India Pale Ale (IPA)

India Pale Ale (IPA)

An Introduction to the IPA

India pale ale (IPA) is a beer style typified by high levels of both alcohol and hops. It gained its name as a result of its enormous popularity in British India and various other outposts of the British Empire throughout the 19th century, it’s characteristics arose due to its keeping abilities on long sea voyages and it’s refreshing character when it finally arrived at its destination, both of these characteristics were due to increased alcohol and hop content.

After experiencing outstanding popularity around the world in the late 19th century, the IPA style suffered a sudden and marked decline, spending the majority of the 20th century as a shadow of its former self. Nevertheless, at the end of the century, the IPA made a remarkable comeback, stemming from an explosion of interest in traditional beer styles, driven primarily by North American craft brewers; it became and still remains the most admired craft beer style on earth.

Out of the many beer styles which exist, the IPA is probably the one you have heard the most of, as it is without a doubt the most glamorized, mythologized, and misunderstood.


These days the IPA has two main subtypes, the English IPA, which is now a lot more refrained in both hops and alcohol and is much closer to bitters than the India Pale Ales of old. Whereas the American IPA has embraced and expanded on the style, brewing not only the traditional English version of yesterday, but creating an Americanized version and even an imperialized version.

Both subtypes have a pale to golden colour and can be cloudy. English IPAs have floral, spicy or grassy notes with a moderate malt profile, whereas the American version possess more bitterness, with fruitier notes such as citrus, pine and some tropical fruit characteristics with a lower malt profile. English IPAs also typically have a lower ABV than their American cousins.
The India Pale Ale was first created by modifying an existing beer style, with the intention of producing a beer which could better survive the long sea voyage from England to the troops serving in the British Empire across the Indian subcontinent in the late 18th century. The beer had more hop bitterness than other beers at the time and a high alcohol content, both of which prevent spoilage.
When the troops returned to England, they returned with a taste for this new beer style, and so the India Pale Ale was born.

 American IPAEnglish IPA
BuzzwordsBitter, Hoppy, FreshSpicy, Bitter, Bready
AppearancePale to Golden, can be hazyPale to Golden, can be hazy
Alcohol Content5.5-7.5%5.0-7.0%
Aroma & FlavourCitrus, pine, tropical fruit. Most have additional hop aromaFloral, spicy with some citrus. Malt presence, with bready flavour.


  • (Not making sense? This will help.)

    SRM: 6-14
    ABV: 5.0–7.5%
    IBU: 40 – 70


    OG: 1.056–1.070
    FG: 1.008–1.018

Popular American IPAs

  • Alpine Duet

    Ex-fireman Patrick McIlhenney founded Alpine in 1999. The beers were initially brewed under contract at AleSmith. Nowadays all Alpine’s beers are brewed out of the small town of Alpine, west of San Diego.

  • Stone IPA

    Stone has grown vastly since moving from it’s original warehouse brewery in 2006, nevertheless Stone IPA remains a classic. Pale golden with bold citrus and pine aromas jumping from the glass, but balanced out by the presence of sweet malt.

  • Firestone Walker Union Jack

    Don’t let the Union Jack flag fool you, this is most definitely an American IPA. Bright and golden, the Union Jack has an off-white head, with pine and citrus flavours pushing through straight away, followed by an ever so slight cotton candy undertone.

Popular English IPAs

  • Meantime IPA

    Founded in 2000, Meantime is the brewery behind this classic, English IPA with rich orange and marmalade flavours alongside grassy and earthy undertones. This beer is packed full of Goldings and Kent Fuggles, two great examples of classic English hops.

  • Thornbridge Jaipur

    Inspired by historical beers, Thornbridge’s Jaipur has a massive citrus hop profile which is balanced out by a honey sweetness. It starts fairly slowly but after swallowing, the full intensity of this great English IPA becomes apparent.

  • Fuller’s Bengal Lancer

    A very traditional IPA, Fuller’s Bengal Lancer is pale in colour with notable spiciness from the large hop presence, which is distinctive but not to the scale of American IPAs.

Other Important Varieties

In addition to the English and American varieties which have been discussed above, Imperial IPAs, also known as double IPAs exist and are worth noting. These beers have absurdly high hop bitterness as well as higher alcohol levels, putting them around the same strength as a barley wine, but much more drinkable. Exploding onto the craft beer scene in the mid-late 1990s, they promote IPA creativity and are worth a try.

