The surge in popularity of the wonderful beverage that is IPA is a relatively recent development. If you’d asked a barman for an IPA five years ago you’d have been served a 3.8% bitter brewed by Greene King. Since 2010 things have changed, the majority of independent pubs in London are swapping rural countryside bitters for craft beers brewed in the city. IPA is at the forefront of this revival, with a ‘traditional’ full flavoured IPA rarely being brewed at much less than 6% abv. Some can even reach 9% or higher, the alcohol carrying the rich hoppy flavour these beers are famous for.
Craft Beer enthusiasts are happy to pay £5 for a pint of Brewdog’s flagship brew Punk IPA at one of their bars in Shoreditch or Camden, unfortunately the mass consensus is o en that it’s overpriced. However, delving a little deeper into the reasons behind that pricing structure we find that when compared to an average lager Punk IPA takes four times as long to mature and is made using twice the amount of malted barley and a whopping 60 kilos of hops per 5000 litre batch. An average lager would be made with only 1.3 kilos of hops when brewing the same volume of beer. Which of the two sounds the most overpriced now?
IPA stands for India Pale Ale and was born out of the need to provide beer for the British Empire in the east. Being too hot to brew in India, a beer Wines was needed that could survive the tumultuous six month journey from Britain. The London brewer Hodgson in the 1780s came up with the answer by creating a strong, heavily hopped beer called October ale which normally ages like wine before drinking. The brew survived the journey successfully but its flavour was also found to have immeasurably improved. This became the prototype IPA and it gradually became paler and more refreshing to suit the Indian climate.
Hodgson’s beer was imitated by bigger brewers, such as Bass. It evolved into something weaker, just plain old pa le ale, for the home market. With the coming of refrigeration, proper IPA itself began to die out, until the Americans rediscovered their love of brewing sometime around 1976. The cra brewers in the States set about recreating forgotten British styles – including IPA. These new ales were packed with alcohol and hops.
It’s been a funny old journey: a beer that was invented in Britain for the Indian market, was revived by Americans and is now making its way home from across the Atlantic.