IPAs–A Tale of Two Oceans

IPAs were originated to withstand the crossing of the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans but it’s travels don’t stop there.

British IPA (India Pale Ale)

BritishIPA-RoyalOakThe IPA style was developed, true to legend, in the 1700s to last longer and withstand harsh conditions during a 6-month sea voyage to the troops and aristocrats India. Higher alcohol levels and much higher hopping rates protect the beer.

Of course, lighter beer had been shipped overseas before without too much problem, so there might have been a bit of commercialism involved.

In fact, Captain Cook took Porter with him on the Endeavour in 1768 and on their 1-year anniversary at sea, "a cask of Porter tappd which provd excellently good, so that we livd like English men and drank the healths of our freinds in England."

Historically, IPAs were actually much stronger and more bitter than today's British IPA. OG was in the 1080 range, where Barley Wines start today. Alcohol ranged from up to 9% and IBU figures were normally over a palate-numbing 100 and sometimes up to 150. Imperialism isn't for wimps.

Records show IPAs from Burton-upon-Trent in the mid 1800s, the IPA's heyday, had about 7 to 8% ABV. The Imperial IPA now brewed in the United States is closer number-wise to the original than is the U.K. IPA. The taste, of course, wasn't influenced by modern Northwest hops such as Cascade's grapefruitiness - Fuggles and East Kent Goldings were used almost exclusively.

When steamships shortened the trip from Britain to the colonies, brewers throttled back the alcohol and bitterness quite a bit. By 1885 User's IPA was back to about 6% ABV and one can assume they saved money by using less hops as well as barley.

Actually, IPAs were never that important to the English beer business. By the turn of the 20th century the total India beer market was only 9,000 barrels per year.

In the UK today, IPAs are often more of a name than a style. In fact some companies use the IPA name on their Session Ale - Greene King IPA, Flowers IPA, and Wadworth Henry's IPA are examples of this practice. When getting an IPA in England one needs to check the pump clip for the ABV to see which style you are getting - and there's darn few real IPAs.

Will this be rectified? Nope. Not a chance. A 5% ale is considered strong in Britain and a true IPA wouldn't sell very well at all except to our type of people. There are a few microbreweries making a decent IPA but it isn't economically viable for the regional and national breweries

Although there are still some standouts, most are now just hoppier versions of an Ordinary Bitter without a stronger alcohol content. This corresponds to the British drinker's new obsession with weaker beers sue mainly to drink-drive concerns.

Even though more malt is used to get the increased alcohol, less crystal or specialty malts are normally used so the color of IPA is not usually darker than an Ordinary Bitter.

Native Territory: Central England. Originally brewed for India.

Color (SRM): Golden to medium copper. (4 - 14).

Head: White. Cask Conditioned versions should have very little head.

Aromas: Some malt but strong hop bitterness.

Flavors: No sweetness. Enough bitter on the tongue to welcome a peppermint candy. Sometimes a little bready malt comes through.

Finish: Long and bitter.

Mouthfeel: Light to moderate.

Carbonation: Should be quite low. Cask Conditioned forms use no CO2.

Alcohol: Might be noticeable in the mouth. 4.0 - 6.0% ABV. Some may approach 7%.

Bitterness (IBU): Fairly strong. Earthy Fuggles dominates. (40 - 55 IBU). Serve at 40°F or so - cooler than a Pale Ale - to let the hoppiness come through.

Serving: Pint or half-pint English straight-side glass or handled mug.

Malts: Pale malt predominates. A touch of Biscuit or Crystal is sometimes used.

British Pale Ale styles. Fuggles. East Kent Goldings.

Yeast: British Ale Yeast, London Ale Yeast.

Related Styles:

British Pale Ale - Using some darker malts, less hops, and with generally lower alcohol levels.

American IPA - Using US Northwest hops and with generally a much higher hop level.

Notes: Like British Pale Ales, some sulfur in the water adds to the characteristic style.

Bob’s RoundEdge-BLPick:  Logo-LoddonLoddon Ferryman's Gold - Reading, England microbrewery - Lots of Styrian Goldings hops give a citric bitterness.

Rare Gems: Logo-Firehouse

Firehouse IPA - Rapid City, SD brewpub - Fairly dark copper. East Kent Goldings hops give true British taste. Pretty strong alcohol at 6.5% but not strong bitterness.

Great Dane Potters Run IPA - Madison, WI brewpub chain - Always served in cask conditioned form. Lots of Fuggles and some Cascades hops.

