More IPA myths that must die on #IPADay

It’s #IPADAY again, and time for some more IPA mythbusting. Despite the best efforts of many, an amazing amount of inaccurate, made-up rubbish continues to be perpetuated about the history and origins of IPA, or India Pale Ale. All the myths below are genuine statements culled in the past few weeks from websites that claim to be experts on beer.

Myth 1 “The original IPAs had strengths close to 8 to 9 per cent alcohol by volume”.

Rubbish: records show early IPAs rarely went much above 6 or 6.5 per cent abv.

Myth 2 “Historians believe that IPA was then watered down for the troops, while officers and the elite would savour the beer at full strength.”

Complete cobblers’ awls. No historian has ever believed that. There is NO evidence IPA was ever watered down, and the troops drank porter anyway.

Myth 3 “Porters and stouts were not suitable for the torrid Indian climate.”

More unresearched rubbish. Considerable amounts of porter – far more porter than IPA, probably – were exported to India, from at least the second half of the 18th century right through to the end of the 19th century. The East India Company actually used to ask brewers to tender for suppliers of porter to India.

Myth 4 “North American craft brewers more closely adhere to early IPA specifications than do British brewers who, as a group, do not.”

Not true. North American IPAs – excellent though many of them are – use hop types completely unknown to 18th and 19th century British brewers, and major on floral, citrussy flavours and aromas in their IPAs, which are designed to be drunk comparatively young. Early British IPAs were designed to be drunk aged anything up to nine months or more, and while they were certainly bitter, they would have lost most of any hop aroma that they originally had. In addition it is becoming increasingly clear that early British IPAs would have showed at least some Brettanomyces character, from their long ageing in cask. Apart from both containing lots of hops, and being similar colours (except for the black ones) modern North American IPAs and early British IPAs could not be much more different.

Myth 5 “‘East India Pale Ale’ was first brewed in England last century for the colonies East of India such as New Zealand and Australia.”

If you’re reading this, DB Breweries of New Zealand, perpetrators of this dreadful piece of marketing fackwittery in connection with Tui East India Pale Ale, “the East Indies” was the term for the Indian sub-continent and South-East Asia, including the archipelagos of maritime South-East Asia, a name used to contrast the region with the West Indies. Trading companies that did business in this part of the world included the East India Company of London, and the Dutch Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or United East India Company. East India Pale Ale is simply a synonym for India Pale Ale, pale ale brewed for India/the East Indies. It has nothing to do with “East of India”, or Australasia. However, since a year or so back Tui East India Pale Ale won the Brewers Guild of New Zealand award for best New Zealand Draught, an amber lager style, it appears the beer is as accurate in style as the history is as accurate in its facts.

(Addendum: I’ve only just noticed, after several readings of the original quote, that it also says “‘East India Pale Ale’ was first brewed in England last century …”. “Last century” was, of course, the 20th century. They presumably meant the 19th century. Which is wrong anyway, as highly hopped pale ales for India were first sent out from England to India in the 18th century …)

You can read last year’s #IPADAY mythbusting from the Zythophile blog here. Have a good one.

55 thoughts on “More IPA myths that must die on #IPADay

  1. such a spoil sport! You know very well that these myths have the power of Time Travel and history has been re written.

  2. I wonder if the effect of Brettanomyces and their esters/phenols in combination of traversing the the equator might be an over looked effect on it flavour profile and something that modern recreations have left out ?

  3. Is there any drive to have IPA (or other beers/styles for that matter) protected under the EU protected designation of origin, protected geographical indication or traditional speciality guaranteed regimes? As it seems there’s an increasingly wide interpretation of traditional beers with familiar styles and names used merely for marketing purposes the end result of which can only have a detrimental and distorting effect on historical beers. My point being if you buy IPA you get IPA.

