IPA - The Origin of India Pale Ale, Part II


By Thom Tomlinson (Brewing Techniques)


The previous installment, IPA and Empire, reviewed the invention of India Pale Ale and its early development as a style. In this issue, we discuss the resurgence of interest in traditional India Pale Ales, both in the United States and in England, and review considerations for brewing this important style. Interested in brewing your own IPA at home? Browse our selection of IPA beer kits!


India Pale Ale, Part II: The Sun Never Sets


The Personality of India Pale Ale

Most beer writers treat India Pale Ale (IPA) as a subgroup of beers within the pale ale category. Michael Jackson, for example, refers to IPA as a “super-premium pale ale”. He also writes that, in England, “… the designation is used carelessly.” Christopher Finch’s wonderful book does not even mention India Pale Ale, but includes examples of the style that fall within the scope of what he considers to be pale ales. I argue, however, that a clear-cut distinction between pale ale and India Pale Ale is important. (For details of IPA’s historical development, see Part I.)
Given the historical context in which IPA originated, few would argue the fact that high hop bitterness, high hop aroma, and high alcohol content characterize the style. Recommended original gravities include 1.050-1.060, 1.050– 1.055, and 1.048-1.062. All sources call for high attenuation, with finishing gravities between 1.004 and 1.016. Although this broad range suggests that the term “high alcohol content” seems to be a relative one, historical considerations warrant higher gravities.
As far as bitterness goes, everyone recommends IBUs in the 40-60 range. In addition, almost every source recommends medium to high hop aroma.
Although most sources agree on high alcohol content, bitterness, and aroma, some disagree about color and hop flavor profile. Some interpretations call for a very pale, almost golden, ale, while others call for more color — as dark as deep amber or copper. If one considers only the recipes used for traditional IPAs without considering the brewing process of that time, a pale color would seem to be indicated. The recipes called for two-row malted barley and various amounts of sugar. If brewed in stainless steel, these recipes would yield very pale beers. The brewers of the 19th century, however, used copper kettles that catalyzed browning reactions. Therefore we can safely conclude that IPAs were amber- to copper-colored ales, not pale or golden ales.
In terms of hop flavor profile, some sources call for boiling and aroma hops, others call for boiling, flavor, and aroma hops. The former represent the traditional hopping schedules that call for boiling two-thirds of the hops for 90– 120 min and using the rest for aroma. The sources calling for a more rounded hop profile describe the more contemporary interpretations (see below).
In addition to high alcohol content, high hop bitterness, and aroma, the historical context of the style’s invention calls for several other characteristics. IPAs were brewed with hard water, so the flavor profile should reflect high mineral content, which may be accomplished with hard water and a crisp hop bitterness. The three to four months’ travel time from brewery to India also suggests a mature profile. In addition, recipes indicate fairly low mashing temperatures, suggesting lower bodied beers. The singular use of two-row and sugar probably yielded an ale with a thin head. 

The India Pale Ale Revival

How do contemporary examples compare with the style descriptions? Unfortunately, quite a few breweries serve lowgravity beers under the name India Pale Ale. Other IPAs on the market lack the crisp bitterness characteristic of the style. I have heard brewers rationalize these variations by saying that hops of the last century had lower alpha values than today’s varieties and therefore the beer could not have been that bitter. With hopping rates of 5-6 lb/bbl boiled for 90-120 min, however, the beer will be bitter even if the hops were low in alpha acids.
In the United States, IPA turns up at most brewpubs and at quite a few microbreweries. One of the best beers in the United States is Anchor Liberty Ale. It won a silver medal in the India Pale Ale category at the 1993 Great American Beer Festival. No stranger to medals, this IPA from San Francisco consistently delivers an excellent example of the style. Another popular IPA, Grant’s IPA (Yakima, Washington) represents a slightly different interpretation. Whereas Liberty Ale offers a broad hop profile (high hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma) and rich malt flavor, Grant’s IPA is characterized by intense hop bitterness and hop aroma.
Fortunately for IPA lovers in the United States, small States-side breweries produce IPAs more true to style than do their English counterparts. In part this occurs because brewers in the United States became reacquainted with the style before the English renewed their interest in IPAs. The 20-year-old microbrewery and pub brewery revolution in this country has rapidly increased the number of excellent IPAs available to the consumer.
Initially, IPAs allowed brewers to satisfy the needs of a particular niche: Consumers wanted robust, hoppy ales, and brewers responded with beers like Anchor Liberty Ale (originally released as Our Special Ale in 1975) and Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale (released 1983). Grant’s IPA (first brewed in 1981) also addressed this need in the market. With the growth of micros and pubs, more and more of these hoppy beers appeared on the market. Today, India Pale Ales are one of the most featured styles across America. In addition to satisfying the palate of the consumer, the style may also satisfy a marketing need — the very name lends an air of tradition to any pub menu. 

