Meeting Report: British Guild of Beer Writers India Pale Ale Conference, 21 May 1994
Republished from BrewingTechniques' July/August 1994.

The British Guild of Beer Writers India Pale Ale Conference was a huge success. On 21 May 1994, almost 50 brewers and beer writers gathered in the 18th century Smeaton's Vaults at Whitbread's Chiswell Street Brewery to discuss the history, brewing, and future prospects of India Pale Ales (IPAs). The British Guild of Beer Writers sponsored the event, and hosts Barrie Pepper, Roger Protz, and Mark Dorber provided immeasurable hospitality and an extremely professional atmosphere.

The first speaker, Dr. Richard Wilson (director of the Centre of East Anglian Studies, University of East Anglia), reviewed the political and business climate leading to the rise of IPAs in Victorian Britain. The talk drew heavily on research conducted for The British Brewing Industry 1830-1980, a recently released book by Wilson and Dr. T.R. Gourvish (stay tuned to BrewingTechniques for a review of this excellent work). The period 1830-1870 saw a significant increase in the consumption of beer in general and export ales in particular. The industrial revolution produced disposable income for the middle class, income that made its way into the local pubs. Additionally, increases in the application of scientific methods to brewing influenced the quality of beer and the sales of beer.

Although we know that beer consumption was up, tracking the specific styles brewed and sold proves to be a difficult task. According to Wilson, porters, sweet stouts, and IPAs were popular in London; however, variation in consumer preference along geographical lines makes it difficult to talk about consumption patterns nationwide. By 1905, consumers recognized much simpler differences in styles, typically along the lines of strong (stock ales, heavy stouts) medium (light stouts, bitters, porters) and light (bitters, porters, milds). Wilson emphasized the impact of the Burton breweries on the production of IPAs and the London and Edinburgh brewers' work to replicate the clarity and crispness of beers originating in the Burton-on-Trent region.

Next up was Dr. John Harrison, a brewing historian with a reputation for recreating beers from old recipes. Harrison spent quite a bit of time tracking down the original location of George Hodgson's Bow Brewery. Thanks to his research, I was able to visit the geographical location of this once powerful brewery. An apartment complex now stands on the site.

From second-hand records, collected with much leg work, Harrison found that the Bow Brewery used new season hops in its pale ales and old hops in its porters. In addition, Harrison reviewed the distinction between October and March brewed ales. Even before the success of IPA, brewers increased the gravity and hop content of their March beers relative to their October productions. The higher alcohol content and increased hopping rates helped the March ales withstand the rigors of summer.

After a brisk question and answer session, Paul Bayley, the head brewer from Marstons, provided a marvelous presentation on the water of the Trent Basin. With the aid of several geological maps, Bayley pointed out that the success of early breweries depended in part on the luck of site selection. Although all underground water in the Trent Basin is hard, the specific water makeup in Burton varies from site to site and also as a function of well depth. Many breweries bought property in the Burton area to increase the number of wells providing brewing water. These purchases were frequently motivated by a desire to prevent someone else from contaminating the water source. One potential threat to the water of the basin, the practice of backfilling land in the basin with fly ash from local coal burning power plants. The fly ash replaces gravel removed for road construction and could affect water flow rates in the basin. The water in the basin was so important for brewing the bright, crisp Burton ales that in the late 19th century breweries from around the country built satellite facilities in Burton in an effort to capitalize on the water. Later, as knowledge of mineral content and water analysis improved, Burtonization of water began and the satellites closed.

Another Burton brewer, Peter Sunderland, head brewer at Inde Coope brewery, followed with a clear account of parti-gyle brewing circa 1930. Brewers of the time included a variety of malts in their grists, apparently as a hedge against a defective batch of malt, which would have less damaging consequences in a mixed grist. Sunderland suggested that the malsters were probably responsible for making blends, looking for stability of the overall grist.

It seems as though brewing science may have outpaced malting science at this point. Sunderland shared a brewing log from Allsopp Brewing for a batch brewed one year after its merger with Inde Coope. The beer contained nine malted barleys, including six-row barley of Manchurian and Mediterranean descent grown in the United States. The hops for the beer originated in New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The brew log further demonstrated that the IPAs brewed during this period already suffered from a great drop in gravity.

After the morning speakers we had the great fortune of tasting three IPAs brewed to the specifications of recipes dating back to the last century. First up was Harrison's reproduction of a recipe used by the Hodgson family at the Bow brewery. Gathered through indirect sources, this recipe dates back to the original beers that successfully captured and then dominated the Indian market until the 1820s. Harrison brewed with Thames well water treated with carbonate, 100% pale malt, and Kent Golding hops. This copper-colored IPA with an original gravity of 1.070 had a strong aromatic nose reminiscent of an after-dinner wine. The malty flavors quickly gave way to intense hop bitterness.

Next up was Harrison's re-creation of an Edinburgh IPA. Brewed with water treated to match Edinburgh sources, this tawny-colored ale was loaded with tannins. Starting at 1.062, it struck a more even balance between malt and hops than did the Hodgson re-creation.