    1. I can’t see who or how anybody could reasonably apply to protect a beer style first brewed 200 years ago then allowed to lapse into history. I can’t imagine the EU would entertain anything so amorphous as ‘IPA’ as a protected style. Besides, it’s more fun to watch Martyn pick apart the IPABalls which accompany each IPA Day…

    1. This rather demonstrates the point. If American IPA is simply American Pale Ale then it should be marketed as such and not as something it is not. In reply to setting things in aspic I’d say it worked rather well for the makers of Melton Mowbray pork pies. Indeed I’m sure you’d agree authenticity is not the enemy of innovation, as Tui and co. would no doubt argue in their defence, rather authenticity provides the foundations from which to innovate not only for this but for future generations of beer makers. Quite where one draws the line at what is or is not authentic is another and perhaps lenghtier debate.

      1. Time to brew a stout and call it an IPA! 🙂 Oh, just a sec, that’s already happening all over the place… “black IPA”. TBH, I don’t really think it matters much what a brewer calls their stuff, but they need to quit waxing lyrical about tradition & authenticity. But eh, marketing & marketing folk – always just full of bullcrap.

      2. But as Sid Boggle says above IPA lapsed into history. In effect all modern IPA’s are modern imaginings of IPA. Which do you choose to protect? if you go back in history which incarnation of IPA do you choose to set the guidelines? Its impossible.

        1. Well they’ve managed to do it for cheddar probably the most bastardised of all products globally.

          The EU regulations, as Defra’s website notes, is a system for the protection of food names on a geographical or traditional recipe basis. There are already a few British beers already designated including Rutland Bitter and Kentish Strong Ale the designation for which has a strength of between 4.8% and 7%. A type of a range which would appear to accommodate and satisfy the various examples cited above. These have a clear geographical element that IPA perhaps doesn’t and are more brewery specific but if they can designate ‘Czech Beer’ why not IPA?

          As for an ‘exact’ recipe or definiton that’s of course a more difficult question but one that I’m sure experts could agree upon in broad terms and at least sufficient to debar beers such as Tui and Black IPA and disallow the use of misleading marketing. The link to the Rutland designation may be of interest as to how these things are set out.

          Of course all this will take time and effort but an effort surely worth pursuing in order to draw a line under the continued misuse of and perpetration of myths surrounding IPA.

          1. I’m afraid I still don’t see what the point would be? I don’t see that it would have any effect upon the myths, it might stop Tui from being sold in Europe, or cause it to be relabeled, it would have no effect upon its production and marketing here. Any effect on Black IPA I would see as being bad as I think that is exactly the type of innovation I wouldn’t want to see stifled. Cheddar , Melton Mowbray pork pies, Roquefort, ect are all products that have a local connection and perhaps experienced a period of being endangered I can see the point of PDO protection for them. Even in the world of cheese PDO’s are not always positive. Stilton for instance has the ridiculous situation where the only traditional unpasteurized example (Stichelton) is not allowed to call itself Stilton. I don’t think there is any chance of it happening and if there were I don’t think it would have a positive outcome.

  4. Apart from the terroir hop flavours, North American IPAs usually are too malty to stand comparison with historical ones. Long wood- and bottle-aging would have attenuated the beers further and many old authorities note that this was desired to minimize spoilage of the drink in shipment. One can foresee that a strong bitter taste, tinged with Brett in some cases, married to a light body, was the perfect Indian drink. It’s almost a beer equivalent to quinine water if you think about it. (At the same time porter was a good drink too for hot weather as you said, the West Indies use of it to this day attests to that if further evidence is needed).

    The North American IPAs could get closer to the original with barrel and bottle storage but it’s not really a specialty of many brewers as far as I know. The Oregon and Washington State hop flavours would resolve with time to an indeterminate bitter and the body would trim down. With the current taste for sour beers, one would think this would gain currency but I haven’t seen much evidence of it.


    P.S. Interesting comment above about an appellation for IPA, a protected status. Not trying to pun here, but I think this ship sailed long ago… Also think of the many IPAs themselves English sold at low gravities at some times with very shallow hop flavous. It’s too wide a category in my view to receive such protection today although a new system might be considered which distinguishes original from current, e.g. if you called it “Traditional British India Pale Ale”, something like that.

