Friday, November 6, 2009

The IPA Story

Most everyone is familiar with the IPA (India Pale Ale) story. If you aren't; it goes something like this.

During the 18th century, during Britain's colonial period, they had troops stationed in India. All the troops were entitled to a ration of beer. The beer being sent to India was only done by ship, and that went around the Cape of Good Hope. This voyage took a long time. By the time the beer arrived, it had gone bad and was undrinkable. To fix this, the brewers added more hops to their beer (since hops is a preservative), then when the beer arrived it was drinkable. When those troops who were deployed to India returned, they went looking for the India Pale Ale that they had been drinking, and demanded it back in England.

That's pretty much the romantic story. Beer went bad due to long travel; more hops were added; people came back and wanted it. Sounds nice, doesn't it?

It's crap.

If you think about the "hops as preservative" part of the story, you start to see how it falls apart. If that is the reason for the hops was to act as a preservative, and the hops did their job, then the beer that arrived wouldn't be extra hoppy, it would be a normal tasting beer, like a regular lightly hopped pale ale. Hops degrade over time, a several month journey would degrade the hops making the beer not be a hop bomb, but be a nice mellow beer.

Ok, so since the beer would wind up being not so hoppy (bitter) once it reached India, then what happened was that people back in England drank the beer before it was sent overseas. They discovered that it was really good, and they drank more of it locally.

The problem with this possibility is again with the hops. Have you ever made a homebrew? One of the biggest things you are shooting for in a beer is balance. If you make an IPA, you want it to be bitter and have some hoppy flavors, but it needs to have a strong malty backbone to support those hops. Otherwise you wind up with hop water, and it's really hard to drink. Trust me, Fun Bags IPA (that we brewed on teach a friend to homebrew day) was a plain Pale Ale recipe, we then put about 5 times more hops in it than the recipe called for, hoping to make an IPA. Instead we got a beer that was initially undrinkable. It was like drinking pureed hops. There was no balance. After about 6 months, the beer mellowed out and became more balanced. It was still hoppy, but wasn't just hop water. It was actually pretty good. It only took half a year to get that way.

A good IPA (or IIPA or DIPA) has a solid malt base. That's what the P stands for. P is for Pale. Pale is a style of malted barley. If you drink some of the better IIPA's (Blind Pig; the Pliny's) they are designed to be drank right away. When the hops are freshest. The brewer wants you to get the full hops experience. In order to make that beer drinkable, it needs to have a strong malt base. If it didn't, it would be just as undrinkable as the beer I brewed was. Those brewers don't want their beer to sit for months, they don't want them to sit for weeks. They would prefer if you could drink it the day it is bottled. (Sometimes fresh beer does taste better).

If you were making a beer that was designed to withstand the trip, and age better, you would add the hops without adding the extra malt. That makes the "locals got ahold of it" version of the story unbelievable as well.

Ok, so where did the beer come from?

The zythophile is the definitive source for beer myths. He's the mythbusters of beer. I will paraphrase him.

Most people credit George Hodgson with inventing IPA. The IPA is a beer based off the October Beer (not Oktoberfest beer or Marzan). October is the harvest time. Brewers were making an October "malt wine" that was designed for a year's keeping. It actually fermented for a year, and then was bottle conditioned for another year. It had lots of barley and lots of hops. So, how did that beer wind up in India?


Hodgson's brewery was on the docks, right next to where the ships landed that went to and from India. (It's not like there were daily, weekly or even monthly trips there) The merchants of the ships needed to get beer to take on the trip. They didn't go into downtown London to get the beer. They went to the brewer on the docks, George Hodgson.

Hodgson made many beers, including porter and October-brewed "stock" bitter ale. During the 4 month trip, the beer did mature faster and arrived in India ready to be drank.

Ok, so where did the name IPA come from?

Next IPA article by zythophile.

But, I'm not going to rephrase that, because, I'm just talking about where the beer came from, and not the name.

Read... read.

1 comment:

Rob said...

All hail the zythophile blog. Next to Pattison's, it's one of the few real beacons of researched beer inquisition online. Great stuff.