IPA: the executive summary

Well, that was all rather too much: nearly 4,000 words and more footnotes than a Jerry Lee Lewis concert. So here’s the executive summary on what we know, what we don’t know, what we can justifiably assume and what we can’t assume about the history of India Pale Ale, and I promise to keep it to under 700 words. But first, here’s an extract from a book written in 1882, called Our own country: descriptive, historical, pictorial:

The India Pale Ale is a device wholly of the present century. In the year 1822 one Hodgson, a London brewer who had settled at Burton, brewed something like the present bitter ale, which he accomplished in a teapot in his counting house, and called it Bombay beer. A retired East India captain named Chapman improved on this, and Burton ale soon attained the celebrity that has made the names of Bass and Allsopp household words all over the world.

How many mistakes did you find in that collection of cobblers’ awls? I believe there’s not a single statement there that could be said to be correct, with, everything, including the teapot and “Captain Chapman”, unbelievably mangled. It’s a lesson for anyone who believes that if it’s in an old book, it must be right.

So, to summarise my last post, and my other posts on the subject:

We have evidence that pale ale was being made at least as early as 1675, brewed under that name by 1705 and that pale ale was being sold in London by 1709 at the latest.

We have evidence that ale and beer were being exported, apparently successfully, to India as early as 1711.

We know that by the 1760s brewers were being advised that it was “absolutely necessary” to add extra hops to beer if it was being sent to warmer climes. There is no evidence linking this advice, to hop export beer more heavily, to any specific brewer.

We know that pale ale, along with porter, brewer unnamed, was being exported to India from at least 1784.

We know that pale ale and porter brewed by Hodgson of Bow was being exported to India from at least 1793.

We DON’T know whether the Hodgsons were putting extra hops into their pale ale sent to India in the 1790s, as brewers were being advised to do in the 1760s. Somewhere up to “quite probably” they were, I’d say. But still short of “definitely”. They ought to have known that they should do. But there’s no evidence that they did.

We can guess that one of the reasons why Hodgson’s beers were shipped to India in preference to other brewers’ beers was not the quality of Hodgson’s product but because the Bow brewery’s owners were willing to give the East Indiaman ships’ captains extended credit on their purchases of beer to be sold to Europeans in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras.

We know that in 1817 one London brewer, WA Brown at the Imperial Brewery, Bromley by Bow, a short distance down the Lea river from Hodgson’s premises, was brewing “Pale Ale prepared for the East and West India Climate”, though we don’t know how it was “prepared”.

We know that a specific hopping rate was being stated for beer for “India voyages” by 1821.

We know that as early as January 1822, “Pale Ale brewed expressly for the India market” and “suitable for warm climates or home consumption” was on sale in London (though the brewer was unnamed).

We know that a couple of decades later, at least, in 1843, “the Pale Ale prepared for the India market” was described as “carefully fermented, so as to be devoid of all sweetness, or, in other words, to be dry; and it contains double the usual quantity of hops.”

We have evidence, 30 years after the event, but collected from an important witness, Samuel Allsopp’s maltster, Job Goodhead, that a Burton brewer was encouraged in 1822 to take on Hodgson in the Indian market.

We know from multiple references that, despite the increased rivalry from Burton brewers, Hodgson’s beer was hugely popular in the east, being described in 1829 as “by far the best and most sought after in India”.

We know that no “pale ale as prepared for the Indian market” seems to have actually been called India Pale Ale (specifically “East India Pale Ale”) until 1835.

We know that Hodgson’s, at least, used East Kent hops in its “Pale India Ale”, and we are entitled to guess that these were East Kent Goldings. We also know that Hodgson’s dry-hopped its pale ale.

We know that the Hodgsons evidently became greedy, and lost the Indian market to others, including Bass and Allsopp from Burton and Ind & Smith from Romford, just east of London (later Ind Coope).

We know that from 1841 onwards East India Pale Ale became increasingly popular in the British market.