    1. Actually, barrel aging is very much the rage for North American brewers. While this has most commonly been done with imperial stouts and bourbon barrels, we’re now seeing a much wider variety of beer styles and different barrel sources.

      With the huge popularity of Brett beers (see Martyn’s recent post on that subject), it’s only a matter of time before we see a wider range of North American IPAs that get longer barrel aging. In the meantime (no brewery pun intended), we’re already seeing a number of “Belgo-American” IPAs that display a bit of brett and wildness that most folks over here associate more with Belgian beers than authentic IPA.

      Looking forward to judging again at Chicago’s own annual Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer (, where we’re likely to see further examples of well-aged IPA.

      1. I’m rather beginning to wish I’d never started commenting on this IPA thing… it’s far worse than even the Schleswig-Holstein question of which Palmerston said, “Only three people…have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it”

        Whatever next lager as German IPA?!

    2. Two things about strong stout in the Caribbean, Gary. 1) It’s caught in a strong downward spiral in terms of sales; and 2) What popularity it retains has more to do with the myth that it “puts lead in the pencil” than it does with its weather appropriateness.

      Having said that, though, I retain a soft spot for those beers and do agree that they’re lovely served chilled on a warm summer night.

    3. its how the American IPA’s are hopped to. Heavy emphasis on late and dry hopping means American IPA’s are not well positioned to age. The non isomerised hop additions are not stable and go chalky and acrid with age. They are designed for fresh drinking and quite right to but a different kettle of altogether.

  5. I would say that American brewers typically make IPA that is hoppier than the British, with that hop character being dominated by the more citrusy types of American hops. On the other hand many also make English style IPA, using English malts and hops. These usually are accented with the more floral and earth flavors and aromas of English hop varieties. The English style usually will be slightly lower in gravity (and alcohol) and have more malt flavor than the American style.
    The one place that most will not attempt is the introduction of Brettanomyces to give the flavor of historical IPA. The problem being, that once you have it, you may not be able to get rid of it. Most American craft brewers produce at least 10 different styles of beer, which may originate from many parts of the world and most of them are not made better by Brettanomyces.

    I would agree that American brewers don’t hit the historical mark any better than the British, but may be closer in some regards, such as strength of brew and level of bitterness, as many British IPAs are now 5%abv with moderate bittering levels.

    1. An OG of 1.060, which is attenuated more than average, would yield an alcohol of 6.2 – 6.5% (abv). This is higher than many current English IPAs, which seem to be closer to 5% abv. Most commercial IPAs brewed in America are in the range of 6 – 7% abv, which would be more historically accurate. The fact that they are usually brewed with American hops pushes them further away from historical IPA.
      The last English style IPA that I made, with Muntons Pearl malt, Bairds crystal malt, East Kent Golding hops and a British Ale yeast, came in at an OG of 1.065, abv of 6.9%, was probably quite accurate to the historical English IPA, with the exception of the background Brett character.
      If you would like to inoculate a 5% abv IPA with Brett, be my guest. It will probably not be accurate either as the Brett will dominate all the other character, since a 5% abv beer is not big enough to be aged or stand up to the funk.
      P.S. I’ve had the Greene King as well, and it is a good beer.

      1. IPA aren’t about the alcohol content, its the attenuation and hopping rates that sets them apart from a pale ale or other strong ale

        1. If attenuation is constant between beers, the alcohol content relates directly to body, mouth feel, hop perception and the ability to age a beer. Pale ales and India Pale ales are very similar, with IPAs typically having greater amounts of ingredients (malts and hops) and therefore greater alcohol content and hop perception. Both are usually more attenuated than other styles, giving a drier and crisper mouth feel.

      2. But there were IPA’s exported in the 1840’s that were under 1050º:

        And British IPA’s of under 1040º have been around for 100 years or so.

        IPA, like all beer styles, was never had a standard defintion. It changed across the years and across regions. Trying to come up with one singlr defintion of “authentic IPA” is futile and doomed to failure. Unless you start excluding a large numer of the IPA’s brewed in the past.

