A Brief History of India Pale Ale, That IPA You're Drinking

By Chris Foste, June 14, 2018

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201804/foste.pngThat's columnist Chris Foste is a bearded beer fanatic whose frothy pint glass of knowledge flows over with wisdom on the wetting of one's whistle. 

You either love it or you don’t. But if you love it, you really love it. The IPA is a style first brewed by the English, but after a short hiatus, was rejuvenated by the Americans. But what qualities does IPA have to keep the craft beer nerd returning to the bar for another glass? In order to understand this unique beer style, one must first understand the origins of the brew.

The name IPA (pronounced ‘eye-pee-ay’, not ‘ee-pa’) stands for India Pale Ale. However, this beer was never actually brewed in India. During 1800s, the British occupied India and were constantly sending supplies to the sultry region, including beer. 

This was due to the sweltering climate; the British were unable to brew any sort of beer, and were forced to import their ales from their homeland, a mere four-to-six-month voyage away. This extended time on the heated road could sour the beer and render it undrinkable. Instead of risking large batches of beer going to waste, brewers discovered a new brewing method to increase the durability of the beer.

After experimenting with recipes, brewers discovered that by overly hopping a beer, the hops would bolster the acids in the beer, which combats bacteria growth, greatly reducing the chance of spoiling. For this reason, IPA was often marketed in the UK as "Indian Beer" or "beer for a warmer climate."

This style was decently popular, but eventually the demand died with the invention of refrigerated transportation. However, IPA did reemerge as a popular beer, but not until the 1900s, and not by the British, but from their neighbors across the pond.

In the 1980s, craft beer began to crop up all around America. Lagers saturated the market, and the average beer consumer was searching for something more in the taste. Home brewing was gaining popularity and the demand for new recipes was growing as well.

These century-old beer recipes from the UK were something the Americans had never encountered, but they instantly loved them. In a green flash, IPA had risen from the dead, with breweries such as Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Karl Strauss Brewing Company creating demand amongst the thirsty American population.

The bitter flavor and strong nature of the beer piqued the interest of beer connoisseurs. The rebirth of the IPA was upon us; a fresh, crisp, and bitter beer focused on brewing with hops. From here, the style once again spread around the world and grew into the beer we know and love today.

But what is unique about IPA? What is the characteristic that sets it apart from other styles, creating a cult-like following of consumers? Simple: the hop.

An ingredient in beer that can massively influence the flavor of beer, the hop adds the bitterness that balances the overall beer flavor. Depending on how many and how much ingredients are used to brew; you use more hops, you get a more bitter, or hoppy-er taste.

Occasionally, an IPA will be described as hoppy, which actually doesn’t refer to the bitterness of the beer, but instead to the other fruity, floral, piney, or other aromas and flavors derived from various strains of hops.

A notoriously aromatic beer, the IPA attracts craft-heads with its scent and taste. Stick your nose in a freshly poured glass of IPA, take a big whiff and start drinking to understand the full experience. Try this with a glass of Hoppyalis.

A juicy IPA with a fantastic aroma, the Aurora Hoppyalis from Karl Strauss Brewing Company is a robust IPA with 7 percent ABV and a solid bitterness that IPA lovers crave. This beer also carries with it that ‘hoppy’ trait that is desired by the IPA cult, with strong fruit flavors that compliment the bitterness, finishing dry and crisp. 

A Southern Californian style IPA infamous for its tropical, citrusy and piney flavors and aromas, the Aurora Hoppyalis and beers like it helped construct the industry-standard, known worldwide as the India Pale Ale.

Read more of Foste's columns

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