In addition, black IPAs are becoming more popular, IPAs with the same, intense hop bitterness as a normal IPA, but are black in colour and possess additional, dark malt flavour. They typically have less body and increased drinkability when compared to stouts.

Did you know?

A recent study using mice found that IPAs are less damaging to liver tissue than other types of alcohol, potentially due to the high hop content. Both your liver and your taste buds will thank you for this one!

A Brief History of the IPA

The issue when attempting to pinpoint the birth or invention of the IPA is that it was not referred to as “India pale ale” until it had existed for at least 50 years. This is because the IPA style is one which evolved over time and continues to change and adapt today.

In 1600 one of the largest driving forces behind the expansion of the British Empire across the Indian subcontinent was born, the British East India Company. Its main aim was to master the lucrative spice trade, but along the way the profitable textile trade in India was discovered. As a result, the British East India Company established “factories” in various places along the coastline, where traders were left when the ships went home, allowing them to purchase fabric when the price was right, instead of when the English ships were docked.

As the factories sprouted into towns, the numbers of European clerks, lawyers, accountants, and—most of all—soldiers expanded. Likewise, so did the fleets of European ships, which were now more likely to survive the long journey. This meant that wealthy merchants were soon enjoying the finest imported drinks in huge quantities; unfortunately the troops could afford little other than arak, a non-distilled form of palm juice which caused the deaths of countless troops. Consequently, the need for a lighter, healthier drink soon became apparent.

Pale Ale Arrives in India

From the mid-17th century pale ale was widespread in England, where it was a considered to be a premium drink, commonly found in country houses and upmarket establishments due to it being pale, meaning it was more difficult to contaminate with unpleasant —even fatal—adjuncts, which was a regular practice with the darker beers of the time.
There are documents attesting to the fact that pale ale was had been imported to India from as early as 1716, when the President of the colony at Madras, Joseph Collett, was chastised by the East India Company for an impressively large monthly drinking tab.

By this time, most competent brewers understood that high alcohol and large concentrations of hops would help preserve beer over long periods. October ales were brewed with the intention of being matured in cellars for up to 10 years, by which time they had attained a state comparable to wine. It is believed that these October beers were initially chosen to survive the long, arduous sea voyage from England to India, and eventually became known as IPAs.

Hodgson’s Pale Ale

Many historians of IPA incorrectly credit George Hodgson’s brewery in East London with the “discovery” of IPA. This is false, he did not invent it, his brewery was not even the first to be mentioned by name in the Indian market, what he did do was modify an existing beer style until it became incredibly popular in India.

Hodgson’s brewery opened in 1752, nearby to the East India Docks on the River Thames. At this time, the porter was at the peak of its popularity and as such, Hodgson brewed it, just like the other brewers of the time.

However, his close proximity to the dock meant he interacted with East Indiaman captains. Meaning that by simply chatting to the captains, he gained information regarding what beer was popular amongst the Europeans in the outposts, while also negotiating good trading arrangements. After George’s son Mark took the reins, India became the priority. At the time it was also not uncommon for customers to write letters of feedback to brewers, and Mark Hodgson clearly listened to the feedback he was receiving, adapting his beer to suit the Indian climate and tastes of the people there. By 1809, Hodgson’s beer was marketed in large block capitals on the front page of the Calcutta Gazette. Shortly afterwards, no other pale ale was referred to by name, and Hodgson’s was forever celebrated.


Later, Hodgson started promoting his pale ale in the UK, primarily to families returning from India, who had developed a taste for this unique style, and in the 1830s the term “East India Pale Ale” finally appeared in newspaper advertisements.

George’s grandson, Frederick Hodgson later became the head of the company, and the relationship between the brewery and the East India Company became particularly strained, resulting in restrictive trading terms being implemented by Frederick. This caused the Company to find another brewer to stand up to him. The man they found was Samuel Allsopp, the owner of the largest brewery in Burton on Trent. The company sent him samples of Hodgson’s ale, which he recreated using Burton water and the resulting product was claimed to be a far superior beer to Hodgson’s, when it found its way to India, the Londoners iron grip on the market was lost.

Over time other brewers got in on the action, particularly in the Burton on Trent area by copying what Allsopp was doing there and soon there were other brands brewing and selling the amazing India Pale Ale.

Today the IPA has itself different types, with the English IPA, American IPA and Imperial IPAs at the forefront.

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