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THE SHORT STORY OF INDIA PALE ALE (IPA)

by Christian Larsen on

THE SHORT STORY OF INDIA PALE ALE (IPA)

By Franco Salzillo - Food writer, sommelier link: sommslist.com/FrancoSalzillo // POST DATE 25 OCTOBER 2020

Ships arriving at the Chandpal Ghat, Kolkata, one of a shoebox full of images found in Edinburgh in 2012. Photograph: RCAHMS/PA

The British Colonies in India were the craze between the 1700s and early 1800s, and the colonists were a thirsty bunch. The ships arrived at the UK packed with tea and spices and returned to the sweltering Indian subcontinent with a proper beer cargo.

Trial and error led British brewers to craft distinct beer styles that would travel better than the then-popular Bitters and Porters; we’re talking six months, half around the world to get the beer to its destination. 

Without refrigeration, even modern beers would suffer bottle-shock after such a fastidious journey.

The solution? Bigger, bolder beers. More alcohol and more hops to unforeseen levels; that’s how the India Pale Ale or IPA was born.

19th century poster for Phipps, an IPA brewer in Northampton.

Left picture: Best India Pale Ale, bottled expressly for export by A. W. Palmer & Co. Right picture: Beer label for McEwan's Pale India Ale from 1907 or earlier

English IPAs became madly famous for a time, but as all fads, they faded with time, almost into oblivion. It took over 150 years for the style to rise from the ashes, this time as a flag bearer in the American craft beer revolution of the late 70s and early 80s.


By the 90s, the IPA’s extra hops and high alcohol strength weren’t enough, and the hyped-up brewers developed the Double IPA. The race for creating the most bitter beer on the planet was on, and IBU levels (International Bitterness Units) rose from between already high 60 and 100 to 1000.  

Now IPAs are not that much about bitterness but balance and flavor intensity. With New World hops dominating the nose, the category is more exciting than ever. Here are a few IPAs you should try to dip your feed in the fantastic beer style. 

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