We know that in 1869 William Molyneaux claimed that “The origin of India ale is by common consent accredited to a London brewer named Hodgson … The brewery where pale ale was first brewed, according to popular opinion, was the Old Bow Brewery.” But Molyneaux offered no evidence to back this up, and we know the Bow brewery wasn’t the first place to brew pale ale per se.

All we know from the evidence we do have is that Hodgson was one of the brewers exporting pale ale to India, and became the most famous. We can guess that Hodgson quite likely knew of the opinion expressed in books on brewing written in the 1760s that it was a good idea to highly hop ales for export to warmer climes. But there is no evidence at all that Hodgson was the one to discover this. Eventually that general knowledge about the need to hop beers for export to places like India apparently led to brewers to announce for sale something they called “Pale Ale prepared for the East and West India Climate” and similar designations, which was eventually shortened or summarised as “India Pale Ale”. The fact that Hodgson called its beer “East India Pale Ale” in 1835 means it was probably “prepared for the East India climate” and so more highly hopped: whether it was so prepared in 1793 we don’t know.

And the executive summary summarised? IPA – no evidence of an actual inventor, no evidence of an actual invention.

The first ever reference to IPA

(Note: three years on from this post, the earliest mention of the phrase IPA has been pushed back another six years: see here.)

This is a truly historic document: the first known use of the expression India Pale Ale. It comes from an advertisement in the Liverpool Mercury newspaper published January 30 1835, a remarkably long time after pale ale started being sold in India. Before January 1835 (and indeed for some time afterwards) the beer we now call IPA was referred to as “pale ale as prepared for India” or some similar circumlocution. It took a while for the new phrase to catch on: “India Pale Ale” was not used as an expression in advertisements in The Times of London for another couple of years, and even in 1841 the beer was still being referred to as “India Ale”, “pale India ale”, “pale export India ale” and other variations alongside IPA.

The Liverpool Mercury ad has several points to note, apart from the first use of the phrase India Pale Ale, quite possibly a century or more after pale ale was first exported to India. It is interesting, though not necessarily significant in the way you might think, that the ad was for the “well-known house” of Hodgson & Co, the brewer from Bow, London who was for several decades the best-known shipper of pale ales to India.

Hodgson’s had established an agency in Liverpool as early as 1825 (1) for the sale of “pale bottling ale” to “merchants and others”: by then the Bow brewery was starting to have strong competition in the Indian market from Bass, Allsopp and other brewers in Burton upon Trent. The Burton brewers had relatively easy access to Liverpool and its docks via the canal system, and a large part of the shipping from England for overseas was leaving Liverpool rather than London. It looks as if, despite the problems the Hodgsons must have had getting their own beer to Liverpool compared to the relative ease the Burton brewers had in sending their beer to the docks there by canal, the Bow brewers were eager to capture some of the export trade leaving Lancashire for both the sub-continent and the Antipodes. (Ads in newspapers in Australia and New Zealand in the 1830s for “Hodgson’s ale” and “Hodgson’s pale ale” show the Bow brewer’s beer was not just going to India.)

You will also have spotted that specific emphasis was made in the ad about Hodgson’s East India Pale Ale “being brewed from the finest East Kent Hop”. This must, surely, have meant Goldings, which were described, in 1848, at least, as “undoubtedly the finest, richest and most valuable of any grown” in Kent. So: Hodgson’s EIPA used East Kent hops, probably Goldings.

(As an aside, look at the price of that newspaper – seven pence, when a pint of beer was two pence, the equivalent of a paper costing perhaps £10.50 today. Newspapers were still being taxed at four pence an issue, which only dropped to a penny an issue in 1836, and the tax did not disappear completely until 1855.)

