Has anyone ever wondered what an I.P.A. (India Pale Ale) is? I’m going to talk about Pale Ales first because an India Pale Ale is an amped up version of the former. I’ve actually already given some good information on Pale Ales when we had Samuel Smith’s Pale Ale (here is a link to that article and review). Even though I’ve covered some of the bases before, let me just briefly define a Pale Ale.
A Pale Ale is not pale at all. The utilization of lighter grains as compared to those used in English Porters and Stouts helped to give this beer its name. Some of this had to do with technological advance. I’ve written some stuff on grains already, so I’m not going to cover it much here (I’m providing multiple links in the articles to cover some other questions you might have). In addition to being lighter than other Ales of the time, the beer was also more hopped than a Porter or Stout might typically be. Rolling Rock is not actually a good example of a Pale Ale (check out the Samuel Smith’s that we have reviewed on here for a more classic example of this beer type).
Well, Pale Ales were great for the homefront. But what about people in the British Empire who were far away? By the time the Pale Ales that were sent to them from England reached them, they were old and spoiled. Remember, the beer had to be shipped by boat in large wooden barrels. The trip to India by boat was a long journey. So, how could beer be transported to those who were so far away? The solution gave birth to the India Pale Ale. There are some other legends related to how this beer came about, such as a stranded merchant who needed to unload his beer, etc. However, I think the first instance is the true story.
What had to be changed about a Pale Ale to make it into what became known as India Pale Ale? First of all, you had to up the grain content. Second, you had to up the hop content. Both of these had to be done generously. Adding both grains and hops increased the shelf-life of the beer. Not only so, but hops act as an antiseptic for beer. The acids in the hops were especially key for both the shelf-life and cleansing aspects of the beer’s life. I’ve read that hop levels could be as much as five times the average beer today. Of course, some of this relates to using old hops and so forth, but they were still extremely hopped.
From there, people (mainly soldiers at first) developed a taste for the style. They began asking for that highly hopped beer that they’d had in India. Until recently, this seems to be the way of things, namely, many of our current beers were born out of historically necessary circumstances. Now many brew to create something new and fresh. Some historical necessities are just great modern amenities!