IPA: the executive summary

Well, that was all rather too much: nearly 4,000 words and more footnotes than a Jerry Lee Lewis concert. So here’s the executive summary on what we know, what we don’t know, what we can justifiably assume and what we can’t assume about the history of India Pale Ale, and I promise to keep it to under 700 words. But first, here’s an extract from a book written in 1882, called Our own country: descriptive, historical, pictorial:

The India Pale Ale is a device wholly of the present century. In the year 1822 one Hodgson, a London brewer who had settled at Burton, brewed something like the present bitter ale, which he accomplished in a teapot in his counting house, and called it Bombay beer. A retired East India captain named Chapman improved on this, and Burton ale soon attained the celebrity that has made the names of Bass and Allsopp household words all over the world.

How many mistakes did you find in that collection of cobblers’ awls? I believe there’s not a single statement there that could be said to be correct, with, everything, including the teapot and “Captain Chapman”, unbelievably mangled. It’s a lesson for anyone who believes that if it’s in an old book, it must be right.

So, to summarise my last post, and my other posts on the subject:

We have evidence that pale ale was being made at least as early as 1675, and that pale ale was being sold in London by 1709 at the latest.

We have evidence that ale and beer were being exported, apparently successfully, to India as early as 1711.

We know that by the 1760s brewers were being advised that it was “absolutely necessary” to add extra hops to beer if it was being sent to warmer climes. There is no evidence linking this advice, to hop export beer more heavily, to any specific brewer.

We know that pale ale, along with porter, brewer unnamed, was being exported to India from at least 1784.

We know that pale ale and porter brewed by Hodgson of Bow was being exported to India from at least 1793.

We DON’T know whether the Hodgsons were putting extra hops into their pale ale sent to India in the 1790s, as brewers were being advised to do in the 1760s. Somewhere up to “quite probably” they were, I’d say. But still short of “definitely”. They ought to have known that they should do. But there’s no evidence that they did.

We can guess that one of the reasons why Hodgson’s beers were shipped to India in preference to other brewers’ beers was not the quality of Hodgson’s product but because the Bow brewery’s owners were willing to give the East Indiaman ships’ captains extended credit on their purchases of beer to be sold to Europeans in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras.

We know that in 1817 one London brewer, WA Brown at the Imperial Brewery, Bromley by Bow, a short distance down the Lea river from Hodgson’s premises, was brewing “Pale Ale prepared for the East and West India Climate”, though we don’t know how it was “prepared”.

We know that a specific hopping rate was being stated for beer for “India voyages” by 1821.

We know that as early as January 1822, “Pale Ale brewed expressly for the India market” and “suitable for warm climates or home consumption” was on sale in London (though the brewer was unnamed).

We know that a couple of decades later, at least, in 1843, “the Pale Ale prepared for the India market” was described as “carefully fermented, so as to be devoid of all sweetness, or, in other words, to be dry; and it contains double the usual quantity of hops.”

We have evidence, 30 years after the event, but collected from an important witness, Samuel Allsopp’s maltster, Job Goodhead, that a Burton brewer was encouraged in 1822 to take on Hodgson in the Indian market.

We know from multiple references that, despite the increased rivalry from Burton brewers, Hodgson’s beer was hugely popular in the east, being described in 1829 as “by far the best and most sought after in India”.

We know that no “pale ale as prepared for the Indian market” seems to have actually been called India Pale Ale (specifically “East India Pale Ale”) until 1835.

We know that Hodgson’s, at least, used East Kent hops in its “Pale India Ale”, and we are entitled to guess that these were East Kent Goldings. We also know that Hodgson’s dry-hopped its pale ale.

We know that the Hodgsons evidently became greedy, and lost the Indian market to others, including Bass and Allsopp from Burton and Ind & Smith from Romford, just east of London (later Ind Coope).

We know that from 1841 onwards East India Pale Ale became increasingly popular in the British market.

We know that in 1869 William Molyneaux claimed that “The origin of India ale is by common consent accredited to a London brewer named Hodgson … The brewery where pale ale was first brewed, according to popular opinion, was the Old Bow Brewery.” But Molyneaux offered no evidence to back this up, and we know the Bow brewery wasn’t the first place to brew pale ale per se.

All we know from the evidence we do have is that Hodgson was one of the brewers exporting pale ale to India, and became the most famous. We can guess that Hodgson quite likely knew of the opinion expressed in books on brewing written in the 1760s that it was a good idea to highly hop ales for export to warmer climes. But there is no evidence at all that Hodgson was the one to discover this. Eventually that general knowledge about the need to hop beers for export to places like India apparently led to brewers to announce for sale something they called “Pale Ale prepared for the East and West India Climate” and similar designations, which was eventually shortened or summarised as “India Pale Ale”. The fact that Hodgson called its beer “East India Pale Ale” in 1835 means it was probably “prepared for the East India climate” and so more highly hopped: whether it was so prepared in 1793 we don’t know.

And the executive summary summarised? IPA – no evidence of an actual inventor, no evidence of an actual invention.

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15 thoughts on “IPA: the executive summary

  1. As a complete aside, I will note that an Evans family member has revived the family name for a microbrewery in Albany, the C.H. Evans Brewing Company http://www.evansale.com/. A friend, George de Piro, has been brewmaster since their opening a dozen or more years ago.

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