Myth 4: George Hodgson invented IPA to survive the long trip to India

No, Hodgson didn’t “invent” India Pale Ale, and 18th century brewers before Hodgson were making beers that could survive a journey to India, and further.

A myth has developed that Hodgson, who brewed at the Bow brewery to the east of London, close to the Middlesex-Essex border, “invented a new style of beer, brewing it to a high alcohol level and using more hops than any previous beers.” There is no evidence whatsoever that Hodgson “invented” or “developed” a new beer especially for the Indian market: no record that he did so, no claim by Hodgson or his successors that he did so. India Pale Ale was not even, in fact, a particularly strong beer for the time, being about 6.5 or seven per cent alcohol, around the same strength as porter.

Despite some modern commentators’ declaration that India Pale Ale needed to be invented because the big-selling beer in the late 18th century in Britain, porter, would not survive the four-month journey to the East, porter was perfectly capable of lasting on board a ship much longer than that, as this passage from the journal of Joseph Banks on August 25 1769, when he was on board the Endeavour with Captain Cook in the South Pacific, shows:

It was this day a twelvemonth since we left England, in consequence of which a peice [sic] of cheshire cheese was taken from a locker where it had been reservd for this occasion and a cask of Porter tappd which provd excellently good, so that we livd like English men and drank the hea[l]ths of our freinds in England.

If a cask of porter could be “excellently good” after a year at sea, there is no reason to suppose any other sort of similar-strength beer would have to be specially invented to last the four-month journey from Britain to India. Brewers before Hodgson knew how to make strong, highly hopped beers that would keep for an extended period: the anonymous Every Man His Own Brewer of 1768 gives a recipe for two hogsheads of October “malt wine” made from the first two mashes off 22 bushels of malt, with six and a half pounds of hops per eight bushels of malt to ensure “a year’s keeping”.

George Watkins, author of The Compleat English Brewer, first published in 1767, said that October ale was brewed at a substantial 16 to 20 bushels to the hogshead, though “those with 20 bushels are too heady and some go as low as 10 to 12 bushels.” Even at 10 bushels per hogshead, or 6 2/3rd bushels a barrel, this would still give an OG of 1140 or more. October beer would be ready for bottling after 12 months, Watkins said, and should be kept in bottle for a further year, making it two years old before it was fit to drink.

Hodgson’s involvement in the India trade seems to be based on two lucky chances. The first was that the docks for the merchant ships that went to and from India, the East Indiamen, were at Blackwall on the Thames, just a short distance via the River Lea from his brewery. When the captains of the East Indiamen went looking for beer to sell in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras, alongside a host of other goods from England including everything from china, to hams to furniture, they went to their nearest brewer, at Bow, rather than one of the big London concerns.

What evidence there is suggested that Hodgson made a number of beers, including porter, and an October-brewed “stock” bitter ale, of the kind described by Watkins, and that this stock ale was one of the beers the East Indiamen ships’ captains bought off him to sell in India. The Calcutta Gazette from January 20 1822, for example, contained an advertisement for the “select investment of prime London goods just landed from the HC [Honourable Company] ship Sir David Scott”, including “Hodgson’s warranted prime picked pale ale of the genuine October brewing, warranted fully equal, if not superior, to any ever before received in the settlement.”

The second lucky chance was that on the four-month voyage out to India via the Cape of Good Hope Hodgson’s October stock ale underwent the sort of maturity in cask that would have taken two years in a cellar, and arrived in the East in prime condition. There is no evidence Hodgson planned this from the start or knew it would happen: he was just lucky.

Another myth is that English brewers were eager to break into the Indian market. In fact at the start of the 19th century the market was extremely small, just 9,000 barrels a year, equal to less than half a per cent of the two million barrels brewed in London alone every year. Hodgson probably had around half of the Indian market, but that probably in large part because his brewery was close to where the East Indiamen docked, and because he was willing to allow the East Indiamen ship’s captains extended credit, up to 18 months, on the beer they bought from him.

(Footnote: for more on the true history of IPA, click here for the executive summary.

46 thoughts on “Myth 4: George Hodgson invented IPA to survive the long trip to India

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  3. Is there any direct contemporary evidence to indicate the gravity or hopping rate of the Hodgson beers taken to India by the captains of the East Indiamen? An october beer of OG 1140 is pretty different from a well attenuated OG1055-1065 of later IPAs.

