India Pale Ale (IPA): I was recently given a brief history lesson from a close friend on the fascinating history of the beer style India Pale Ale, more commonly referred to simply as IPA. After hearing the Coles notes version from my friend I decided to look it up in more detail for myself and share the story with all of you. For starters I won’t try to define what an IPA is supposed to taste like for two reasons. First there are many different styles of IPA, including American, Canadian, English, and many, many, more. Secondly even within those broader styles individual producers will vary the taste of their IPA, no different than with all other styles of beer. However generally speaking it is a big bold beer, loaded with hops and bitterness. The part that fascinated me the most was why it is called an India Pale Ale and how that name has stuck since the early 1800’s. In those days Britain still occupied India. As a result British beer became very popular in India, most notably with the powerful East India Company as well as the troops and British civilians residing in India. However they didn’t have access to their favourite premium British ales so many were shipped there on the long overseas voyage from Britain to India. On many of these trips the beer would spoil and lack its famous characteristics once it got to India. That was until an English style pale ale called “October beer”, brewed by a company called Bow Brewery, helped change all that. The beer was brewed differently and was designed to withstand the long trips across sea without spoiling. To do this the beer was loaded with hops, which acted as a preservative on these trips. This version of the October Beer is often regarded as the first India Pale Ale as it began to gain popularity in India. However the style of beer was then produced by many others where it then started to increase in popularity domestically in Britain as well as what became a huge export market in Russia. With many different versions of the new India Pale Ale available the name stuck, and it is the same beer style we enjoy today.
This is a basic summary which I have pulled from a variety of of sources and simplified for your enjoyment. If you want a more detailed history of the IPA you can read more at the sites I referenced this article from… see below.
About.com.beer – India Pale Ale Profile
The Beer Wrangler – IPA, A History