But the Liverpool Mercury ad (hat tip to Pete Brown, incidentally, for putting me on its trail) is equally as interesting for what it doesn’t say. It mentions the beer’s “fine tonic properties … much recommended by the faculty [meaning the medical faculty] even to invalids.” However, it says nothing, despite the competition from upstart brewers of pale ale destined for India such as Bass, about Hodgson’s being the inventor or originator of IPA. Nor does any other ad for Hodgson’s beer. Because despite what many have written over the past 140 years, Hodgson never invented India Pale Ale.

Continue reading The first ever reference to IPA

Victorian Britain’s finest beer ad

Brewers’ advertisements in Victorian newspapers are almost always strictly utilitarian: a list of up to around a dozen beers in three main styles, mild/old ale, pale/ale bitter and porter/stout, each style shown available in three or four strengths, and with their prices listed per gallon/firkin/kilderkin. That’s it. If you’re lucky you might get a reproduction of a medal won at an international exhibition, or, very occasionally, a line drawing of a stoneware jar or a bottle label. Newspaper printing technology wasn’t up to reproducing illustrations cheaply and well. So this ad from the Western Mail in Cardiff in June 1888 by the Hereford brewer Watkins and Son would be a rare and lovely find even without being a feast of unwitting social commentary and unintentional comedy. I love it. I want it on a T-shirt. I want it tattoed on my back. (Alright, maybe not that last one.)

This is clearly meant to be an upper-class or upper-middle class setting. The fashionable game of lawn tennis, which had only been developed in the previous decade in Warwickshire, a short distance from Hereford, is being played (note the young woman leaping about in the background). The languid-looking moustachio’ed young chap with the fashionable monocle, cap and blazer accepting a glass of pale ale is talking in upper-class English: he is drawling “Ah, thanks”, referring to “our people”, meaning his family, and saying “don’t you know”. This is an expression parodied in the 1880s as an upper-class affectation, and still, by Paul Merton, parodied 120 years later don’cha know?

Continue reading Victorian Britain’s finest beer ad

Amber Gold and Black on sale in North America

If you’re resident in the US or Canada and you’ve thought about buying a copy of my new book Amber Gold and Black, the British beer styles bible, but you’ve been put off by the cost of shipping it from the UK, good news – my publisher tells me the book will be available in North America from June, and details will be going up on Amazon.com “within the month”.

If you can’t wait – or you’re in the UK or Ireland and you’re not finding Amber Gold and Black in your local bookshop now – you can order it through Amazon.co.uk by clicking here. If you don’t like dealing with big corporations you can order it through my mate Paul Travis at BeerInnPrint (which should, in any case, be your first stop for all your beer book needs …)

Meanwhile here’s the intro from Amber Gold and Black, to give you a taster:

