03/06/20223 min of reading

IPA – It’s Pretty AMAZING! How the India Pale Ale took the world by storm…

The newfound popularity of the IPA has transformed the flagging fortunes of the classic beer style in recent years. Often seen as a drink for bearded old farts in flannel trousers and twill shirts, this stalwart of the Craft Beer scene has enjoyed a major revival and is now taking the world by storm. But just how did the humble IPA achieve such exalted status as the very pinnacle of Artisan Ales?

It’s a story that’s been told a thousand times before, and one which begins some 250 years ago in the bad old days of the British Empire. There’s very little will stand between the great British soldier and his pint, but if that beer is bad, then there’s going to be trouble. Well, more than usual anyway.

"They needed beer – VAST quantities of beer!"

To ensure that the restless natives were successfully subjugated and prevent mutinies, the British Empire needed hundreds of thousands of men stationed in some of the furthest and hottest corners of the known world. And to keep those men subjugated and prevent mutinies, they needed beer – VAST quantities of beer.

The problem was that India by sea back then could take anything up to two months - weather permitting – through some of the hottest and most treacherous, often pirate-infested waters. Remember there was no refrigeration back then, so there was a serious risk of spoilage as the beer neared the equator.

India Pale Ale was born

So it was completely by chance that a popular drink of the time was exported by the East India Company to the Indian sub-continent. This strong, exceptionally well-hopped beer style called October Beer was extremely well-received as, somehow, it managed to survive the crossing, arriving in Calcutta in a drinkable state.

The style was later picked up by several of England’s Burton-on-Trent breweries, who over time refined the recipe and began exporting India Ale, and so India Pale Ale was born. It was this higher alcohol content and generous hopping that saved the beer from turning sour during the crossing and sealed the brew’s place in the annals of history.

"...the seeds were sown for cask beers and artisan ales to stage a comeback."

Fast-forward some 200 years to the late 20th Century with the UK’s Real Ale industry in a sorry old state, and just a few die-hard believers clinging desperately to the wreckage of a once-proud industry. Thanks to the efforts of the UK’s Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and the American Homebrew Association (AHA – not to be confused with Norwegian pop group), the seeds were sown for cask beers and artisan ales to stage a comeback.

Lip-smackingly hopped classics

Since then, modern IPAs have diversified into a range of sub-styles, from mouth-puckeringly, lip-smackingly hopped classics with all their funky, floral, hops goodness, to softer, cloudy New England IPAs, and even outrageously creamy hybrid Milkshake IPAs – a kind of bastard-son of IPA and milk stout.

For those who prefer their beers a little on the lighter side, there’s the Session IPA. From the English tradition of all-day drinking, or a ‘session’, Session IPAs are full of the same big hoppy flavours, but with a %ABV that means you’ll still be standing after you’ve put away three pints (or more) – a feat that’s not always possible with the more aggressively boozy beers in the family.


At the other end of the scale come the Double and Imperial IPA – DIPA, TIPA and IIPA - beers so thick with hops and caramel you’d be forgiven for thinking they should be served in slices. These monsters of the Craft Beer world regularly weigh in at between 9 and 12% with a thick, slick body to match.

Barrel-Aged behemoths

Finally, there are the Barrel-Aged behemoths – IPAs packed with oaky, smoky bourbon or scotch whisky tones and hints of tobacco and old leather. Mainly reserved for special occasions, these BA IPAs make traditional 6% IPAs look like real featherweights by comparison.

So where does that leave the IPA today? This long history, that started out with trade between two continents and which has now spread across the planet, is far from over. With every Craft Brewery worth its salt producing its very own take on the style, and even an annual IPA Day organised every August, the future is looking brighter than ever for the humble IPA!



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