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Indian Pale Ale (IPA) & Imperial IPA

The IPA. The beer that we (most) love dearly, with its high bitterness and deliciously dry drinkability. And more urban legends about it than any other style. You have heard some of these, most likely: “Hodgson invented India Pale Ale in 1785, a stronger and higher hopped version of pale ale. Regular pale ale couldn’t survive the voyage to India, it would spoil, so this version was brewed and exported for the troops stationed in England. Then, in 1827, a shipwreck of an India-bound vessel happened off the coast of England, and the secret was out– IPA became famous in England.” Admittedly, as with most legends, there is a grain of truth to many of these. Also, as with much of history, some facts are inconclusive and some things are impossible to know with certitude. So, with as concise and truthful a rendering as we can muster, here is a brief history of India Pale Ale. There is evidence that as early as 1709, pale ale was being produced in England, and as early as 1711, different types of beer were being exported to India. We know for certain that brewers were advised by the 1760s that they should increase the hopping in beer that was meant to be sent to warmer climates. We know that at least both pale ale and porter were being exported to India by 1784, and we know that Hodgson was exporting beer to India by 1793. Other brewers were brewing beer “prepared for the India market,” and such beer was also on sale in England, by 1822. The first time beer was referred to as “India Pale Ale,” specifically, was in 1835, and Hodgson’s became the most sought-after IPA in the India market, largely because of business practices. He extended credit to the East India Trading Company, a risky move that most brewers did not want to engage in. Then Hodgson got greedy, established an importer in India, would flood the market when shipments from other brewers were en route, making it a less than profitable proposition for them, and would then restrict supply the following season to recuperate his own losses. Because of his unethical business practices and the rise of other brewers of IPA, specifically those at Burton-upon-Trent, whose water was more suited for creating excellent pale ales, Hodgson eventually lost the India market to the likes of Bass and Allsopp. From 1841 onwards, IPA enjoyed increasing popularity in Britain, and in 1869 a chap by the name of William Molyneaux attributed its invention to Hodgson, starting the ball rolling with the legends. Hodgson was one of the brewers exporting IPA to India, and became the most famous. American IPA was first brewed in 1975 By Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing Company, released as “Liberty Ale.”

American IPA particularly has evolved over the last several years, simply to satiate the appetite for hops that has crept into the American consumer’s preferences. Many would argue that not only should American and English IPAs be categorized differently, but even that “East Coast Style IPA” and “West Coast Style IPA” should be categorized separately. If you have ever tried Bell’s Two Hearted Ale side-by-side with Ballast Point Sculpin, you may understand why folks hold this opinion. A basic rule of thumb is that any “east coast style” IPA will have a large hop flavor and aroma, but will be balanced between hop bitterness and malt sweetness, and will not be massively bitter. Indeed, of east coast IPAs we often hear the statement, “I don’t usually like IPAs, but I like this one!” West coast IPAs, on the other hand, will have both the big hop flavor and aroma, and a crushing bitterness with very little malt balance. The history of American-style Imperial IPA is a bit easier to track: First brewed in Temecula, CA in 1994 at The Blind Pig by Vinnie Cilurzo. Rogue I2PA came out in 1996, and Stone’s Second Anniversary IPA (later to become Ruination) in 1998. Some imperial IPAs ride the line between IPA and Barleywine, such as Thomas Creek’s Up the Creek and Riverdog’s Double IPA, while others have absolutely no malt balance in flavor, such as Russian River’s Pliny the Younger. There is such a wide variety of Double IPAs out there, that your best bet would be to simply experiment and decide which is the best for you!