(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.
A lot of touchy people, all apparently in the US, grew up on the idea that “Hodgson pioneered IPA” and don’t like it when you say this isn’t true. Some seem to get extremely upset when I point out that there is no evidence at all to back up the regularly repeated story that in the late 18th century George Hodgson of the Bow Brewery, Middlesex developed a particularly hoppy beer, supposedly to survive the journey to India, which became India Pale Ale. One idiot declared that when I said there was no evidence that George Hodgson invented IPA that I was “hoping to prove a negative, a philosophical impossibility”. I hope I’m never up before a jury he’s foreman of. “I never murdered that man.” “Why, you’re just hoping to prove a negative, a philosophical impossibility.”
Look, “George Hodgson didn’t invent IPA” is what is known as the null hypothesis. It’s like me saying: “There are no fairies at the bottom of my garden.” I don’t have to prove there are no fairies at the bottom of my garden. My asserting that there ARE no fairies at the bottom of my garden is not “hoping to prove a negative”. If you disagree with my hypothesis that there are no fairies at the bottom of my garden, it’s up to you to offer proof: photographs, a live fairy in a jar captured in my garden, that sort of thing. Similarly, I don’t have to prove George Hodgson didn’t invent IPA: if you disagree, you have to offer proof, proper documentary evidence, that he did. Good luck with that. I’ve been researching this stuff 20 years, and I’ve not found any evidence yet that Hodgson invented IPA.
Another commentator wrote that “Hodgson might not have invented the IPA. But we do have IPAs, so they were invented. So if not by Hodgson, then by who?” That would be “by whom”, incidentally, but putting grammar to one side, the point is, as I have tried to show elsewhere, we don’t have any evidence that IPA, or the beer style that became known as IPA, was “invented” at all, by anyone. Nobody, until William Molyneaux said it was Hodgson in 1869, in a book called Burton-on-Trent: its history, its waters and its breweries, credited any brewer with originating “India ale”, and Molyneaux was writing far too long after the events to be a reliable first witness.
Molyneaux wrote in 1869 that George Hodgson of the Old Bow Brewery, which was on the Middlesex-Essex border a few miles east of the City of London, “discovered the process of brewing a beverage peculiarly suited to the climate of the East Indies”. But the Hodgsons themselves never said they did that. Even in 1768 brewers knew enough to say that “if the beer is to be sent into a warmer climate in the cask, one third more hopping is absolutely necessary.” (2) They had had plenty of time to discover this: beer and ale had been exported to India for decades when George Hodgson acquired the Bow brewery in 1752. An Account of the Trade in India by Charles Lockyer, published in London in 1711, said that “Goods that turn to the best Account from Europe are Lead, Wine, Beer in Casks and Bottle, Ale, Sider, Cheese, Cloth, Hats … Cases of Spirits, Cherry Brandy … Tobacco, Pipes and all sorts of Haberdashery.” So wine, beer, ale – very possibly pale ale – cider, spirits and cherry brandy were all being shipped east in the time of Queen Anne, more than 40 years before George Hodgson came to Bow.
Although we might think today that it makes sense to suppose that the pale ales shipped to India in the 18th century were highly hopped, there is no actual evidence that they were qualitatively different to the pale ale sold in Britain until the early 1820s. There is the story told by J Stevenson Bushnan in Burton and its Bitter Beer in 1853 about Samuel Allsopp, the Burton brewer, being sent a bottle labelled “Hodgson’s Indian beer” by one of the directors of the East India Company in 1822, to encourage him to make a similar beer for sale to India. But this was written in 1853, more than three decades after the events it was describing, and cannot be absolutely relied on for proof.
What we can rely on is contemporary evidence. In October 1824 the Caledonian Mercury newspaper in Edinburgh carried an advertisement saying:
Ale and Table Beer – Brunton & Anderson respectfully announce that they continue to carry on business under the same management as formerly, in the old-established brewery, 37 North Back of Canongate, Edinburgh, many years occupied by Messers Younger and Somervail. … NB PALE ALE for India made to order.
