Bitterness bites back.
In 1780, the British soldiers and private hires of the East India Company were hot. The Indian Bengal territory where they were stationed could average up to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. It got blisteringly warm in the summers and is in the subtropical humid latitudes of Earth. This was a hard change to get used to for the occupying British population who were previously acclimated to the cool, temperate weather of their original nation. Unfortunately for their drinking habits, the beer didn’t change with their environment. England still shipped over heavy and dark barrels of ale such as stouts and porters which would have been welcome in front of a roaring fireplace back home. But in tropical India, the thick, vinous ale was drunk begrudgingly under the scalding Indian sun. In addition to their unwelcome taste and texture, the ales that were shipped over did not have the longevity necessary for lengthy sea voyages and would often spoil before arriving.
Hop to it
It was during this year that a new type of ale needed to be created that could withstand the journey and satisfy the English population overseas. In response to the negative reception of typical English ale, the brewers in England began to brew something with more alcohol to preserve the beer over the long journey, a paler ale with lighter tones on the pallet, and, most significantly, more hops that served as a preservative. These ales weren’t known as India Pale Ales (IPAs) during this time. In fact, it was years later that a wise advertiser labeled this type of beer as such to sensationalize the idea of an ale manufactured for the Indian British territories. To the English, the idea was romantic and exotic as the Indian exporters brought valuable goods to their country.
Eventually, due to changing political territories and the rise of pilsner – a lager that swept the world with its crisp, light and very drinkable qualities, the IPA died off in popularity. In fact, the bitter beer was all but forgotten until 1975, a hundred and fifty years after its prime. It was revived by Anchor Brewing in the form of Liberty Ale that was a tribute to Paul Revere’s 200th anniversary to warn the minutemen of the incoming British troops. Just as Paul Revere’s shouts might have been a shock to the people of Massachusetts two hundred years ago, so was the bitter, strong taste of heavily hopped beer to the lager-inundated tastebuds of people in 1975. Lager had been king for nearly a hundred years and by 1975, the amount of craft beer manufacturers was incredibly low. Liberty Ale was the beginning of a revolution.
Leading the Charge of Craft
However, craft beer was fighting against a monster and the IPA was an ever harder sell due to its strong, bitter notes. As craft brewing slowly grew, sometimes from the stoves and garages of homebrewers, the IPA lead the charge. The first India Pale Ales of the 80s and 90s were incredibly potent, mind-boggling bitter, and downright not fun to drink, but that in of itself was why they become the posterchild of craft brewing. They were the antithesis to lager, the sign of someone who knew craft. When you choked down a double-dry-hopped (putting double the amount of hops into the fermenter when they normally would go into the boil, therefore creating far more intense flavor, aroma, and bitterness) IPA, you were not just drinking a beer, you were shaking your fist at the established corporate beer world that had dominated the market for so long.
Fortunately for both IPAs and craft brewing in general, the elite few began to influence the general beer-drinking population and the evolution of the IPA from bitter gauntlet to pleasant drinkability also mended the way people saw craft brewing. Craft brewhouse could actually churn out some good beer and were not just an alienating pub of beer geeks anymore. Ales such as Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewing and Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA are examples of early 2000s IPAs that changed the way people saw the style. IPAs had matured in the twenty or so years that they were re-introduced. They were no longer the raving revolutionary hell-bent on taking down the establishment, they had matured into smooth, cultured, and balanced gentlemen.
No End in Sight
Go into any craft brewery now, (and it shouldn’t be hard finding one close to you) and you will see at least a few different styles of IPAs on tap. The genre has split into all directions of sub-types. You have hazy IPAs, New England IPAs, West Coast IPAs, Black IPAs, and many more. Just as various as the styles are the types of hops used in each. Science has created different types of hops specifically for brewing and they will keep doing so for the foreseeable future. Each type of hop ads its own characteristics and flavors and any of them can be combined to make something else entirely unique. Combine those variations with the multitude of different malts and you have a veritable endless playground of beers that are possible.
The IPA is the champion of the modern beer movement, no mistake. A once-miniscule style used to keep beer fresh on its way to India returned with a vengeance and now fills the cellar of every town in America with its juicy, piney aroma and flavors. If you’re new to beer and want to know what all the craze is, here’s a few mainstream beers that will break you into the craft.
Cigar City Brewing Jai Alai: One of the top rated beers in Florida just happens to be an IPA.
Bell’s Brewery Two Hearted Ale: Another best seller and balanced enough to be likeable for newbies.
Wolpert, Stanley A.. “British raj”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 8 Sep. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/event/British-raj. Accessed 27 April 2022.
“The Tale of Pale Ale: History & Origins.” Anchor Brewing Blog, 21 June 2012, https://www.anchorbrewing.com/blog/the-tale-of-pale-ale/#:~:text=The%20tropical%20climate%20there%20made%20brewing%20with%20the%20technology%20of%20the%20age%20impossible.%20Early%20attempts%20to%20transport%20porters%20and%20stouts%20fared%20poorly%20because%20of%20the%20long%20sea%20voyage%20and%20temperature%20fluctuations.%20Attempts%20at%20transporting%20bottled%20products%20met%20with%20mixed%20results%20as%20well.
Goldfarb, Aaron. “Who Invented the IPA? It’s Complicated.” Wine Enthusiast, 27 Jan. 2021, https://www.winemag.com/2021/01/27/ipa-beer-history-hodgson/.
Bernstein, Joshua M. “A Brief History of the IPA.” PUNCH, 13 Feb. 2020, https://punchdrink.com/articles/the-ipa-through-the-ages-beer-history-india-pale-ale/#:~:text=The%20style%20persisted%2C%20but%20by%20the%20early%2020th%20century%2C%20the%20crisp%20Czech%20pilsner%20had%20superseded%20IPA%20on%20its%20path%20to%20world%20domination.
Stock, Mark. “The Cult of Pliny the Elder Beer & Why People Can’t Get Enough.” The Manual, The Manual, 23 May 2019, https://www.themanual.com/food-and-drink/pliny-the-elder-russian-river-brewing-craft-beer-ipa-cult/#:~:text=Debuting%20in%202000%20at%20a%20local%20beer%20festival%20in%20California%2C%20Pliny%20set%20the%20bar%20for%20balanced%20West%20Coast%20IPAs.%20The%20beer%2C%20technically%20a%20double%20IPA%2C%20flexes%20plenty%20piney%20hop%20muscle%20but%20is%20round%20and%20highly%20approachable.
Colby, Chris. “Hop Breeding: Better Hops for a Bitter Tomorrow.” Craft Beer & Brewing, Craft Beer & Brewing, 27 Oct. 2019, https://beerandbrewing.com/hop-breeding-better-hops-for-a-bitter-tomorrow/#:~:text=Although%20there%20are%20more%20than%20100%20hops%20varieties%20available%20today%2C%20breeders%20continue%20to%20produce%20more.