      1. Guinness stout is is currently much lower ABV that a than there town single stout (porter) of the mid/ late 19th century. But Guinness is the archetype modern stout, so it can be one rule for guniness and another form modern British IPA

  6. Martyn, do you have any plans to do an article based on the Olympics in London? I’m sure there could be a great tie in with the previous London Olympics.

    1. Here’s one to set the cat amongst the pigeons: is the purportedly unclassifiable (eg Tim Webb) beer, Orval, actually an IPA? It’s pale, it’s 6.9% it’s got Brett, it’s got English hops, and its ages beautifully.

  7. The Orval story is a very interesting one. Jackson in his last book reported that the current beer derives from a brewery set up in 1931 although he feels some brewing probably attended at the Abbey since it was founded almost 900 years ago. I looked at his The World Guide To Beer and New World Guide (70’s and 80’s publication) and in neither does he call it a pale ale as such but he calls it everything but, using terms as golden amber, intensely bitter, top-fermented, and almost cidery or horseblanket, which would describe very well one form, perhaps the main form, of stocked pale ale. In his last book, Beer (2007), he states Brett was introduced to the beer by accident by a German brewer! This would throw into a cocked hat any idea that the brewery was trying to copy the gold standard, still recognized in 1931, of English pale ale unless one assumes it intended to omit the classic flavours of maturity in English beer (which is possible).

    If you look at lists of Belgian beer styles in the 1800’s, none seems really close to Orval with the possible exception of Saison. Saison would usually have used spelt though or wheat, but probably not invariably. Maybe therefore Orval is a high-end development of Saison and merges with English pale ale therefore – the two styles have many parallels – without being a direct copy.

    Still, I believe when the Trappist monasteries were looking to create enduring classics in the 1900’s they did probably look to England for inspiration. I just had for the first time Westvlereren 12 and it struck me as a Burton style, essentially, as do the other classic strong Trappists. I can’t recall seeing any such beer (i.e., at those strength levels) described in 1800’s descriptions of Belgian beers. The catalogues usually mention Saisons, white beers (the Liege style), brown beers that were evidently sour brown ales of not unusual strength, lambic, gueuze, utzet, beers like that. Perhaps some abbeys or monasteries were making very high-strength specialties, possibly using the typical bready/raisiny multi-strain Belgian today, but if so none seems to have reached public notice even of people taking the trouble to note the styles prevalent in the country.

    So all in all, I do believe Orval and most of the classic Trappist beers probably originally were emulations of either stocked pale ale or Scotch ale. Of course, over time they have acquired a unique profile.


  8. Here is a short catalogue of Belgian styles from James Mew (later 1800’s):

    Nothing there really evokes an Orval much less a 10% Rochfort or that type of Trappist, although it is hard at this remove to be completely sure. A lot of the beers seem of mixed-grain types, too.

    By the way, when I said Liege, I meant, Louvain and its white beer. Liege was and is a center of Saison brewing.


    1. Gary that’s because orval and other trappist are products of the early 20 th century, their not as old as the public might like to believe

  9. In reply to Kieran Haslett-Moore (EU designation):

    The use of pasteurised milk by Stilton makers was a misguided attempt to allay fears, largely created in the media, following the listeria outbreak at the end of the 1980s. That pasteurisation appears in the designation is not necessarily the fault of the EU scheme per se and pasteurisation is not as far as I am aware demanded by EU legislation.

    One can entirely agree that an ill defined description is counterproductive but what can be more ill definded and unhelpful than IPA as it stands? By all means let the world innovate but one must accept that IPA is historically a British beer of a certain type and labelling things an IPA with spurious claims to historicity, however excellent a product, when it is clearly not an IPA serves no good purpose. This is surely the spirit of Martyn’s article and point of IPADay?

    As the bard wrote,’What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ I’m sure you’d agree. The endless appending of IPA to an increasingly diverse collection of beers seems ridiculous, disingenuous and pointless. Taken to an absurd degree where will we end? Lager as Cool Brewed IPA! An endeavour worthy even of the Academy at Lagado.