That is the first contemporary mention I have found to “pale ale for India” or anything like it as a specific category in a brewer’s line-up. (Later addendum: I should insert here that, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, Peter Mathias, in The Brewing Industry in England 1700-1830, claims that Barclay Perkins, the London brewer, “brewed ‘India Ale’ from 1799 onwards”, based, apparently, on that company’s statement of its beer stocks from its “rest books”, or accounts, from 1799 to 1830. But I’d like to see exactly what those rest books say before I accept this as the earliest named example of a beer brewed specifically for India.) You’ll note that this 1824 ad is by a brewer from Edinburgh, not London or Burton, suggesting that brewing export beers for the east was now widespread. In addition, the fact that pale ale for India had to be made to order suggests it was indeed, by 1824 at least, different to pale ale drink at home. (the Younger mentioned there was Archibald Younger, incidentally, brother of the more famous William, and John Somervail, or Sommervail, was Archibald’s brother-in-law). But if you ordered pale ale for India from Brunton & Anderson, what were you likely to get? The first American edition of Andrew Ure’s Dictionary of Chemistry, published three years earlier, in 1821, tells us:
It is well known that other things being equal, the liquor keeps in proportion to the quantity of hops. Fresh beer may have from a pound to a pound and a half to a barrel of 32 gallons, June beer two pounds and a half, beer for the month of August three pounds and for a second summer three and an half. For India voyages, four pounds.
That’s the earliest quote I’ve been able to find for a hopping rate for beer for India, and the earliest mention of any sort for beer brewed specifically for the Indian market, nearly two decades after Hodgson was selling his beer in India.
Ure’s suggested hopping rate for beer for “India voyages” looks low compared to later accounts of “pale ale as prepared for India”. Jonathan Pereira wrote in 1843 in A treatise on food and diet that “the Pale Ale prepared for the India market … is … 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.” But there appears to be no evidence to show whether “pale ale as prepared for India” in either Ure’s or Pereira’s time was the same beer that had been exported in the 1780s. Nor was anyone, before Molyneaux in 1869 declared it was Hodgson, specifically credited with coming forward with the idea of stuffing pale ale with twice as many hops as normal before sending it east.
Indeed, as I showed here, a malt brew in the 18th century called “pale ale” would most likely be comparatively lightly hopped, because calling something “ale” at that time indicated “low hop rate”, and high hop-rate malt liquors were called beers. So the “pale ales” that were being shipped to India in the 1700s were more likely to be comparatively lightly hopped, because if they were highly hopped they would have been called “pale beers”.
That puzzle – why a highly hopped drink was called “India Pale Ale”, not “India Pale Beer”, when even in 1825 a book called Scenes of British Wealth, in Produce, Manufactures, and Commerce, by Isaac Taylor, would say: “Ale differs from beer in having fewer hops” – is one I can’t answer, except to suggest that “pale ale” is more euphonious that “pale beer” and perhaps the ease of saying “pale ale” triumphed over strict meaning. In 1782 one writer said that ” The English trade with their West India islands” included, as well as ironware, linen, pickles, candles and cheese, “strong beer [and] pale beer”.(3)
I don’t want to play down the Hodgsons too much in the IPA narrative: there is no doubt Hodgson’s pale ale captured the majority of the (comparatively small) Indian beer market before 1820, that Hodgson’s was easily the beer with the best reputation in the Indian market and that the Bow brewery’s reputation lasted for decades, even after rival brewers arrived and began outselling Hodgson’s with their own pale ales. In 1829 one commentator wrote: “Mr Hodgson’s beer … is by far the best and most sought after in India … In Calcutta Hodgson sold for 50 per cent more than Meux, Whitbread, Barclay, or any other brewer.”(4) (Those three, Meux, Barclay and Whitbread, were all London porter brewers, incidentally, and all five times or more the size of Hodgson back home.) Ten years later the Bow brewery’s product was described in the Literary Gazette as “Hodgson’s ale, the universal and favourite beverage of our vast Indian territories”. It is also true that without the Hodgsons’ attempts to strengthen their grip on the Indian beer trade around 1820-1822, powerful parties in the East India trade would not have invited the brewers of Burton upon Trent to try brewing pale ales for India, and we might well not have seen the development of pale bitter ales in Britain in the way that we did.
