Thursday, March 14, 2013

What is IPA?

When I managed to screw up my first attempt at the International Homebrew Project Burton Ale I was loathe to ditch all that wort and start fresh, so I chucked in a packet of Munton's yeast and decided to see what came out.

The other day I got round to bottling both that and the batch which hit the nail squarely on the head. I say the first batch was messed up, but in reality it just had less fermentable sugar from the mash than I wanted. In reality I had a 4.5% abv pale ale with an estimated IBU rating well north of 100. When I tasted the sample I took for a gravity reading I was actually quite surprised that my tongue didn't disintegrate, it was quite nice - and I say that as an avowed advocate of balance in my beer. This got me thinking, a dangerous pastime to be sure, and so I calculated that I had the equivalent of about 2.25 lbs of hops per barrel in my beer and whisked a quick email away to Ron to see if there was any precedent in history for a relatively low gravity, super hopped up beer. I am sure you have guessed already, there is.

India Pale Ale, that darling of the modern brewing industry and victim of an almost Protestantesque ignorance of a large chunk of its own history (for those not sure what I mean, for many Protestant denominations, Church History skips from about 313 AD to the late 16th Century without covering 1300 years of doctrinal development and ecclesiastical wranglings). For many in the beer world IPA was invented in the 18th century by George Hodgson to survive the long trip India, it then disappeared entirely until the nascent American brewing scene revived it and claimed it as its own. Shame the whole premise is utter bollocks, but why let facts get in the way of a good story?

One thing that gets lost in the miasma of misinformation and mythology is that IPA lingered in British brewing for a very long time before becoming the hop bomb it is today. At the turn of the 20th Century, British brewers were still making beers that they called IPA. Indeed, Whitbread brewed, in 1902, an IPA with an Original Gravity of 'just' 1.050, an ABV of 4.9%, and 2.65 pounds of hops per barrel. I am fairly sure that if a modern brewery made such a beer, it would be lauded as 'innovative' and 'ground breaking' or some such silly nonsense.

The truth of the matter is that beer styles evolve, as we saw with the development of Burton Ale, and that a modern beer like Green King IPA is no more or less of a 'traditional' IPA than Worthington White Shield or Starr Hill's Northern Lights, they are all expressions of the same tradition, just from different parts of the timeline.

Kind of makes you wonder what's the point of style guidelines and websites that advocate the rating of beer?

7 comments:

  1. Excellent report! Might I ask you, did the beer resemble any modern pale ale/IPA you have had, whether New World or Old? Or was it very different from any of those? Because you have surely created something very historical.

    I don't know if this is possible for you but if any could be stored in any form (wood cask, metal cask, carboy or bottles) for 6 months it might give too some idea of how that Victorian style would taste after lengthy slow conditioning, and perhaps therefore show the palate of some of the beers sent to India, or sold domestically after a season's storage in Burton, say.

    Gary

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  2. Gary, the Whitbread IPA is clearly a running beer that wouldn't have been aged.

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  3. Ron, understood, but still if 6 months aging was given it it would give surely some indication of the "stocked" character of two or three generations earlier. Thus, the fresh vs. the stocked taste...

    Gary

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  4. Gary, it wasn't brewed to be aged. There were still Stock Pale Ales in 1902. But they were brewed differently.

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  5. Gary,

    It only went in the bottle on Monday, so I haven't tried it fully conditioned yet!

    I have half a mind though to try Martyn Cornell's experiment in hot conditioning the beer:

    http://zythophile.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/ipa-the-hot-maturation-experiment/

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  6. Hmmm, your whole anti-Prod stance smacks of Papist BS to me.

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  7. Anon,

    That's the funniest comment ever on this blog.

    As someone that studied to be a 'Prod' minister, our course dealt with early Church history up until the 'conversion' of Constantine the Great, then skipping to the 95 Theses. I had to fill in the rest out of my own interest, and much to the horror of some people I went to college with.

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