    There is of course a serious point to all this and that is to ensure the continued brewing of good quality and varied beers. If people cannot deferentiate by name, even in broad styles, then one runs the risk of confusion and it makes the job of educating people about beer, and thereby increasing and protecting the market, all the harder. Without education there is ignorance and we may all too easily end up back in the situation where a few large brewers dominate with indifferent results. There is surely no coincidence that the renaissance in beer production flourished during the ‘global boom’ and that now we live in increasingly uncertain economic times the continued viability of smaller brewers may be called into question. People will pay a premium for a good product but not, I would contend, if there is confusion as to what one is buying. At its most simple if one can’t name something with certainty or be certain what something is one may opt for something else instead, the thinking being ‘I like IPA but I won’t buy that because I’m not sure it’s actually the IPA I enjoy’; this could equally apply to other beer styles. Do we really want the buying and brewing of different beers simply to become an exercise in endless novelty? A situation that would put things on a very shaky footing indeed.

    The simplification of wine labelling into grape varieties, which was not always the case in the UK or Europe, is perhaps a case in point and am sure significantly contributed to the increase in wine consumption in the last decade or so as consumers became more confident. Can the same be said about the tangled web of beers that is currently presented to the consumer? And what long term results may this have?

    My question was merely that a question and one that is perhaps worth exploring further but perhaps not on these pages.

  10. Indeed probably (re last comment) subject of another discussion, maybe under this blog’s aegis if Martyn is willing to essay the question of appellations. I think though again such a system would have to be done very carefully if at all, so as to take account of the worldwide use of beer designations in the loosest way since time immemorial let alone the 1800’s. The term pilsner is the classic case, but IPA is not far behind, ditto porter and stout. One of the problems claiming an appellation for porter is that for a time, it wasn’t produced under that name in England and Ireland. IPA fell into erratic and inconsistent use in England before the Americans (let’s face it) revived and invented the category, albeit in a unique way. (I was glad though of the comment earlier above that many American IPAs are English in taste, this is absolutely true and there has always been a spectrum of flavours for the drink from almost strictly English to where no man has ever gone shall we say). But it could be done, and if properly limited these could have a real utility. E.g. Traditional British Porter (I’d argue for that since porter in its heyday was made all over the U.K.); Irish Stout; Traditional British IPA (allowing all the adjuncts and grains into the modern era, British hops to at least 2/3rds the hop bill, warm fermentation above a set limit). Etc. Etc. Good project for the EU.


  11. “Two things about strong stout in the Caribbean, Gary. 1) It’s caught in a strong downward spiral in terms of sales; and 2) What popularity it retains has more to do with the myth that it “puts lead in the pencil” than it does with its weather appropriateness. ”

    Apparently no one has thought to tell the middle-aged West Indian gents who hang around outside my local bookmaker in South London. Every corner shop is full of the stuff.

    It’s an interesting proposition, though: a beer that was exported from the UK to the Carribbean, lost its popularity in its country of origin but maintained it in the former colony, then in furn fell out of favour there, but remained popular amongst ex-pats living in the former metropole where it originated in the first place.

  12. No question its popularity has withered in probably most of the Caribbean, but it’s still available for purchase there, indeed still brewed there. All drinks have a heyday and its decline is more due to changing fashions long term than any inherent inaptness for the local climate I’d say. It’s probably the same story in Asia, I recall being able to find FES quite easily in Hong Kong 15 years ago but no doubt it is a small seller in relation to lager. (Then too in Munich a couple of years ago I found dunkel hard to find and when I did once it was off, with no carbonation and a sourish taste. Clearly I had unusually bad luck and didn’t know where to look for a reliable glass of the traditional drink, but just the fact that a more or less casual visitor didn’t encounter a formerly iconic drink is the same kind of story).


