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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IPA: much later than you think

worthington-carWhen do you think the expression “India Pale Ale” was first used? Much, much later than you’d imagine, and much, much later than the idea of a pale ale exported to the Far East. The term India Pale Ale does not appear in print until June 1837 (correction – a couple of years earlier, as I described here), more than half a century, at least, after pale ale brewed in Britain started being sold in India.

So what was it known as, then? Before 1837 the beer we now call India Pale Ale, or IPA, was labelled simply “pale ale” when it was being sold in India, or “Indian beer” back home in England, or, in the early to mid-1830s, “Pale Ale as prepared for India”.

On Thursday June 15 1837, however, George Shove, a wine and beer merchant of Threadneedle Street, close to the Bank of England in the City of London, advertised for sale in The Times, alongside “Guinness’s extra Double Stout”, six shillings and sixpence (6s 6d) a dozen bottles, Barclay’s brown stout, 6s 6d, and best porter, 4s 3d, and Edinburgh ale, 7s 6d, “Hodgson’s India pale ale, 6s 6d”, This was the first time, as far as either I or the Oxford English Dictionary can see, that the phrase “India pale ale” was ever used in print. Five days later William IV died, and his niece Victoria climbed on to the British throne. Doubtless some of her new subjects toasted her health in IPA.

I was digging around the Times archive after somebody on the Northern Brewer homebrewer’s site in the United States posted a link to my “George Hodgson didn’t invent IPA” page, which brought a torrent of hits (at one point around 75 per cent of my blog hits were coming from across the Atlantic) and a wave of anger from people upset that I was trashing one of their favourite stories. Somebody asked when IPA was supposed to have come in, which made me realise I didn’t actually know when the words “India Pale Ale” were first used. Somebody else complained that I was “nit-picking”. If saying “the generally accepted story about the birth of IPA is almost entirely wrong” is nit-picking, that’s a bloody big nit. Someone else complained that

“this guy is just going out of his way to poke holes in the common story about the ipa style … The point is that Hodgson was the first to brew ‘india pale ale’ (from everything i’ve read) and therefore brewed the first of the style”

which is entirely not grasping my own point, or points. The first is that the “common story” already has huge holes in it, and I’m not poking them, I’m just holding them up and saying: “Look – big holes!”. There is no contemporary evidence (and by “contemporary” I mean “contemporary with George Hodgson”) to support the “common story” that Hodgson deliberately designed a beer to survive the journey to India. No writer before William Molyneaux in 1869, in a book called Burton-on-Trent, its History, its Waters and its Breweries, says Hodgson invented IPA, and Molyneaux was writing more than 80 years at least after pale ale had begun being regularly exported to India. Certainly Hodgson never claimed it invented the style.

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