The third sample, The White Horse IPA, was brewed at Bass's historic pilot facility (a must-see when visiting the United Kingdom) using a recipe dating back to the 1850s. This IPA also was intensely bitter (IBU 88), moreso than any beer I have ever tasted in the United States. Strong fruity characters and overwhelming bitterness characterized this very strong ale (7.2% alcohol [v/v]). Apricot aromas dominated the nose. The IPA lovers at my table agreed that the beer was reminiscent of a fine Madeira.

Fortunately for all in attendance, a professionally prepared lunch followed the tasting of these powerful IPAs. Lunch offered an opportunity to relax and enjoy a wonderful meal and the company of others interested in IPAs. Lunchtime debates ranged from which malts make the best pale ales and bitters to which of the historic IPAs could we drink with lunch.

After lunch, Charles McMaster, a writer specializing in Scottish brewing, reviewed Edinburgh's role as the center of IPA production. In the mid-19th century, Scotland successfully exported strong Scottish ales to the tobacco and sugar plantations of the United States and West Indies. The uncontested market provided a lucrative business for brewers willing to ship their expensive ales across the Atlantic. The ales were costly, however, and after the Napoleonic wars the Scottish ales had to compete with Burton ales in looking for new markets. The Burton Ales easily underpriced the Scottish ales, forcing Scottish brewers to study the feasibility of brewing IPAs in Edinburgh.

The major brewers of Edinburgh all produced IPAs. The Edinburgh IPAs, fermented at lower temperatures and for longer periods of time than their Burton-on-Trent counterparts, had original gravities in the low 1.060s. The slightly lower hopping rates, probably reflecting the high cost of hops in Edinburgh, yielded IPAs that were maltier than the Burton versions.

Michael Jackson, noted author and lover of beers from around the world, followed McMaster with a brief review of IPAs in other parts of the world. Although he discussed IPAs in Australia, his talk focused on the role that ales played in the United States.

Jackson indicated that IPA offered a contradiction to the accepted worldly wisdom of the last century; namely, that dark beers come from England and pale beers from Pilsen, a common belief attributable to the ready success of porters and Pilseners. However, the advent of Burton ales and the successful brewing of IPAs in Australia and the United States helped change the color game. Many brewers settled in the northeastern United States, bringing with them their skills at brewing top-fermenting ales. Because of these brewers, IPAs never did die in the United States.

In his usual inimitable style, Jackson reviewed the profiles of several old IPAs no longer brewed in the United States, including the Ballantine IPA brewed at the Cranston, Rhode Island, facility. This beer was fermented in open square wooden tanks and had an original gravity of 1.078. His description of this beer made me wish that the beer was available today!

An American colleague, Garrett Oliver, head brewer at Manhattan Brewing Company (New York), outlined the relationship between stock ales and IPAs. Apparently, brewing procedures for the two styles were quite similar.

Oliver also presented some opinions on why people brew. According to Oliver, U.S. brewers are motivated by love of brewing while English brewers are part of a longstanding brewing trade. Oliver's lively presentation and sense of humor were enjoyed by all in attendance.

I spoke next. Dorber had asked me to tell the story behind the recipe for Renegade Red, the Gold Medal India Pale Ale at the 1993 Great American Beer Festival. I reviewed the various influences on my interpretation of the style and presented an analysis of the current state of IPAs. The presentation outlined the differences between traditional and contemporary IPAs (see BrewingTechniques 2 [3], 20-26 [1994]). The talk also reviewed how I matched recipe and brewing goals to marketing concerns.

While I spoke, the attendees began sampling the American-brewed IPAs. Oliver brought a wonderful IPA brewed at the Manhattan Brewery.

The traditional interpretation had a high original gravity and low final gravity, intense bitterness, and an extremely complex nose. Teri Fahrendorf, head brewer at Steelhead Brewery (Eugene, Oregon), stopped in at the conference on her way to visit breweries in Belgium. Fortunately for those in attendance she brought two small kegs of Bombay Bomber IPA. True to form, this IPA was very alcoholic and bitter. The Chinook hops used for dry hopping presented an aggressive and grapefruity nose. I rounded out the field of American beers with a batch of IPA brewed in my half-bbl pilot system. An attempt at a more contemporary interpretation, this IPA was malty and extremely bitter with a huge Cascade aroma. Overall these beers were favorably received, although I think some of our British friends considered them hopped to excess.

This conference brought together brewers, writers, and historians in an effort to review the storied history and brewing practices of India Pale Ale. Enthusiasm and professionalism permeated the huge storage vat that housed our meeting. We continued to exchange ideas and opinions at the reception following the conference, where we drank more IPAs, some like the ever-popular Liberty Ale from Anchor Brewing Company (San Francisco).

Mark Dorber deserves a huge congratulations for putting in the time and effort to organize the event. His efforts made the conference a success and allowed people to turn excited conversation to next year. Everyone seemed to agree that next year's gathering should focus on English strong ales. Schedule my airline ticket now please.

Note: A collection of manuscripts presented at the conference may be acquired by contacting Mark Dorber, The British Guild of Beer Writers, The White Horse on Parson's Green, 4 Glengall Terrace, London SE15 6NW United Kingdom.

-Thom Tomlinson

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