“Britain is one of the world’s greatest brewing nations: a fact the British themselves often seem to be unaware of. We need to be much more proud of what we have given ourselves and the world: beautiful, refreshing hoppy bitters and IPAs, golden summer ales for hot days in the garden, heady, rich barley wines, unctuous winter warmers, cheering, sociable, conversation-encouraging milds, creamy, reviving black porters and hearty, filling stouts, barley wines and old ales for sipping and relaxing, beers that go with food of all sorts and beers that can be enjoyed on their own, beer styles born in these islands and now appreciated and brewed from San Francisco to Singapore, and St Petersburg to Sydney.
“This book is a celebration of the depths of British beer, a look at the roots of the styles we enjoy today, as well as those ales and beers we have lost, a study into how the liquids that fill our beer glasses, amber gold and black, developed over the years and a look forward to some of the new styles of beer being developed in Britain in the 21st century, such as ales aged in casks that once contained whisky or rum.
“Astonishingly, despite a greatly increased interest in beer as a subject in Britain over the past 30 or so years, this is the first book devoted solely to looking at the unique history of the different styles of beer produced in Britain, more world-conquering styles, it might be suggested, than any other nation has managed.
“It may be a good thing that Britons would rather be down the pub enjoying their beer with friends than sitting on their own at home reading about it. But I hope that learning more about, for example, how bitter grew and developed out of the Victorian middle classes’ desire for the then newly fashionable pale ales once exclusively enjoyed by the gentry, how the demand by the street and river porters of London for a filling, strength-giving beer to help them get through the working day eventually gave us a style that, in Irish arms, circled the globe, how a style developed for Baltic aristocrats became Burton Ale, one of the most popular beers in Britain until a couple of generations ago and now almost forgotten; how beers such as broom ale, mum and West Country white ale once thrived and then vanished, how the huge boom in brewery numbers in Britain in the past 30 years, with more than 500 microbreweries now in operation, has helped bring in new styles such as golden ale and wood-aged beers; and even how 19th century British brewers helped inspire the development of modern lager, all may add to the enjoyment of your beer-drinking, wherever you are doing it, and encourage you to appreciate the marvellous drink, beer, more, and to explore further its many offerings.
“In addition, detailing the long histories behind Britain’s beers may go some way to restoring respect for the country’s national drink. While Thomas Hardy could write in his novel The Trumpet Major of Dorchester beer that: “The masses worshipped it; the minor gentry loved it more than wine, and by the most illustrious county families it was not despised,” today beer is seldom given the position at the heart of British gastronomic life that it deserves. British food grew and developed alongside beer, and the two complement each other, just as French or Italian food is complemented by wine. Roast beef is fantastic with pale ale, porter is terrific with steak or lamb, stout is great with pork and chicken, or spicy foods, and any British cheese has its companion beer, from Cheddar and bitter to Stilton and barley wine – and desserts go just as well with beer too, as anyone who has tried apricot clafoutis with IPA, strong ale with plum pudding or chocolate stout with good vanilla ice-cream will affirm.
“In short this book is a celebration of British beer in all its many beautiful shades and inspiring flavours. Good drinking!”

So what DID Pliny the Elder say about hops?

What did Pliny the Elder actually say about hops? Not what you’ve been told, probably – and quite possibly he said nothing about hops at all.

Thanks to the chaps at the Russian River brewery in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California, who named their extremely hoppy, strong “double IPA” after him, the Roman author, lawyer and military man Gaius Minor Plinius Caecilius Secundus, who died in AD 79 from a surfeit of scientific curiosity after getting too close to the exploding Mount Vesuvius, is now probably better known than at any time in the past 1,900 years.

Russian River named their beer Pliny the Elder because he is supposed to be the first person to mention hops in writing, in his great survey of contemporary human knowledge, Naturalis Historia. (They named an even hoppier, stronger “triple IPA” after his nephew and heir, Pliny the Younger.

The hop, from Leonhart Fuchs’s De historia stirpium commentarii insignes

But the plant that Pliny the Elder wrote about, which he said was called lupus salictarius (which translates as “wolf of the willows”, salix being the Latin for willow tree*) may not have been the hop: there’s certainly no completely convincing evidence in Pliny’s own writings to confirm that lupus salictarius and hops are the same thing.

The first person to identify Pliny’s lupus salictarius as the plant that Italians call lupulo, the Spanish lúpulo, Germans Hopfen and English-speakers hops seems to have been a 16th century Bavarian botanist called Leonhart Fuchs, in a book called De historia stirpium commentarii insignes, or Notable commentaries on the history of plants. But Fuchs (after whom, apparently, the fuchsia is named), had made a big effort to try to match up “modern” plants with those mentioned by classical authors, and may have made a mistake in deciding that lupulo was derived from, and identical with, Pliny’s lupus salictarius. At least one writer has suggested that the word lupulo, far from being derived from the earlier term, may simply be an Italian error for “l’upulo“, via the French for hop, houblon, and nothing to do with lupus salictarius.

What did Pliny actually say about lupus salictarius? He mentions it, briefly, in Book 21, chapter 50 of his Natural History, which is a short section about wild or uncultivated foods. After talking about the wild plants eaten in Egypt, he then says:
Continue reading So what DID Pliny the Elder say about hops?

