. Most of them actually grow in the pacific northwest! Many of our India Pale Ales are chock full of hops, and sometimes even multiple types. This makes our IPAs extremely hoppy and bursting with unique flavors. You can now easily order IPA online right at our website. Order your IPA online, and we’ll ship it to your address, so you can sit back, relax, and think of the amazing history of India Pale Ale! Order your IPAs Online Today!