People's Pint Pied PIPA - Greenfield, MA brewpub -  Fuggles extravaganza with a touch of US Northwest hops. Reddish copper. Grows on you.

Wizard White Witch - Whichford, Warwickshire, England brewpub and microbrewery - A pale IPA from a 1-man brewery. Challenger, Green Bullet, and Northdown hops. Interestingly, uses a lager malt.

Widely Available:


Arcadia IPA - Battle Creek, MI regional brewery - Biscuity aroma. Clear copper with big white head. Big hoppy Fuggles bitterness. A bunch of beer.

Brooklyn East India Pale Ale - Contract brewed at FX Matt, Utica, NY megabrewery - A bunch of malt in the start that quickly becomes very bitter. Notably high in alcohol at 6.8%.

Full Sail IPA - Mount Hood, OR regional brewery - Deep gold. Long lacy head. Full bodied. Strong malt is overpowered by hops and they come in quickly. Alcoholic warming.

Typical 5-gallon (US) recipe


11 lb Pale malt
1 lb Crystal  40L malt

Adjuncts, Fruit, Spices: None


1.5 oz Northern Brewer hops at start of boil
1 oz East Kent Goldings hops for a 15 minute boil

Yeast: English Ale yeast

Mash: Infusion

Boil time: 60 minutes

OG / FG: 1061 / 1013

Check out Zythophile’s article on the mythology of George Hodgson and the origin of IPAs at Myth 4: George Hodgson invented IPA to survive the long trip to India. He also lays down a set of proof at IPA: the executive summary.

Each day we take comfort believing that we have some sort of understanding of the world and that certain facts are largely proven and reliable. So when I stumbled upon a fascinating web article by the estimable Martyn Cornell in the  Zythophile (beer lover) blog that purports to debunk the oft told story that British brewer George Hodgson invented the India Pale Ale to survive the long sea voyage from England to India, I was shocked. Well, maybe not all that shocked. After all, the Jonestown folks really drank Flavor Aid, not Kool Aid. Too soon? OK, bad comparison. Sorry.

Anyway, I’ll synopsize Cornell’s argument here but suggest you read it for yourself.

Legend has it that George Hodgson created the India Pale Ale in the late 18th century while working at the Bow Brewery near London. Standard beers of the time like Porters suffered from the length of the voyage (four months) and the repeated large swings in temperature that they must endure during that time. His variation on the then new Pale Ale recipe called for the addition of large amounts of hops which acted as a preservative making the beer fit for the voyage to India.

Cornell casts a lot of doubt on that legend. It’s unsettling to think that things are not what we always thought them to be.
Why does Zythophile doubt the Hodgson story?

  1. There was no need for a beer specifically designed to survive the long voyage to India as other beers were able to make the voyage without spoiling or souring. Documents from the 18th century do make reference to Porter surviving lengthy sea voyages in “excellently good” condition (from the journal of Joseph Banks on August 25 1769, when he was on board the Endeavour with Captain Cook in the South Pacific).
  2. There is no evidence that George Hodgson was even attempting to make such a beer for that purpose. While we know that he was working at the Bow Brewery east of London at the time (1790 or so) we do not know that he was spending time perfecting a beer recipe for India. We only know for certain that he eventually became extremely successful in shipping his particular recipe of Pale Ale to India. Whether he intended to create a beer for this purpose or not is uncertain.
  3. There really wasn’t much of a market for English beer in India at the time. India was largely self sufficient and the British population there wasn’t terribly large.
  4. Hodgson got lucky in becoming the chief supplier of beer to the East India trade due to the Bow Brewery’s proximity to the docks where ships were departing to India.

Zythophile makes some good points and I might particularly agree with his assertion that Hodgson was lucky, at least to some extent. But while I cannot say that Zythophile is wrong about his facts, I would certainly argue that the conclusions that he draws based on those facts are possibly a rush to judgment.

