The first of these Beer of the Month articles comes out in the height of the summer heat, so it seems ideal to begin with arguably the perfect ale for a hot day, the beautiful IPA. Here’s all you need to know about the enigmatic ale of the orient.
History: Lucky ales, rigged sails and tall tales
It is said that an enterprising East London brewer named George Hodgson invented the blonde and easy-drinking yet strong and hoppy IPA to survive the long sea trips to India in good condition. Mr Hodgson’s ale did indeed become the one that watered India as well as the archetype for all more recent IPAs. In reality, the story of how this happened is much more interesting, with more credit due to luck and circumstance than to Mr Hodgson’s penchant for invention.
You see, the long journeys, murderous pirates and high seas that the journey to India entailed meant that the ships were large; too large for the low bridges and cramped docks that served central London in the early nineteenth century. Instead, the huge vessels occupied larger docks such as the Blackwall Yard to the east of London beside the Thames in Essex, which is exactly where Mr Hodgson’s Bow Brewery was making its stock ale; a bitter and pale variety that was well hopped. The captains of the Indiamen were looking for an easy way to water a lot of thirsty mouths demanding ale in India, and Bow’s stock ale was the easiest way to do so.
So the large casks of ale were the ones to be sent off to India on a journey that proved to be even more of a boon to Hodgson and Bow. The rolling of the boats on the sea meant that the tasty and complex ale matured as much during the four-month voyage as it would have in two years in a cellar. So when it arrived in India, it was in prime condition.
Flavour: Hops and spice and all things nice
Modern India Pale Ales are split into two general categories, the British and the American IPA. Both of them share a blonde to light brown colour and are significantly hoppy. That doesn’t just mean that there’s a lot of hops in them, it means that the hops in question are chosen carefully for their characterful flavours. The hops chosen and the flavours they produce are where the two beers vary.
British IPAs are not as heavily hopped as their American cousins, using a fair dose of British hops to produce earthy, woody and spicy flavours. Meanwhile, American IPAs can be extremely hoppy, taking the flavour notes in the British variety to extremes with citrus flavours and rich pine scents. For an even hoppier IPA, go for the popular American double or ‘Imperial’ varieties, which are often double and sometimes triple hopped.
Whatever you choose, the IPA is a perfect balance of the light-drinking feel of pale ale with the intense flavour of hoppy and sometimes malty beer.