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A Brief History of IPA

Lately I have noticed that IPAs have become quite popular, not just as a general drink but from sales of our Shipwright’s IPA kit. So much so that we are currently developing a new IPA kit to go on sale. It is not uncommon to see ales have booms of popularity, but what is the history of IPA.

IPA was not the first type of ale to be shipped out to India, nor was it the only one when it’s popularity did grow. Heavy porters were what the lower classes drunk, while those better off chose October Ale. The main seller of which was Hodgson’s brewery and in many ways it can be seen as a prototype for IPA. A pale ale that was heavily hopped but most importantly it normally took years to age. However, rocking about at sea in the ship’s hold with high temperatures the ale matured at a hugely accelerated rate. So when it arrived in India it was just right, the same applied to IPA.

Hodgson’s was not able to keep a grip on the trade though, it was various breweries in Burton that took hold of the market and this is where IPA started to be seen. To pin point when IPA became IPA is next to impossible, pale ales with high hop contents were not a new concept as seen above. The term India Ale was thrown about a little before 1829, when in the Sydney Gazette an advert for Phipps’ Northampton India Pale Ale was printed though even after this ales we would recognise as IPA were not always referred to as such.

As time went on IPA was able to gain a huge amount of popularity, abroad and at home. One myth is that a shipwreck caused some barrels of IPA to be beached at Liverpool, where then grew to love the drink. This story is incredibly unlikely, a heavily hopped pale ale would not have been such a new and exciting concept to the local people and besides that no record of the event exists. The truth is likely much more simple, breweries want to sell their product to as many markets as possible and those returning from Indian would want the drink they had gained a taste for.

Another myth that exists about IPA is it had a high alcoholic content to help survive the trip. While this may have helped it somewhat, IPA was no more alcoholic than a common porter of the time. Usually it was much weaker. The high hop content would have been just as much of a factor in helping it survive the trip but for some reason this myth persists. It may in part be because IPA which was sold in Britain tended to be a bit weaker than that exported, but it was not a hugely significant difference.

After this period IPA’s popularity began to wane, though never dying out through periods like World War 1 it was made by a handful of breweries. It was 1976 with the craft brewing boom that IPA started to make a comeback, especially in America where they like to push the hop content as far as possible. Now we are starting to see the fruits of this, with a large range of IPAs on offer from established breweries it is a more light and fruity drink for those getting into ales and old timers alike.

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