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.

The first ever reference to IPA

(Note: three years on from this post, the earliest mention of the phrase IPA has been pushed back another six years: see here.)

This is a truly historic document: the first known use of the expression India Pale Ale. It comes from an advertisement in the Liverpool Mercury newspaper published January 30 1835, a remarkably long time after pale ale started being sold in India. Before January 1835 (and indeed for some time afterwards) the beer we now call IPA was referred to as “pale ale as prepared for India” or some similar circumlocution. It took a while for the new phrase to catch on: “India Pale Ale” was not used as an expression in advertisements in The Times of London for another couple of years, and even in 1841 the beer was still being referred to as “India Ale”, “pale India ale”, “pale export India ale” and other variations alongside IPA.

The Liverpool Mercury ad has several points to note, apart from the first use of the phrase India Pale Ale, quite possibly a century or more after pale ale was first exported to India. It is interesting, though not necessarily significant in the way you might think, that the ad was for the “well-known house” of Hodgson & Co, the brewer from Bow, London who was for several decades the best-known shipper of pale ales to India.

Hodgson’s had established an agency in Liverpool as early as 1825 (1) for the sale of “pale bottling ale” to “merchants and others”: by then the Bow brewery was starting to have strong competition in the Indian market from Bass, Allsopp and other brewers in Burton upon Trent. The Burton brewers had relatively easy access to Liverpool and its docks via the canal system, and a large part of the shipping from England for overseas was leaving Liverpool rather than London. It looks as if, despite the problems the Hodgsons must have had getting their own beer to Liverpool compared to the relative ease the Burton brewers had in sending their beer to the docks there by canal, the Bow brewers were eager to capture some of the export trade leaving Lancashire for both the sub-continent and the Antipodes. (Ads in newspapers in Australia and New Zealand in the 1830s for “Hodgson’s ale” and “Hodgson’s pale ale” show the Bow brewer’s beer was not just going to India.)

You will also have spotted that specific emphasis was made in the ad about Hodgson’s East India Pale Ale “being brewed from the finest East Kent Hop”. This must, surely, have meant Goldings, which were described, in 1848, at least, as “undoubtedly the finest, richest and most valuable of any grown” in Kent. So: Hodgson’s EIPA used East Kent hops, probably Goldings.

(As an aside, look at the price of that newspaper – seven pence, when a pint of beer was two pence, the equivalent of a paper costing perhaps £10.50 today. Newspapers were still being taxed at four pence an issue, which only dropped to a penny an issue in 1836, and the tax did not disappear completely until 1855.)

But the Liverpool Mercury ad (hat tip to Pete Brown, incidentally, for putting me on its trail) is equally as interesting for what it doesn’t say. It mentions the beer’s “fine tonic properties … much recommended by the faculty [meaning the medical faculty] even to invalids.” However, it says nothing, despite the competition from upstart brewers of pale ale destined for India such as Bass, about Hodgson’s being the inventor or originator of IPA. Nor does any other ad for Hodgson’s beer. Because despite what many have written over the past 140 years, Hodgson never invented India Pale Ale.

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Poems on beer, good and bad

Someone has put Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “John Barleycorn”, a “lament for, and a celebration of, the Great British Pub”, from the BBC Culture Show programme, up on YouTube: you can find it here and, if you haven’t heard it yet, I feel confident in saying you’ll enjoy it greatly.

Duffy’s poem is a rare and brilliant exception to the general rule that poetry about pubs and beer is mostly pretty bad: Pete Brown commented in Hops and Glory that India Pale Ale in particular seemed to inspire Britons stationed out in Bengal, Calcutta or Madras to dreadful attempts at rhyme and metre. Here’s one I reproduce for its awfulness: it appears in the autobiography of Harry Abbott, who was an officer in the Indian Army, and, as it happens, grandson of a partner in Hodgson’s brewery, Edwin Abbott. This was “a song which used to be sung at many a pigstick party and race meeting in the thirties, forties and fifties”, that is, 1830s to 1850s:

‘Who has not tasted of Hodgson’s pale beer
With its flavour the finest that hops ever gave?
It drives away sadness, it banishes fear,
And imparts a glad feeling of joy to the grave.

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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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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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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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