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  4. For those living in the U.K. and who have a large, flagship J Sainsbury store handy, you should be able to pick up Meantime Brewery’s India Pale Ale 7.5%, bottled in 75cl Champagne bottles & priced at about £4.35. I would imagine that Meantime also export as well.
    I would expect that this beer is as close to what the IPAs of 18th and 19th centuries were like. This one is perfectly o.k. drunk at just above cellar temperature, say 16-20°C, or even cooler at 12°C lower.
    For beer lovers, this is well savouring, if only to provide demand so that Sainsbury don’t delist it. Meantime also used to supply a range of Taste the Difference beers which seem to have disappeared, which included Viennese amber, Cologne or kolsch, wheat and one other which I forget. When they were first introduced about 7 or 8 years ago, they were a little variable and unreliable but certainly improved over the next couple of years.
    I don’t work for Meantime, by the way.

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    • From the Oxford English Dictionary: “In standard English the form farther is usually preferred where the word is intended to be the comparative of far, while further is used where the notion of far is altogether absent; there is a large intermediate class of instances in which the choice between the two forms is arbitrary.”

      So my choice of “further” is correct (there being no comparative going on) and you can kindly refrain from attempting to grammarnazi me, thank you.

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      • Uh… There is a comparative, specifically the distance India compared to some indeterminate point beyond. Huh Bao was correct. What’s strange is your quoting the OED, then not understanding the passage you quote. How could anyone possibly take any argument you make seriously, when you can’t even properly use a dictionary? Why not just correct the original usage? Strange.

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        • No, there ISN’T a comparative going on. “Malaya is farther from Britain than India” – that’s a comparative. “The first ship went to India, the second ship went farther” – that’s a comparative, comparing how far each ship went. “The ship went to India, and then sailed on further” – that’s NOT a comparative, it’s using “further” in the sense of “additional distance”. You seem to be arguing that in that opening sentence the post-India distance is being compared to the to-India distance. It’s not.

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          • “Additional distance” compared to what? Intrinsic to the very sense you claim you are using the word is a comparative. First, your own argument is again undermining your position. Second, you seemed to be focused on the wrong aspect of the definition you supplied. It’s the notion of ‘far’ that distinguishes usage. “Further” is generally used when there is no notion of far (as in a physical distance). An example of proper usage of “further” would be: “We’ll continue this argument further when you erroneously try to defend your position again, instead of simply correcting the original text.” The ship in your opening paragraph is sailing a physical distance. And the hypothetical “additional distance” the ship may have sailed is actually a comparative. As the original commenter suggested “farther” is correct here.

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            • “Further” is generally used when there is no notion of far (as in a physical distance)

              Even if that were true, so what? It’s demonstrably used when there IS a notion of distance. If you’re going to argue about usage, do some research first. Try the online Oxford English Dictionary, which says, under “further, adverb”
              1. To or at a more advanced point of progress
              and the examples of usage it gives include
              c1000   Ælfric Joshua x. 12   Ne gang þu mona ongean Achialon anne stæpe furþor.
              1813   Shelley Queen Mab ix. 119   Whose stingings bade thy heart look further still.
              1855   T. B. Macaulay Hist. Eng. IV. 1   It was not thought safe for the ships to proceed further in the darkness.

              so “further” has been used with the notion of distance in English for at least a thousand years, and by writers including Ælfric, Shelley and Macaulay. Under adverbial sense number 4, the OED says
              At a greater distance in space; sometimes with mixture of sense 1
              and among the examples it gives is the following:
              Shakespeare Julius Caesar ii. ii. 125   So neere will I be That your best Friends shall wish I had beene further.

              So if you think your knowledge of the use of “further” is better than Shakespeare’s, off you go.

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          • With the greatest of respect, while you’re correct in this case, I’d hardly cite Shakespeare as a model of correct English. In fact he lived before the notion of standardised English even existed. He didn’t even spell his own name consistently.

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  16. Early 17th century the VOC ship ‘Batavia’ got stuck on a reef on the coast of Australia. The dramas that unfolded thereafter were partially to blame on the lack of anything to drink. Things like that were an extra reason to develop extra durable beer.
    In 1671 in ‘Aeloude en hedendaegsche scheeps-bouw en bestier’ (3) we find the following texts in Dutch: ‘Special care is to be taken, that the beer is well hopped, well cooked, brewed in March or April, or in September or October, to be especially durable, and not to get stinking.’
    Elsewhere in the same book: ‘Beer that is to be consumed on board, should be well hopped, and brewed in spring or the grass month.
    Early 18th century Peter Kolbe states in ‘Naauwkeurige beschryving’ that ‘good’ beer is getting even better after the journey to the East.

    http://witteklavervier.nl/en/history/durable-and-delicious

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  17. Hmm… for some reason there is no ‘reply’ feature to your last comment.

