IPAs – Indian Pale Ales, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

With England’s colonization of many regions of the world, supplying these different regions with varying climates made brewing a challenge, particularly in the warmer climate of India, one of England’s largest and most profitable colonies. To meet this challenge, England had to produce a beer that could withstand the long journey to different parts of the world. The journey was often tough  on perishable beers. England needed to create a robust beer that would fare well during the trip.   

“George Hodgson, a London brewer in the late 1700s, used his connections to the East India Co. to dominate the export market to the colony. Among other beers, Hodgson exported a strong pale ale. It was brewed with extra additions of hops and at higher alcohol levels, both of which act as preservatives. The long voyage transformed the beer into a wonderful drink.”

Hodgson experimented with different variables and ingredients and eventually, his brewer, Samuel Allsop developed a bright, crisp, clean, hoppy, high(er) ABV beer that could make the journey and is what we know today as Indian Pale Ale. 

Throughout the latter half of the 19th century, pale lagers came into fashion and took a great deal of market share from the IPA’s.  Additionally, at this point, England primarily exported over the Atlantic so the climate to brew became less of an issue.  Boston, Philadelphia, and New York all became beer producing hubs and the need for a beer that preserved itself over a long trip dwindled. IPA’s were all but forgotten going into prohibition in 1920.  

Fast forward 50 years with to the advent of the newly blossoming microbrewery industry. There was a resurgence of the once beloved IPA and it began to win over the hearts, minds, and palates of those across North America. American ingredients, particularly the hops became a favorite of brewers and elevated the level of craft and care that went into these new IPAs. In 1975, San Francisco’s Anchor Brewery created Liberty Ale was made with American ingredients and became first true modern American IPA.

IPAs soon became the most popular craft beer. Most breweries produced IPAs as the segment boomed. Americans embraced the crisp, hoppy finish and a higher ABV than the more traditional, more bland lagers. This trend lasted throughout the last half of the 70’s, the 80’s and the 90’s. In the mid 1990’s brew masters pushed the limits of the hops, adding massive amounts and pushing the boundaries of what an IPA actually was. In a sense, it was reinvented into it’s own sub-genre of beer. 

“Eventually, the biggest of these new IPAs grew so strong and hoppy that there were questions about whether they were IPAs at all. And so a new beer style was born: the double or imperial IPA.” IPAs continue to have a strong following and are expected to continue to transform themselves through innovation over time. 

Sources Cited