Five facts you may not have known about India Pale Ale for #IPAday

‬IPAday 2013 logoIPA in India in the 19th century was drunk ice-cold

There are several references to “light bitter beer” being drunk “cold as ice could make it, the most refreshing of all drinks in this climate” in the journals and letters of expats in India from the 1820s to the 1850s.

The earliest use of the term India Pale Ale appears to have been in Australia

An advertisement for East India pale ale in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser of Saturday, August 29 1829 is, at present, the earliest known sighting of the phrase “India Pale Ale”. Unfortunately the ad didn’t say who the brewer was, buy another advertisement in an Australian newspaper a few months later, the Colonial Times of Hobart in Tasmania on Friday, February 19 1830 lists “Taylor’s Brown Stout, East India Pale Ale (the best summer drink) and XXX Ale for sale”. “Taylor’s” almost certainly refers to Taylor Walker of the Barley Mow brewery, Limehouse, by the Thames in London, which can thus take the laurels as the first named brewer of a beer specifically referred to as IPA.

There are no actual references from the 19th century to the four-month sea-voyage out to India improving the flavour of IPA by the time it arrived in Calcutta or Bombay

This “fact” appears to have started as guesswork by 20th century writers, based at least in part on the fact that Madeira wine DID improve on the journey to India, so it was assumed that beer must do the same. Recent experiments suggest that, indeed, the long, slow heating and cooling that IPA would have undergone as it travelled in the holds of sailing ships from Britain would have altered and mellowed its flavours, but a full-scale trial has yet to be held …

The rise to fame and power of Burton upon Trent’s great brewers, such as Bass and Worthington, as brewers of India Pale Ale was at least in part because of a Russian import ban.

The Burton brewers’ biggest market until the very early 1820s was the Baltic region, and in particular Russia, where they sold a strong, dark, sweet brew called Burton Ale. When the Russians banned imports of ale (but not stout or porter) in 1822, Burton’s brewers were persuaded to replace this lost market with India, and to start brewing a pale, bitter beer for the first time.

Pale ales have been made for millennia

It has always been possible to make pale malt, from which pale ale is made, simply by sun-drying the malt. But that was always a risky affair in a wet climate. The invention of coke-fired maltings around the middle of the 17th century enabled maltsters to have much greater temperature control over the malting process, and from the start of the 18th century mentions of “pale ale” start to become more common.

0 thoughts on “Five facts you may not have known about India Pale Ale for #IPAday

  1. A question on the last point. Coke comes into use in the middle third of the 1600s as brewing scale takes off but perhaps also scale takes off because coke takes off. There is an energy crisis in the late 1500s due to deforestation and the need to move coal and coke as an energy source at scale is part of the answer. Controlling coal is different from controlling organic energy politically and economically. Pre-coke malt drying was organic, small scale and local if not personal. It was capable and resourceful. That all being the case, I am not sure why we are certain that paler ales, if not golden ones, were not more common pre-coke than assumed.

  2. Dear Martyn,
    Are you aware of any correlation between increased exports to south Asia and the shrinking (or at least static) domestic beer market, which was encouraged by the reduction of the spirit duty and the relatively high beer and malt duties in the late 1820s? I’m doing some research leading up to the Beer Act but I have yet to come across evidence that brewers were needing to expand exports due to the domestic situation.

    Enjoyed the post on IPA day.


  3. “full-scale trial has yet to be held …”
    I don’t know if you can call that a “full scale” experiment, but at Brasserie artisanale Albion here in Quebec we brewed an IPA from a 19th century recipe and we tried our best to make this experiment. 1 third of the batch was aged 5 months in cellar conditions, without any disturbance. The other third was matured in hot conditions (86F and higher) with rocking movements in stainless steel casks and last third in wooden casks. The 3 beers were totally different. The ones aged in hotter conditions seemed very mature, like beers aged for at least a year, with flavor reminescent of wine with a good hop punch but very different from modern IPA. The “normal” version was good, but was more bitter less rounded. Here some (french) links about it. Thanks again for the great job!

    1. Steven, that’s very interesting.

      When you say “mature” for the casks rocked in warm conditions, does that mean sherry/maderized flavours? Or were they different flavours?

      Also, are any of these beers available now at Albion? I may be there in week.



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