  1. Could other styles of beer survive the sea voyage to India? While some beers obviously did survive long sea voyages relatively intact, keeping beer fresh and drinkable was still a problem. Evidence of this and the concern over it is fairly well documented. For example, Peter Mathias reports this concern on the part of the Royal Society in his book The Brewing Industry in England 1700-1880 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1959). The fact that some Porter survived long sea voyages does not mean that the problem did not exist.
  2. Was George Hodgson attempting to make a beer to survive the voyage to India? I don’t think I can support that assertion with any documentation, but it is well known that Hodgson is later given much credit for having devised a recipe that was largely a success in that regard and that he and the Bow Brewery gained control of the Indian beer market. The Circular on Beer Trade to India reported in 1829 that Hodgson controlled the Indian market. It is also known that the beer that Hodgson was shipping to India was a unique recipe containing larger than normal amount of hops.
  3. Why would Hodgson spend so much effort to attempt control of the relatively small Indian market? The India market expanded dramatically after the introduction of Hodgson’s beer. Hodgson’s true success was not in wresting control of an already existing market. His success was in supplying the product that allowed the market to grow with his company at the forefront.
  4. Was Hodgson simply lucky to be at the right place at the right time? Probably so. But luck plays a role in almost all of history, so I don’t see that Hodgson’s contribution to it should be diminished by luck simply because he was the beneficiary of it.

So does George Hodgson deserve the credit for creating the style of beer known as the India Pale Ale? Perhaps we are too eager to give sole credit when it would be just as accurate to describe most invention and creation as a conspiracy of circumstance. But the fact remains that George Hodgson was the man in the right place at the right time and it was he who took advantage of those circumstances.

Another account can be found in a blog guesting by Thom Tomlinson

American IPA

When North American brewers make a stronger and bitterer version of their Pale Ale they describe it as an India Pale Ale, just like their British kin. The difference is the Colonials put more grains and more bitterness into theirs (just like the English did when they invented the style).

The Cascade hop is the basis of the American IPA. It gives a bitterness that is strong, sharp, citrusy, floral, even grapefruity. They are dry-hopped for more in the aroma. This bitterness is what hopheads all over North America look for. Just a few years back you'd find the strongest IPAs in Washington and Oregon, where Cascade hops are grown. Now California, the Midwest, and the East produce IPAs just as bitter as the Northwest examples.

There are many excellent bottled examples and many of the brewpubs in North America make their own as a pride of place offering if they don't top the range with an Imperial IPA.

Native Territory: Northwest US.

Color (SRM): Fairly pale. Yellow, golden through light amber. (6 - 15).

Head: White head with good retention.

Aromas: Malt background with lots of hops bitterness. Can be sweet or dry.

Flavors: Malt background and citrusy hops. Bready. Orange fruit. Grassy.

Finish: Not overly long. Not astringent.

Mouthfeel: Medium light.

Carbonation: Medium to high CO2. Rarely seen in cask conditioned form.

Alcohol: Present and sometimes pretty noticeable. 5.5 - 8.0% ABV.

Bitterness (IBU): Plenty of Northwest hops. Probably dry-hopped for additional aroma. (40 - 70 IBU).

Serving: Pint or half-pint English straight-side glass or a pilsner glass. Serve cool to cold - 40°F.

Malts: Pale Malt. Crystal Malt. Sometimes some Vienna Malt for color.

Hops: Cascade is the favorite. Also Amarillo. Centennial. Chinook. Columbus. Willamette. Sometimes also Noble hops such as Perle or Hallertau.

Yeast: American Ale Yeast.

Notes: Best made with hard water - it may need to be "Burtonized" by addition of sulfates.

Logo-SierraNevada-CelebrationBob's Pick: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale - Chico, CA megabrewery - The classic. Clean, crisp citric flavor. Malt base is strong. Pine and other spices also come through. Year dated bottles.

Rare Gems:

Free State Copperhead Pale Ale - Lawrence, KS regional brewery - Yakama & Cascade dry-hopped. Robust IPA. Balanced, clean & crisp.

Logo-FreeStateTitanic Whitestar IPA - Coral Gables, FL brewpub - Medium peach with long foamy head. Bitter is built in and you don't really notice how much there is.

Free State Brewing Copperhead Pale Ale - Lawrence, KS brewpub and microbrewery - Yakama & Cascade dry-hopped. Robust IPA. Balanced, clean & crisp.

Widely Available


AleSmith IPA - San Diego, CA regional brewery - Deep gold with ivory head. Citric hops are predominant. Alcohol comes through at an unusually high 7.2%.

Anchor Liberty Ale - San Francisco megabrewery - One of the early American IPAs. Heavily hopped with Cascades but that's not overboard anymore.

Bell's Two Hearted Ale - Kalamazoo, MI regional brewery - Solid malt skeleton with lots of citrusy hops hung on it. Balanced. Lemon and breadiness if the moon is right.

