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.

Arctic Ale: a 158-year-old adventure revived

Back in Victorian times, no polar explorer worth the name set north without as much Allsopp’s Arctic Ale stashed in the hold of his ship as it could carry. This was a mighty brew, more than 11 per cent alcohol, descended from the strong, sweet ales Burton upon Trent once exported to the Baltic. Now an American home-brewer, Christopher Bowen, has decided to recreate Arctic Ale – by actually brewing it in the Canadian arctic, taking a 2,000-mile journey to the shores of Hudson Bay with brewing equipment and a film crew.

You can read about his plans here, while more information is available on the Arctic Alchemy Facebook page here, and the Canadian beer blogger Alan McLeod has some very interesting stuff about the original Arctic expedition in 1852 here.

Pete Brown, who famously went the other direction, to the tropics, for his book Hops and Glory, transporting a cask of Burton’s better-known product, India Pale Ale, has declared himself filled with “admiration mixed with seething jealousy” over Chris Bowen’s plans, and I feel about the same. Arctic Ale is the king of Burton Ales, the strongest of a family of beers that have almost vanished now (Young’s Winter Warmer is one of very few left, and Fuller’s 1845 can claim to be a modern revival of the style). I feel a great fondness for Burton Ales, since to my knowledge I was the first person to write about them in the “modern” era (post-1970) when I had an article on the subject printed in What’s Brewing in 1998. I’d love to be standing in the frozen Canadian north with a glass of Arctic Ale held in my mitten.

I devote several hundred words to Arctic Ale in the “barley wines and old ales” chapter of Amber, Gold and Black (just 12 weeks to publication day, people – order it through this link and put a little extra money in my pocket) and I thought, as a teaser for the book and as a way of spreading interest in what Chris Bowen is up to, I’d put up the Arctic Ale extract here:

Arctic Ale

Among the drinks mentioned in the Vade Mecum for Malt-Worms, the rhyming “Good Pub Guide” to London written about 1718, are “Humming Stingo” at the Peacock in Whitecross Street; October at the Fountain in Cheapside; Bull’s Milk Beer at the Bull in Wood Street; and Burton Ale at the Guy of Warwick in Milk Street. This last beer was probably the same as or similar to the nut-brown, sweet, extremely strong ale that brewers in Burton upon Trent were exporting to Baltic cities such as St Petersburg and Danzig, Riga and Königsberg from at least the 1740s. This trade lasted, with hiccups during the Napoleonic Wars, until the Russians imposed heavy tariffs on beer imports from Britain in 1822, and the Burton brewers turned to brewing paler, more bitter beers for the Indian market.

However, the Burton breweries continued making darker, sweeter beers, at a range of strengths, the strongest being around 1110 OG, and 10 to 11 per cent alcohol by volume, (The top-of-the-range Burton ales were generally known as Number One, as they were at the Bass, Ind Coope and Truman breweries in Burton, though Worthington, in typically perverse fashion, called its best strong ale “G”). These were beers with astonishing longevity: the Ratcliff Ale, a version of Bass’s No 1 strong ale brewed and bottled in 1869 to celebrate the birth of a son, Harry Ratcliff, to one of the company’s partners, is still drinkable today, 140 years on. After surviving unopened for the whole of the 20th century in bottles in the cellars at the brewery in Burton, the beer is now completely dry, with a flavour like a cross between sherry and smoky Christmas pudding.

The Burton brewers occasionally reproduced beers of the strength of the kind once exported to the Baltic, for Arctic explorers to take with them. Alfred Barnard, on his trip to Samuel Allsopp & Sons in Burton in 1889, wrote that “the celebrated ‘Arctic ale’ of which we have heard so much in days gone by” was specially brewed at the request of the government for the five-ship Arctic expedition in 1852-54 under Sir Edward Belcher (which was looking for Sir John Franklin’s famously lost expedition of 1845). Belcher reported that the ale was “a valuable antiscorbutic” (that is, scurvy-preventer) and “a great blessing to us, particularly for our sick, as long as it lasted”, and that it refused to freeze until the temperature dropped to 12 degrees Fahrenheit, or -11 degrees Celsius. Even when the temperature went down to -55 Fahrenheit (-48 Celsius) the beer was unharmed by being frozen, Belcher said.

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IPA: much later than you think part 2

king-barnes-ipaClick to read part 1
From 1823 the Burton brewers began to brew pale ales for the Indian market. I’m not going to go into the development of Burton pale ale here, but between them the big Burton brewers and Hodgson of Bow certainly never had a monopoly of the Indian pale ale trade. In November 1831, for example, when the Hope brewery, “near the Friend at Hand”, Hammersmith (in what is now West London) was put up for auction, its stocks, according to the advertisement in The Times, included “150 barrels of pale ale for the Indian market”.

But this was still not being called “India Pale Ale”. Even Hodgson’s product, even when it was being advertised directly at “Families from India”, as it was in an advertisement in The Times in July 1833 (clearly the brewer was hoping for custom from people now back in England who had enjoyed its beers out East), was still only referred to as “Hodgson and Co’s Bottled Pale Ale”. No mention of India in the name of the beer, no indication that this was special or different from anybody else’s pale ale, except for the brief hint in the note that “The Nobility, Gentry and others (especially Families from India”) could be supplied with the product.

In October 1834 a London wine and spirit merchant, WG Field and Co, of Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, was advertising in The Times “Burton, Edinburgh and Prestonpans Ales, Pale Ale as prepared for India [my emphasis], Dorchester Beer and London and Dublin Brown Stout”. Earlier in the century Thomas Field of London had been a big customer of Bass in Burton upon Trent, and it seems quite likely this was the same firm, probably selling Bass’s “Pale Ale as prepared for India”, carried down from Burton by canal or wagon. In the 1840s Field was certainly selling Bass pale ale. What was “Pale Ale as prepared for India”? William Loftus explains, under the heading “India Pale Bitter Ale”, in his book The Brewer: A Familiar Treatise on the Art of Brewing,, published in 1856. The book says about “Bitter Ale” that “that prepared for the home market is less bitter and spirituous than that which is prepared for exportation to India.”

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Kent hops, hedgers and Pale India Ale

Here’s another titbit* from the Times archives: a report from 1840 on the hop harvest with some fascinating clues about what hops went into IPA (I was wrong, incidentally, in saying the archive is not available to the public – if you can use your public library card to access resources like the Oxford English Dictionary from your home computer, you can probably use it to access the Times 1785-1985 archive).

One of the reasons The Times carried hop harvest reports was because of the betting that went on over the yield of the hop tax. By the mid-19th century, according to Peter Mathias’s magisterial The Brewing Industry in England 1700-1830, as much money was being bet on the hop tax yield as on the Derby.

This was not simple gambling, however, but a way for hop growers and hop dealers to lay off, or hedge, the risks that came with involvement in a trade that could see prices triple one year and halve the next, as yields went down and up depending on the weather, outbreaks of pests and the like. If you were a hop buyer and you thought yields would be low, and the tax take (based on quantity) subsequently low as well, but the price high because of scarcity, you bet on a low tax take, and at least made some money as you paid top whack for your hops. If you were a seller and feared a big harvest and low prices, you bet on a high tax yield, and made up for the smaller amount you got for your hops by winning on the hop betting.

The most interesting part of the Times report from September 12 1840 on “Hop Intelligence”, however, is not the details of the bets being made on the size of the hop harvest, at 25 guineas or 50 guineas a time (huge sums when a guinea – 21 shillings – was as much money as a labourer might earn in a fortnight.)

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