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The oft-misunderstood India pale ale, or IPA


BB Styles IPA1 small

In his quest to understand the history of IPA, British writer Pete Brown recreated the journey of a barrel of ale from Burton-upon-Trent to India, a tale retold in his fascinating book, Hops and Glory.

By: Stephen Beaumont

A derivative style of pale ale/best bitter is known as India pale ale. While legend and mythology suggest otherwise, IPA was not a beer style developed expressly “with enough strength and hoppiness to enable it to withstand the long ocean voyage between England and India,” although any number of people will insist that it was. In fact, beer was already making that journey with great success prior to the development of IPA, including the porters which were popular in London and surrounding regions at the time.


BB Styles IPA2 smallSuch is the burgeoning popularity of IPA that examples are brewed now all over the world, from England to the United States, Italy, Japan and even Brazil, as witnessed by this example brewed by Cervejaria Colorado.

What truly did happen was that a strong form of bitter ale, which serendipitously improved with the rigors of the ocean voyage from the U.K. to India, became popular enough with Britons both abroad and at home that it became know in Britain as ale “in the India style” and, eventually, India pale ale.


IPA’s modern versions differ in the same fashion as do those of pale ale, which is to say that the British take on the style tends to be more gently bitter and roundly malty, and can even be fairly low in alcohol content, as weak as 4% alcohol, more or less. The average American IPA, on the other hand, is much more intensely bitter and frequently quite citrusy, generally hopped as it is with primarily American-grown “c-hop” varieties, and normally at least 6% alcohol by volume and often a fair bit higher.


Once an American IPA reaches a certain level of strength and hoppiness, usually upwards of 8% alcohol or so, it joins the ranks of a new form of IPA that is currently growing in popularity, known as double IPA or Imperial pale ale or sometimes Imperial IPA. In 2012, a new deviation of the style known as “black IPA” was rising in popularity in North America, although it remains to be seen if it will survive long-term. Well-hopped and very dark brown or black in colour, it is perhaps equally as well described as hoppy porter.

IPA is now one of the most popular craft beer styles in the United States and is gaining in fashion world-wide, from the south of Italy to the North Island of New Zealand. IPAs have even been spotted in such traditionally regimented and lager-loyal beer cultures as Germany and the Czech Republic.


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