The story of the India Pale Ale (IPA) is perhaps the most romantic beer-related story there is. The British Empire had emigrants, troops, and sailors across the world. India was considered one of their most important outposts. Everyone demanded beer, but the Indian climate wasn’t conducive to brewing. London brewers also quickly realised how dangerous the trip to India could be for their perishable beers.
The London brewer George Hodgson dominated exports to India through is connections with the East India Company. Hodgson exported a range of beers, including a pale ale. This ale was likely brewed with some extra hops and had a higher alcohol content, both of which work to preserve beer. The ale was transformed into something wonderful across the long journey.
Hodgson unintentionally opened the door for brewers from the English town Burton-on-Trent to get involved. Their beer tasted better than the London ale because the water there produced a brighter ale with a pleasant hop character. The Burton brewmaster Samuel Allsop created an excellent beer that replaced the London beer as the colonial beer of choice. This beer is what we now called the Indian Pale Ale, or IPA.
Crossing the Atlantic
Continental pale lagers would begin taking some of the market share away from pale ale in English pubs during the latter half of the 19th century. The effect was even greater overseas. Britain began exported ale to the United States but it didn’t take long for lager to take over. Of course, the ale brewing industry of America was wiped out by Prohibition.
The IPA wasn’t about to just lay down and die though. Microbreweries and craft beers began to emerge in the 1970s, bringing back all these old ale varieties. People around the world had their eyes opened to the taste of hops and other American ingredients.
The first modern American IPA was created by the Anchor Brewery company out of San Francisco. The company released Liberty Ale in 1975, which became an instant hit. IPAs became more popular across the next decade before becoming the most popular craft style around. Almost every brewery had their own IPA. Americans just couldn’t get enough of hops after so many years of bland lager. This demand for IPAs continued during the 80s and 90s.
Things naturally progressed as brewers began to look for something more and palates acclimated to IPAs. Brewers began going for bigger beers, fortifying them with plenty of hops. The American brewery industry was essentially reinventing itself, so it’s not like there was any reason to hold back. They had no guidelines or traditions to follow. Brewers were making their own rules, with nothing limited them but creativity.
The IPA was a natural target for this kind of attitude. Hops eventually won the popularity battle and there’s no place like the United States for a wide variety of hops. American hops come in a range of flavors and textures, which means there an almost endless number of IPA varieties available.
The IPAs reached a point that they were so hoppy and strong people questioned if they were even IPAs anymore. This led to the creation of the double or