Origins – The History of IPA
There are many myths surrounding the origin of IPA, so let’s set the record straight. After sifting through historical documents, including 19th-century newspaper clippings, we have separated fact from fiction.
Most people know that IPA stands for India Pale Ale and that it contains more hops than other types of beers. However, beyond that, there is a fair amount of argument and speculation.
The use of hops in beer can be traced back to the 9th century. Hops were introduced as an alternative to other bittering agents such as dandelion and marigold. However, it wasn’t until the late 18th and early 19th centuries that hoppy beer began to be mass-produced in larger commercial breweries in England.
Brewers discovered that hops had antibacterial properties and acted as a natural preservative. This discovery coincided with other technological advancements in London.
In previous centuries, brewers did not age their beer. Instead, the aging process was performed by bars and dealers. However, with the introduction of storage vats, thermometers, hydrometers, and attemperators in the 18th century, it became possible to produce dark beer, such as porter, on a large scale. This beer could be made in advance and distributed over a season.
Porter, however, required a cold fermentation process and couldn’t reliably keep in warmer climates. At the same time, trading with the East Indies was becoming popular, requiring beer to be transported to India and surrounding regions. By adding hops to the brew, the beer could survive the journey and reach consumers in those areas. Thus, India Pale Ale got its name. Hops were also added to ales in England during this time to increase their shelf life.
Many historians attribute the origin of IPA to George Hodgson, the founder of Bow Brewery. However, there is no concrete evidence to support this theory. Other prominent brewers at the time, such as Allsopp and Bass, were also producing pale ales in England before Hodgson came onto the scene.
Beer Characteristics and What Makes It Special
IPAs are known for their hop-forward flavor, which gives them their signature bitterness.
Hops, which are flowers from the cannabis family (without THC), were originally used in beer to balance out the sweetness. While most beers contain some hops, IPAs use them as the main ingredient (aside from water). Other beer styles feature hops less prominently, with malt or barley taking center stage. It’s important to note that not all IPAs are bitter. Today, there are various styles of IPAs, each with different hop concentrations. For example, Session IPAs have lower alcohol content (around 5%) and are lighter in body, making them more sessionable. Double and Imperial IPAs have higher hop concentrations.
To balance the hoppy flavor, brewers add more malt, which increases the alcohol content. This type of IPA is ideal if you want to feel the effects more quickly. There are also categories such as dry-hopped, double-dry hopped, and triple-dry hopped, which sound distinct, but they are essentially the same. Dry hopping refers to the process of steeping hops in the fermenting beer instead of boiling them. This results in an aroma that resembles sweeter notes without the accompanying bitterness.
Perhaps the most impressive variety is fresh-hopped IPA, which is only available once a year between late August and September. This beer is brewed using farm-to-brewery hops, and it’s best consumed as close to the brew date as possible.
IPAs in Our Time: Recent History and the Future
The first American IPA was made by Ballantine in the 1940s. It was a full-flavored beer with a relatively high alcohol content of 7.9%. It gained popularity in the 1950s but declined in the 1960s when American tastes shifted towards lighter lagers. The brand struggled to adapt and eventually ceased production in 1996. In 2014, Pabst, which acquired Ballantine, revived the beer, and it has since gained a decent following.
IPAs experienced a resurgence in the early 1980s thanks to craft brewers, with Sierra Nevada leading the way with its innovative blends. Home brewing became legal in 1978, and many homebrewers began experimenting with different recipes. However, the commercial appeal of craft IPAs was initially limited, as mainstream Americans had less adventurous palates during that time.
Tastes change over time, and IPAs went from domination to near-oblivion. However, they re-emerged and reclaimed their position at the top of the beer pyramid. How long will this last? Will Americans start longing for simpler flavors reminiscent of bygone eras?
For the past few decades, IPAs have become synonymous with craft brewing. However, as macro breweries take notice of their popularity, consolidation within the industry may lead to fewer craft brewers introducing new formulas and keeping up with demand.
Nevertheless, IPAs are likely to maintain their popularity for at least another decade, if not longer. They have become a safe bet at bars and parties, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon.