There’s an amazing amount of inaccurate, made-up rubbish that has been written about the history and origins of IPA, or India Pale Ale. So read on, and turn yourself into an IPA mythbuster for #IPA day:
Myth 1: “IPA was invented by a brewer called George Hodgson from Bow, in East London.”
Fact: Hodgson was the best-known of the early exporters of pale ale to India. But there is no evidence at all that he “invented” a new beer style. Pale ale was already being brewed in England before Hodgson. And the beer Hodgson brewed wasn’t called “India Pale Ale” until more than 40 years after he is first recorded as exporting beer to the Far East. Indeed, there is no evidence that IPA was “invented” at all. It looks more likely the style developed slowly from existing brews as “Pale Ale prepared for the India market”, and was eventually, around 1835, given a new and separate name, East India Pale Ale.
Myth 2: “IPAs started life as a British export to their troops stationed out in India back in the 1800s.”
Fact: Pale ale was around from at least the 17th century and pale ales were being exported to India from at least the 1780s, if not before. And they weren’t drunk by the troops, either those of the East India Company’s forces or the later British Army forces in India, who much preferred porter, and continued drinking porter in India right through to the end of the 19th century. The pale ales exported by Hodgson, Bass, Allsopp and others were drunk by the middle and upper classes among the Europeans in India, the military officers and the “civil servants”, the civilians who worked for the East India Company, trading, administrating and collecting taxes.
Myth 3: “British brewers discovered that if they put lots of hops and alcohol in the beers they were sending out, the strong beer wouldn’t go sour on the four-month voyage around Africa.”
Fact: Beer did not need to be strong to survive the journey to India, and IPAs were not particularly strong for the time: they were only about 6 per cent to 6.5 per cent abv. Certainly by the 1760s brewers were being told that it was “absolutely necessary” to add extra hops to beer if it was being sent to somewhere warm. But this was not limited to India. And there is absolutely no evidence that George Hodgson of Bow introduced the idea of hopping export beers more strongly than beers for home consumption.
Myth 4: “A few India-bound beer ships were wrecked on the coast of Scotland, which gave locals the chance to sample the cargo. The secret was out, and IPA has been a staple in the UK ever since.”
There is no record of any shipwreck being associated with the sale of IPA in the UK. Update October 2015: never say never. It turns out there WAS a shipwreck off the coast of Lancashire, in 1839, after which pale ale which had been on its way to India was sold off in Liverpool – you can read about it here. But even so, “pale Ale brewed expressly for the India market” and “suitable for warm climates or home consumption” was on sale in London in 1822, no shipwreck needed. And IPA never took off in Britain until around 1841, after the railway had arrived in Burton upon Trent and made it much easier for the Burton brewers to send their bitter beers to markets around the UK.
For more about the history, and myths, of IPA, go here for a summary of IPA history, here for a (much) longer version and here to learn more about what George Hodgson really did.