But the reputation that Hodgson’s pale ale achieved in India was less, I’d suggest, to do with the absolute quality of its product and more because drinkers in India were familiar with it, and trusted the familiar. The brewery’s closeness to the docks at Blackwall, on the Thames, where the East Indiamen ships took on stores before heading east, and the Hodgsons’ willingness to give the commanders and officers of the East Indiamen lengthy credit, of 12 to 18 months(5), meant much of the beer shipped to India came from the Bow brewery, and because it was a known product it was more likely to be bought than ale from an unknown or lesser known brewer; in 1846 William Tizard quoted an Indian trading company on Hodgson’s beer: “Another thing in his favour, and which operated for a long time was the high repute to which his name stood for beer, so much so that no other, even of a good quality, was bought by the retailers as they could not dispose of it.”
The reputation that Hodgson’s had is illustrated by an account of a “masqued ball” in Madras in 1811:
The ball and supper given by the Lodge of Perfect Unanimity on Friday Jan 4 1811 was as gay and splendid a Fete as Madras has exhibited for a long time past … A Butt of Hodgson’s Pale Ale also paraded the rooms. A hand bill announced it to be Devilish Good and sent as a specimen. Upon knocking out the head it was found to answer the description, for out jumped the Devil himself, to the great alarm of several who were not prepared for a visit of this familiar and who have a kind of instinctive aversion to this gentleman’s acquaintance.
But Hodgson’s reputation was not universally high: an anonymous correspondent in the New Monthly Magazine in 1830 wrote, in a piece called “Sketches from the Ganges”:
A great schism is now raging among the inhabitants of the City of Palaces [Calcutta] in re “pale ale”. Hodgson has had time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary a privilege as exclusive in articulo cervisiae as some other privileges which it is not necessary for me to particularize. For a long time he abused our good nature or imposed upon our credulity; at last Alsop (no bad name, that, for a brewer) discovered that we were waxing wroth and that our virtue of endurance was getting fatigued by exercise. He heard us from the other side of the Atlantic and responded in the transmission of, certainly, a most heavenly compound. Hodgson discovered instanter that it wouldn’t do to send us sometimes very indifferent beer, sometimes very bad beer, and sometimes no beer at all.
That would be Allsopp rather than Alsop, of course.
Advertisements for pale ale, brewer unnamed, appear in the Calcutta Gazette from its earliest editions in 1784. The first mention for Hodgson’s beer by name did not show up in the Gazette for another nine years, in the edition of September 22 1793, as part of the private trade being conducted by the captain of the newly arrived East Indiaman Britannia, and two months later another East Indiaman commander, Captain Browne of the Hillsborough, advertised for sale in the Gazette “Pale ale and porter in hogsheads from Hodgson”. That year, 1793, was the year the East India Company was first forced to allow private shippers to buy space on its ships. However, according to one author(7), writing in 1812, the total amount of beer exported by private shippers in 1793 was 116 tuns: at eight barrels to the tun, that’s just 928 barrels.
I’m grateful to Alan Pryor, author of a study published in November last year called Indian Pale Ale: an Icon of Empire for finding those newspaper references: his is an interesting study, but it repeats the myth that Hodgson “decided to brew a specific type of beer for export to India, using a pale malt and plenty of hops” without offering any blahdy evidence at all to back this up.
Pryor also adds another couple of myths to the mix: he suggests that the Hodgsons may have been related to an East India ship’s captain called Thomas Hodgson, who, he further suggests, may have influenced the Bow Brewery’s move into the Indian beer trade, though he gives no proper evidence to support this: that’s two too many “may haves” for me. Hodgson is not too uncommon a name, and without further evidence I’d say the brewer and the ship’s captain having the same surname was just co-incidence. Pryor also claims that the Hodgsons invented dry hopping, again without offering any evidence at all. Hodgson’s DID dry-hop its ale, however, at least in the 1830s. Pryor offers the tale of the crew of the Stirling Castle, who, in 1835, set out from St Katharine’s Dock in London for Hobart, Tasmania, with a cargo that included 900 barrels of Hodgson’s pale ale. They were shipwrecked off the north coast of Australia without fresh water. They drank from a kilderkin of Hodgson’s pale ale until it ran out, after which they “shared out the hops and grounds at the bottom of the barrel, which they chewed in order to create moisture” (6). A few years earlier, a book called Gleanings in Science, published in 1830, reported that a European in India had tried unsuccessfully to grow hops, “although he took every care, and used, as seed, the best hops that could be procured out of the dregs of a butt of Hodgson’s superior Pale Ale!” So: Hodgson’s pale ale was dry-hopped.