Typical 5-gallon (US) recipe


8 lb Pales malt
3.25 lb Munich malt
1.75 lb Crystal 20L malt

Adjuncts, Fruit, Spices: None


1 oz Centennial hops at start of boil
1 oz Centennial hops for a 20 minute boil
.5 oz Cascade hops at end of boil

Yeast: American or Irish Ale yeast

Mash: Infusion

Boil time: 60 minutes

OG / FG: 1063 / 1012


Imperial IPA

BrewingBeer-HopsOnce your brewery is known for it's excellent IPA what do you do for your next act? Make an Imperial IPA of course. Add more malt. Add more hops. Add still more hops. Dry hop again. And again. Keep it up until it's tooth-scrapingly bitter. Enamel-etching. Until the most devoted hophead cries (literally) "enough".

Some of the best breweries in North America compete to see who can make the hoppiest IPA. It's an interesting contest to watch. Literally, there's a contest at the Great American Beer Festival to crown the Alpha King of the year. It’s been won by

Midnight Sun Sockeye Red
Moylan Boylander Double IPA (twice)
Pizza Port Hop 15 Double IPA (twice)
Pizza Port Poor Man’s Double IPA (twice)
Bell’s Tow Hearted
Oggi’s Torrey Pines IPA
Boundary Bay Imperial IPA
Russian River Pliny the Elder
Thai Me Up 2 X 4 (twice)Mountain Sun Hop Vivant
El Toro Deuce Imperial IPA
Belching Beaver Pound Town Triple IPA

International Bittering Units have gone up past 100 although many experts say you can't really tell a difference past 80. IBU is a measurement of the amount of alpha acids in the beer.

Bittering rates of Cascade hops can make this beer much like pure grapefruit juice. That said, not all Imperial IPA's use the citric northwest hops but it's rare to find one that doesn't.

Native Territory: Microbrewerys all over North America.

Color (SRM): Copper to orange. (8 - 20).

Head: White head with good retention.

Aromas: Hops. Northwest hops.

Flavors: Hops. Northwest hops. Maybe some malt in the background.

Finish: Long hoppy bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium to quite thick.

Carbonation: Medium to high CO2.

Alcohol: Present and sometimes pretty noticeable. 5.5 - 8.0% ABV.

Bitterness (IBU): You've been paying attention, right? (80 - 120 IBU).

Serving: Pint or half-pint English straight-side glass or a pilsner glass. Serve cool - 45°F or more - to let the hops come out.

Malts: Pale Malt. Crystal Malt.

Hops: Mainly Cascades. Sometimes additions of Amarillo, Centennial, Chinook, and/or Willamette. Sometimes also Noble hops such as Perle or Hallertau.

Yeast: American Ale Yeast.

Logo-Stone-RuinationBob's Pick: Stone Ruination IPA - Escondido, CA regional brewery - "In fact, the words "Stone Ruination IPA" are what older hop vines use to cause little hop vines to quiver with fright and lose sleep at night." Tasty and citrusy. Huge. There is a little sweetness to offset the hops. 100+ IBU.

Rare Gems:

Logo-BoundaryBayMidnight Sun Sockeye Red IPA - Ankorage, AK brewpub – 2000

Moylan Brewing Moylander Double IPA - Novato, CA brewpub - 2001, 2002

Pizza Port Hop 15: A Profound Hop Experience - Solana Beach, CA brewpub chain – 2004

Oggi's Pizza Torrey Pines IPA - Del Mar, CA brewpub chain – 2005

Boundary Bay Imperial IPA - Bellingham, WA brewpub - 2006

Widely Available:


Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA - Milton, DE regional brewery - Warrior, Simcoe, and Amarillo hops. Clean. Has a solid malt base. They also make a 120-Minute IPA that is boiled for 120 Minutes, dry-hopped for 120 days, and has 120 IBU. 9%

Three Floyds Dreadnaught - Munster, IN regional brewery - A bigger, hoppy beer from a big, not-normal brewery. Dark orange. Grapefruit, lemon, and other citric tastes. 100+ IBU.

Typical 5-gallon (US) recipe

13 lb Maris Otter Pale malt
1.5 lb Munich malt
.5 lb Caramal 40L malt

Adjuncts, Fruit, Spices: None

2.5 oz Warrior hops at start of boil
1.5 oz Chinook hops at start of boil
1 oz Columbus hops for a 30 minute boild
3 oz Centennial hops at end of boil
3 oz Columbus hops for dry-hopping
2 oz Centennial hops for dry-hopping

Yeast: American Ale yeast

Mash: Infusion

Boil time: 90 minutes

OG / FG: 1084 / 1015

Notes: Dry hop after 1 week of fermentation / conditioning

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