A Very Special India Pale Ale

Over the past several decades, the English market has favored lower alcohol beers. The resulting low-gravity English IPAs tend to lack the strong bitterness and hop nose characteristic of the original IPAs and many of the IPAs brewed in the United States. The difference between American and British efforts will diminish, however, as interest in the style continues to increase in the UK.
Thanks to the efforts of the Campaign for Real Ale (St. Albans, Hertfordshire, UK) and people like Mark Dorber, cellarman for the White Horse on Parsons Green (London), England is in the midst an India Pale Ale revival. In 1990, Dorber organized a seminar on Burton Pale Ales, and from this seminar grew a plan to brew a traditional IPA like those of the mid-19th century. The project proceeded with encouragement and support from Bass. David Moore served as the coordinator for Bass, and Tom Dawson, a retired Bass brewer, consulted.
After reviewing the record books and the historical context, Dawson reformulated a recipe dating back to the 1850s. The brew was to be a piece of living history, “… brewed as an essay — an attempt to recreate the colour, flavour, and high condition of the 19th century Pale Ales that made Burton the preeminent brewing town in Britain and, for a time, the world”. The resulting brew, The White Horse India Pale Ale, is pale, sparkling, and intensely bitter. Its original gravity is 1.063 (7% alcohol). Roger Protz, noted beer writer and authority on classic English styles, described the beer as having a massive and pungent hop bitterness with a nose like a Kent hop field. The beer has a rich and fruity mouthfeel, with a finish dominated by Kent Goldings. Dorber reported that the ale is holding up well after five months in the cask. The ale has maintained strong bitterness, and the rich, fruity aromas have enhanced with age. Let us hope that the success of the White Horse IPA will encourage and further nourish the return of India Pale Ale. 

To The Brewery!