    Since you are so convinced you are 100% in the right, then leave everything exactly as is. And let people who come visit this site in the future see your argument that somehow “additional distance” doesn’t connote a comparative. Never mind that you completely failed to address the point that that was the crux of your original argument and instead unearthed a couple of hundred-plus years old examples and presented them as if somehow that made you ‘correct’ (and Shakespeare was no grammatical genius, to wit: “To who, my lord?” (King Lear* l.iv.24, V.iii. 249) or perhaps, “Who does he accuse?” (Antony and Cleopatra* Ill.vi.23)). I’m not sure about ‘further’ but I’m pretty sure that my usage of who/whom is sometimes better than Shakespeare’s. If you’re going to hold him up as the authority on grammar then perhaps you should also ‘do some research first.’

    I’m bowing out here, because at this point I might as well be arguing with a shoe (hurrah, you get the last word in, promise). So again, leave everything exactly as it is—your original sentence and your arguments and mine and your holding up the Bard as grammatically infallible (and even Huh Bao’s attempt to help you). And let people who stumble across this post make their own decision. It’s your blog and your authority that is at stake here, right? You want people to believe you’re credible when you argue to dispel a myth about IPA’s or whatever you happen to be saying? Plenty of them are going to read your arguments about a pretty clear case of usage, then promptly discount everything else you’ve written.

    *Both titles should be italicized but the commenting features don’t allow me to stylize text (short of using html tags which I’m not going to experiment with in case they are turned off for commenting).

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    • I’m not holding Shakespeare up as the authority, I’m holding up the Oxford English Dictionary as the authority, which itself quotes Shakespeare. If you want to argue about the authority of Shakespeare with regard to English usage, go and talk to the OED, not to me.

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    • Coming soon.. my book, Gem: a smug little prick and a troll*.

      *Both titles should be italicized but the commenting features don’t allow me to stylize text (short of using html tags which I’m not going to experiment with in case they are turned off for commenting).

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  18. My opinion of the opening statement is that of the history of IPA and how far it has come along: from the beginnings on a dock in the 18th century to the myth of it being a high alcohol content/hoppy flavor incorrectly embedded into a myth of surviving long travels, not exclusive to simply the distance traveled from Britain to India. In that sense, “further” seems more appropriate than “farther.” It’s generally accepted, in ambiguous situations such as this, either further or farther would be appropriate, unless Huh Bao’s holding onto some orthodox form of English grammar.

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  20. Dictionaries describe and record usage, they do not define it after the manner of Holy Writ. On usage, Fowler is more instructive:

    “The fact is surely that hardly anyone uses the two words for different occasions; most people prefer one or the other for all purposes, and the preference of the majority is for ‘further’. Perhaps the most that can be said is that ‘farther’ is not common except where distance is in question, and that ‘further’ has gained a virtual monopoly of the sense of moreover.”

    Or Eric Partridge (Usage and Abusage, 3rd edition):

    “A rough distinction is this: ‘farther’, ‘farthest’ are applied to distance and nothing else; ‘further’, ‘furthest’, either to distance or to addition (‘a further question).”

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  21. I researched a little bit further into the IPA myth. Right now things seem to boil down to what one considers is a true mentioning of IPA. There had been ‘Pale Ale’ for quite some time. There had been people exporting beer to India calling it their ‘India Ale’. Actually combining these names into India Pale Ale has not happened before somewhere well into the 19th century. But if one is very broadminded and forgiving one can even brew a Stout and call it ‘Black IPA ‘:) I’ve taken the trouble to publish sources about IPA and lately added a few including ‘The Brewing Industry in England, 1700-1830′ by Peter Mathias.
    Another: If you publish a book in 1846 of over 500 pages about brewing you might know something about the subject:
    ‘has induced brewers to prepare an article that may be exclusively appropriated to domestic consumption, and yet retain the name of East India Pale Ale’…

    Notes underneath the article. Cheers.

    http://witteklavervier.nl/en/history/india-pale-ale-myth

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