  13. @Gary : I’m a bit late, but I believe sth must have escaped you re this protected denominations thing.
    Protected denominations rely on one basic idea: they are linked to a specific place or area of production. Which is as far as I can tell not the case with India Pale Ale.
    Had it remained a local specialty beer in London or Burton, maybe there would have been a chance, but nowadays IPA has become a generic term that is linked to neither a specific area nor a specific type of beer (rather a broad family of beers), so it definitely is too late.
    Besides, an AOC / PGI etc. only has the added value that its specification file can give it. The tighter in terms of where the ingredients can come from, how it can be produced, and how the final product must look/smell/taste, the better.
    Honestly, as someone who’s worked in intellectual property in the – admittedly rather remote – past, the best way I see is to start from scratch, say, with “London October Beer”, for example, get a few London breweries to produce them according to a clear, tight specification file, establish it as a local staple and proceed from there for registration…
    Down here in Switzerland it’s what a bunch of cheese producers did quite a few years ago when they decided that their generic Gruyère was to be called “L’Etivaz” after the local area, because it was produced with raw local mountain milk, using traditional methods (copper kettle, small batches, etc.), which it did show in the final product, that was quite different from standard gruyère, as it had – and still has – a lovely grassy/hay/cowshed edge.
    Whereas Gruyère also has its AOC now, but it hasn’t stopped other countries from producing gruyère…

    1. Thanks for these thoughts but the nature of protected appellations has not escaped me, far from it. I indicated for example that Americans have extended and indeed reinvented IPA, and that porter for a time – at least as so-called – was not commercially produced in the U.K. (with the implication it was produced elsewhere). What I was suggesting was, a new category be created of appellation, something anchored to a historical time and place. London is the home of pale ale. True, Burton eclipsed it, but it would be a judgment of the people charged to look at this to decide which area should receive the benefit of the historical designation. The purpose would be to recognize history and assist the commerce of the area concerned.

      Given that London can claim porter too and porter is still remembered – more than pale ale – as a London specialty, I’d give it the palm for that one and Burton can take pale ale. Scotland would have Scotch Ale. The Hainaut could have Saison et ainsi de suite. So I am suggested a new approach to appellations, one based on a different set of characteristics than has been used to date for the ones that exist now.


  14. In other words (just to be clear) the use of terms such as India pale ale, pale ale, porter, stout, Dortmund-style, pilsner, etc. wouldn’t be foreclosed to anyone but rather you’d have terms like Historical London Pale Beer, Original Munich Dark Lager, Victorian Burton Pale Ale, etc. Admittedly judgments would have to be made and it is relative to a degree, but everything is…


  15. When I got my IPA to India it tasted more like barley wine than modern American IPA – as you say, the hop character receded quite markedly. I used to think accounts of IPA being wine-like among Anglo-Indians were mere hyperbole until I tasted sea voyage matured Calcutta IPA, but it really did have vinous hints.

    And I’m certain about the bret character too. They used to try to filter out as much yeast as possible to prevent violent fermentation in the barrel en route, which destroyed about 8% of the cargo. In 1853, Tizard wrote that a secondary fermentation in the barrel was ‘the wordt thing that could possibly happen to the beer’. But bear in mind when they were taking it – before Pasteur, before modern filtration techniques etc – and it would have been impossible to get all the yeast out. The temperature variations on the journey would have produced periods when they were dormant, and others where they would have had a riotous party.

    Not sure it’s entirely right to say American IPAs use hop types that would be ‘completely unknown’ to British brewers though – Bass was importing considerable quantities of US hops in the 1870s, and while most of these were probably used for bittering rather than aroma, there were complaints that beer made with them had ‘an aroma of blackcurrant leaf’. We’ve no idea what varieties these hops were as they were just recorded by location rather than named as they are now, but there’s at least a hunch here that Burton brewers were using US hops that may have been similar in character to those that are so popular today.

  16. These “myths” are all well documented and true… at least one historian (me) believes them all and has published strong evidence in support of them all.

  17. If the ipa arrived flat in India, after aging a year in England and end route, then bottled in India, so did they add malt and yeast to carb it up for consumption on the subcontinent?

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