Traditional or contemporary: A close look at the history of this style and the available beers representing its various interpretations reveals two trends in brewing: traditional and contemporary.
Traditional interpretations tend to be rather pale, with high hop bitterness dominating the flavor profile. Traditional IPAs also have high hop aroma. Flavor hops are low to medium in strength, and the bittering hops completely dominate the flavor profile. The beers also have low to medium body, which accentuates the beer’s crisp bitterness. Grant’s IPA represents this trend; the original Ballantine’s IPA might also fit in here. The bronze medal India Pale Ale at the 1993 Great American Beer Festival, Punjabi Pale Ale (CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewery), also represents this interpretation.
Contemporary versions also have high bitterness and high hop aroma but include a strong hop flavor component and a rich maltiness as well. These beers tend to be medium bodied and as dark as deep amber or copper. Furthermore, a robust and clinging head tends to characterize these beers. Anchor’s Liberty Ale represents this interpretation, as does Renegade Red, the gold medal IPA at the 1993 Great American Beer Festival.
The following discussion attempts to refine these trends and clarify the possible distinctions between these interpretations.
Common themes. When brewing any IPA, historical considerations call for a bitter ale with a strong hop aroma. High mineral content should also be evident in the crispness of the bitterness and in the mouthfeel provided by the bitterness. Long ocean voyages suggest that we can add a mature profile to the list of characteristics defining the style. If space limitations make aging impractical, try reducing the hopping rate, which should provide a desirable balance between the malt and the bitterness without aging. Even in these cases, however, IBUs should never dip below 40. Finally, a full copper color will probably be closer to the 19th century versions of this style than the pale color called for by some writers. Brewers boiled these high-gravity worts for 90-120 min in copper kettles. Because copper catalyzes browning reactions, it is unlikely that these beers were very pale, even though they were brewed exclusively with two-row malt. Remember that the designation “pale” meant that the beers were not brown ales, porters or stouts.
Traditional themes. For traditional IPAs, starting gravities should never drop below 1.060. Furthermore, these beers should be well attenuated, finishing between 1.004 and 1.012. High bitterness is achieved by boiling two-thirds of the hops for 90-120 min. The final third should be entered in the last 10 min of the boil. Dry hopping further enhances the hop aroma of the beer.
Contemporary themes. For the contemporary profile, bulk up the malt and add more flavor hops than recommended for the traditional profile. Modern tastes prefer a maltier mouthfeel, so the contemporary interpretation requires a fuller bodied beer with higher terminal gravity to balance the bitterness. Expect finishing gravities in the 1.010–1.016 range. The modern trend toward lower alcohol beers means that starting gravities can be in the 1.0501.060 range (although I strongly encourage historical integrity on this variable). Contemporary versions may also use hopping rates considerably different from those of the traditional versions to help achieve a broader hop flavor profile (see recommendations below).
Water: As discussed in the previous article, the calcium and sulfates in the Trent basin led to the Burton brewers’ success with this style. The calcium and sulfates have two effects. First, calcium helps extract hop bitterness and reduce haze. Second, the sulfates give beer a dry, fuller flavor that enhances hop bitterness. I find that the addition of gypsum to the boil yields a crisper and cleaner bitterness. 
The water for brewing India Pale Ales should mimic the water of the Burton region — hard water full of mineral salts. As with any style, brewers should know the makeup of their water. If you have soft water, a number of sources provide information on how to adjust your water for this style.
Malt: Brewers of the last century produced India Pale Ales using malted barley and about 10% sugar. The sugars used included caramel, glucose, rice, and maize. The English brewers reported using a fair amount of foreign barley malt in their recipes. Apparently the American and German varieties provided better drainage and avoided the acidity that English malts tended to develop.
When brewing a traditional IPA, grain selection is easy: choose the best-quality English two-row barley that you can afford. The resulting maltiness will please you, your friends, and your customers. The Pike Place Brewery produces one of the best IPAs anywhere in the world, and at least part of their success stems from their careful selection of malt. Of course, you can brew a traditional IPA with North American two-row malts when cost considerations come in to play.
For contemporary versions, crystal or Carastan will enhance malt flavors and increase color. I recommend additions in the 10-11% range. Remember that the darker copper color of India Pale Ales resulted in part from browning reactions occurring in the copper kettles. If you are not using copper kettles, then select a crystal or Carastan that will provide the appropriate color. Some reputable brewers even slip in small quantities of darker adjuncts for color complexity. The addition of small amounts (1-2%) of Carapils (Briess Malting Co., Chilton, Wisconsin) or dextrin malt will result in a frothy head that lingers to the bottom of the glass. This addition complements the maltiness of the contemporary IPA and is probably unnecessary in the low-body traditional IPA.
Mashing temperatures may vary depending on the type of IPA you want to brew. The traditional version works with lower body, while the contemporary interpretation needs more mouthfeel. I recommend mashing between 150-153 °F (65–67 °C) for the traditional and 154-156 °F (68–69 °C) for the contemporary.
Extracts: If you are working with extracts, select the palest extract you can buy. For a traditional interpretation of the style, adjuncts for color enhancement are all that are needed. A more contemporary effort calls for the addition of adjuncts (crystal for color and flavor, Carapils or dextrin for head retention). Steep the grains at 155 °F (68 °C) for 3045 min and add this tea to your boiling extract.
Hops: Choice of hops is primarily a matter of preference and accessibility. For traditional India Pale Ales, you will need to select a bittering and finishing hop. I prefer the high-alpha, citrus-like crispness of Chinook. Other breweries have success with Galena and Centennial.
Some brewers choose to follow traditional brewing practices and use low-alpha hops for all additions. The relatively high humulone/cohumulone ratio found in low-alpha hops such as Kent Goldings and Fuggles results in a smoother, more rounded flavor than that achieved by the use of high-alpha hops. Chinook and Nugget have more favorable humulone/cohumulone ratios than other high-alpha hops and allow the brewer to achieve high levels of bitterness without the expense of using low-alpha hops. Whatever you choose, give the hops a good long boil. Some recipes recommend at least a 90-min boil for the bittering hops.
Remember the limitations of your boiler when designing your recipe. Several brewers have horror stories about overloading boiling kettles or stopping up pumps with hops. Considerations such as these might influence your choice of hop form (pellet or leaf).
If you choose to brew a contemporary version of the style, select fresh hops for additions during midboil. I recommend additions at 10-min intervals beginning at 40 min. This seems to provide the full flavor necessary to make its presence known in this very bitter style. Again, as with the aroma component, I recommend Kent Goldings, Cascades, or Fuggles. For a traditional recipe, minimize the amount of hops used to flavor the beer.
The finishing hops, used liberally for either interpretation, should be carefully selected based on freshness and preference. I like the peppery nose offered by Kent Goldings or the floral grassiness of Cascades. Aroma hops may be added to the last 5 min of your boil, especially if you use an extended hot break after boiling.
Traditionally, aroma hops were added to the cask before shipping. If you choose to dry hop your IPA, use caution. I have seen dry hopping in the secondary work for several breweries; Cantwell et al. provided interesting insights into dry hopping in a previous issue of BrewingTechniques. A true IPA with its associated high alcohol content should withstand the risks associated with heavy dry hopping. My experience suggests that the heavier the dry hopping, the longer the beer needs to condition before drinking. Recipes for 19th century IPAs report the use of ¼-1 lb of hops per cask.
In addition to wonderful aromas, dry hopping provides other advantages. The tannic acids provided by the hops aid clarification, while the diastase associated with the hops helps break down maltodextrins for further fermentation. Finally, the hops add additional protection against infection by increasing the isohumulone content of the beer. Recommended hopping rates vary depending on hop selection and starting gravity. An IPA should never dip below 40 IBUs and can on occasion exceed 60 IBUs. Hopping rates of 1.1 kg/UK bbl (1 UK bbl = 36 Imperial gal, or ~43 U.S. gal) are common.
Yeast: When most brewers hear Belgian ale, they immediately think about yeast and its critical role in brewing a true example of that style. Proper yeast selection is equally important for India Pale Ale. The yeast should contribute some esters and impart a minerally flavor to the beer; these properties were critical to the success of the Burton IPAs and should be considered essential for the style. Although many good yeast sources exist, remember to choose a yeast with the above properties.
Wyeast supplies a good working yeast that has the desired characteristics. Wyeast #1028 known as London ale yeast offers a rich, minerally profile and produces fruity esters, which makes this yeast a successful match for the style. This yeast also produces small quantities of diacetyl which, in small doses, does not hurt the style. Caution should be used, however, to keep perceived levels of diacetyl low. I have found that the popular Wyeast product American ale #1056 does not provide the character needed for the India Pale Ale. It is just too clean, especially if your starting gravity dips down to the low 1.050s. Irish ale yeast suppresses hop bitterness compared with the other two yeasts, and for this reason I do not recommend it. Use caution when adopting a yeast for your IPA. Some English breweries find that yeasts adapted to ordinary bitter gravities yield out of proportion ester content when used in strong beers.
When pitching yeast, use large volumes to get fermentation started rapidly. Tom Dawson of Bass Brewery brewing recommends 1.1 kg of live yeast/bbl of wort. Make sure that you understand the temperature requirements of your yeast. Many yeasts that are excellent for this style do poorly if the temperature climbs above 65 °F (18 °C).
Wood? Some home brewers and professional brewers add oak chips to their beer during fermentation or aging. The practice stems from the belief that the oak casks used to ship IPAs to India imparted some flavors to the beer during the long voyage. My research indicates that the oak used for cask production in 19th century Britain was harder and contained fewer tannins than the oak we use in this country. I find no evidence that oak casks used in shipping contributed to the beer’s flavor profile. If anything, the strict standards for entry into India suggest that had the oak changed the flavor, the brewers would have changed cask material. 

