Thursday was National IPA day in North America, but what is an IPA? It is arguably one of the most popular styles in North America and it’s origin is also subject to strong debate. Known as Imperial or India Pale Ale, the most common story goes back to the 1700’s. The British had colonies all over the globe, including many in India. The British love their beer, and those living in parts of colonial India wanted British Ales.
Part of the problem with ales was their shelf life. The shipping conditions at the time, were less than optimal which just sped up the spoilage process. Most were low alcohol, with very low levels of hops. The trip was plagued with drastic temperature variations and could take between 3 to 5 months. Then there was the agitation from rough seas, all in all this was a tough journey for humans, let alone beer! The story claims a brewer named George Hodgson of Bow Brewery in East London began shipping his recipe to India during the 1790’s. He was said to have used sugar and grain to raise the alcohol, meanwhile adding more hops to help preserve the beer during the difficult trip.
While this is a great story, it is probably not true. There is strong evidence that shows the style existed before 1790. Other signs point to the high alcohol content as being counterproductive, both on ships and on land due to the hot dry climate. Regardless of when or where it actually came from, it has become extremely popular. From White IPA to IIPA(Imperial India Pale Ale), there are so many different sub styles and brewers are experimenting with different malts and hops. Hops are so varied in bitterness, aroma and flavour that even methodology of when and how to add hops is being experimented with! All in all, there is a huge number of craft brewers doing amazing things with IPA.
Bitterness in beer is measured in IBU or International Bittering Unit. The scale is only 1- 100, although some brewers are pushing those limits as well with many claims of well reaching above 100 IBU. Bottom line, the higher the number the more bitter the beer. IPA’s generally stick between 40 and 70 IBU, but as I mentioned there are brewers who are going higher…much higher. While hops can impart bitterness, they can impart a variety of different aroma and flavours from tropical fruit, citrus fruit, spice, herb and more. This brings and endless array of possibilities to making a variety of great craft IPA’s.
So, what makes a great IPA? There are a few factors, of course the ingredients used are very important. Balance of malt, hop aroma, hop flavour is integral too. A larger, and more important factor is you. Not everyone likes IPA’s, but I feel there is an IPA for everyone. So, while it’s origins are still fiercely debated, nobody can deny the variety of IPA’s to choose from thanks to the hops used in production. So keep trying IPA’s, you will definitely find one you like!
Mike- Wine Sense Southdale Square
Filed under: General by WineSense