Order the definitive book on British beer styles now

It’s now less than one month to go to the official publication of Amber, Gold and Black, The History of Britain’s Great Beers, the first book devoted solely to the development of beer styles in Britain, from bitter to porter, covering every aspect of their history, what they were when they started , how they developed and what they are today. Pre-order it today here and put a few pennies more in my pocket at the same time that you learn new facts to stun your beer drinking friends.

Amber, Gold and Black was previously only available as an ebook, but is now, thanks to the lovely people at The History Press, coming out in hardback, revised and, where needed, updated.

Whether you’re a beer beginner or a buff, I guarantee you’ll learn things you never knew about both beers you’re familiar with, and beers you’ve never heard of.

This is the book for beer lovers, for brewers, for people who work in pubs, bars and drink stores, for anybody interested in beer, the most complete and comprehensive study of British beer styles ever written. Its 16 chapters looking at the roots of the styles we enjoy today, as well as those ales and beers we have lost, and a study into how the liquids that fill our beer glasses, amber gold and black, developed over the years.

Continue reading Order the definitive book on British beer styles now

Two horsey beers and a short kipple

I know it's nothing to do with the beer, I just like the poster
I was lucky, I think, in having my first pint of Bengal Lancer IPA, Fuller’s latest offering, in the Prince Blucher in Twickenham, where it was in excellent condition: a couple of subsequent trials elsewhere in West London haven’t been quite as good, so to borrow an Americanism, “your mileage may vary.” But I don’t think I’ve ever made such lengthy tasting notes about any beer, a tribute in itself.

The first impression is of a BIG hit of hops on the nose, with passion fruit noticeable immediately. It’s a hop-filled mouthful, with a good oily feel, and one of those beers where you’ll find something different in every swallow. Indeed, teasing apart the different taste strands is one of the pleasures of Lancer: it’s a beer for sitting and appreciating. I was getting a hint of blackberry, something earthy in the background, peppermint, the “signature” Fuller’s orange note (though less strong than in many of their beers), all with honey maltiness underpinning the floral hops and a lovely long follow-through.

I’ve seen the beer criticised as being too sweet, but to me any apparent sweetness is more an artefact of the amount of “high note” hop flavour coming through that anything real, and while the emphasis is definitely on hop aroma rather than bitterness I found it ultimately quite dry: I’d be interested in seeing the attenuation figures. Certainly, if you watch the video available here from Fuller’s, the company’s brewing manager, Derek Prentice, implies it’s a well-attenuated brew.

Continue reading Two horsey beers and a short kipple

Ordinary to Britons, extraordinary to Americans

Had a great session last week with two Californian brewers, Mitch Steele and Steve Wagner of Stone Brewing in San Diego, who are in the UK researching India Pale Ale for a forthcoming book from the Brewers Association in the US.

Since I’m the man that has annoyed a large swath of the American beer drinking community by insisting that the story that George Hodgson of Bow invented IPA, a tale beer drinkers in the US grew up on, is completely untrue, they wanted to talk to me while they were in the UK. Thus we arranged to meet in the Dove in Hammersmith, which by no coincidence at all was serving Fuller’s new Bengal Lancer IPA.

I’m going to talk about Bengal Lancer in another posting, so I’ll say nothing about it here except that the new beer was evidently a success at the Dove: the barman told us that the pub was getting worried that it was running out, since the pub had a special £10 promotional offer curry night this week which was meant to include a free pint of IPA, and it was looking increasingly likely they wouldn’t have any IPA left by the time curry night came round.

Anyway, I love drinking beer while at the same time talking about beer and its history to an audience so appreciative it’s taking notes, so for close on two hours I talked about researching IPA and its roots to Steve and Mitch in the tiny public bar at the Dove. Great fun for me: not entirely sure it was great fun for them, especially Mitch, who appeared to be in a precarious position perched on the narrow public bar windowsill and scribbling occasionally. No idea what the barman thought, if he was listening.

Continue reading Ordinary to Britons, extraordinary to Americans