IPA's Broad Horizons

India Pale Ale was a solution to a great beer problem. More than any other style, IPA’s character is defined by the function it served in history. We can identify trends in the current production of these fine ales. The trends indicate that interest in this classic style is on the upswing and that brewers want to present India Pale Ales with the important characters of high bitterness, high alcohol content and high hop aroma.
While a number of breweries produce excellent IPAs, many breweries still produce low-gravity, low-alpha pale ales and sell them under the name IPA. This is a shame given the current sophistication of the market. As a marketing plan, it could backfire. Consider that the usual logic behind such low-gravity, low-alpha beers is as follows, “My customers will not drink such strong and bitter beers.” If this is an unchanging truth (unlikely) then fine, brew a pale ale and be done with it. However, if you insist on serving a pale ale as an IPA your customers’ level of sophistication may surprise you. One day soon a customer may ask why you choose to call the low-gravity, low-alpha beer an IPA!
There are brewers who tell me that they will not brew a hoppy India Pale Ale, one that is strong in the tradition of the style. Again they cite customer concerns. My suggestion is always the same: Do not underestimate the tastes of your customers. Sure, the strong bitterness and high alcohol content are not for everyone, and some customers will definitely not like the beer. But, remember that as the brewing revolution continues, the sophistication of the consumer grows. With the continued expansion of the pub and microbrew market, more room will open up for challenging styles like India Pale Ale.

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