The subsequent popularity of IPA, incidentally, should not make us think that pale ale was the only beer shipped to, and drunk in India in the 19th century. A book called The East India Vade Mecum, a guide to people going out to India to work for the East India Company, and published in 1810, said: “Porter, pale ale and table beer of great strength are often drank after meals: all these are found in the utmost perfection, for indifferent malt liquors do not stand the voyage; and, even should they arrive in a sound state, would meet no sale.” So it wasn’t just pale ale, but, indeed, porter and table beer (albeit strong table beer, which, being called a beer, must have been well-hopped) that were making it to India successfully. Indeed, the Asiatic journal and monthly register for British India reported in 1826 that Hodgson’s porter was selling for a higher price than its pale ale, 15 rupees the dozen against 14 rupees.
We should not think that the only brewers exporting to India were Hodgson and, after 1822, the Burton boys: the Quarterly oriental magazine: review and register for December 1824 reported that
“Considerable supplies of fresh beer from Hodgson and Abbott have been imported on the Caroline and Joseph, both are of an excellent description, and we who are great advocates for free trade in all its departments are much gratified to find that the latter maintains an equality with the former and meets the taste of a numerous class of consumers.”
This was Edwin Abbott, who had acquired the former Curtiss brewery at Wapping New Stairs, to the east of the Tower of London, an export brewery for many decades. Abbott eventually, in 1843, bought into Hodgson’s brewery, which became Hodgson and Abbott, but for a long time before that he had been a rival.
In conclusion – and thanks for staying with me this long – we can say that by the 1820s one sort of beer shipped to India was prepared differently, and apparently more highly hopped, than beer sold at home. We’ve got the evidence to prove it. We can guess that, as brewers in the 18th century knew about hopping beer to last on long voyages, they were highly hopping beer to India. But we don’t (yet) know they were, because no document we have says so. Was that beer brewed by Hodgson and shipped to India in 1793 on board the Britannia and the Hillsborough highly hopped, more hopped than, say, an “August” beer for consumption in Britain? I don’t know, and unless you’ve got some documentary evidence you don’t know either. There are clues: Joseph Banks wrote in 1768, a year into his voyage to the South Pacific:
“Our Malt liquors have answerd extreemly well: we have now both small beer and Porter upon tap as good as I ever drank them, especialy the latter which was bought of Sam. & Jno. Curtiss at Wapping New Stairs. The Small beer had some art usd to make it keep, it was bought of Bruff & Taylor in Hog Lane near St Giles’s.”
Did Bruff (or Brough?) and Taylor heavily hop their small beer to make it last? Was that their “art”? We might guess so: but guessing, at the moment, is all we can do. Certainly knowing the quantity of hops going into beer in 1821 that was meant for sale in India is no guarantee that we know the quantity of hops that went into beer meant for India in 1784, or 1793.
(1) Liverpool Mercury Friday March 4 1825 p1
(2) Every man his own brewer, by “A Gentleman, lately retired from the Brewing Business”, London 1768 (Google Books, incidentally, confused by another book with an identical name, says this is written by Samuel Childs: it isn’t.)
(3) A new geographical, historical, and commercial grammar: and present state of the several kingdoms of the world, William Guthrie, 7th ed, 1782
(4) Poems, original, lyrical, and satirical, containing Indian reminiscences of the late Sir Toby Rendrag, pub London 1829
(5) The theory and practice of brewing illustrated William Littell Tizard, 1846, p523
(6) Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle containing a faithful narrative of the dreadful sufferings of the crew and the cruel murder of Captain Fraser by the savages, John Curtis, London, 1838, p30
(7) The history of the European commerce with India: To which is subjoined a review of the arguments for and against the trade with India … David Macpherson, London, 1812