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Fun with shouting about English IPAs

It’s been said repeatedly, but I will again: CBW was formed from homebrewers, and while we’re working on getting all those pieces of paper that say we can sell you beer most of us are continuing to homebrew. I’m currently president of the Niagara Association of Homebrewers, a homebrewing club in the Western New York area, fer corn sakes.

One of the activities we’re currently doing is what we’ve dubbed Random Trios: we split up brewers into groups of three and brew a style, then come back and taste the results (tasting the results being the best reason to do anything as a homebrewer). The style we’ve chosen this time around is English IPA, which I’m excited about because I’m a crappy wannabe Anglophile but yet haven’t ever brewed the style; the last bit being true for most homebrewers I’d imagine.

shut up!

The great part about English IPAs is that there’s a lot of history to them, and as such there’s a lot — and I do mean a lot — of arguing about it. A longer post on style guidelines and their usefulness and drawbacks will come one of these Thirsty Thursdays, but let’s skip that for now and just talk about all the different ways we can approach the style.

Being homebrewers, we’re going to adhere to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP)’s definition of the style (category 14A). Their guidelines follow the story of EIPA as it’s generally told: it was brewed stronger to survive the trip from the UK to India. Most of the links coming up will vehemently disagree with this, but that’s not the point: the reason for having style guidelines is so that we have a common target, and while I may brew up a historical style (another post for another Thursday), we’ll be sticking to the BJCP.

For more on homebrewing English IPAs, look to the books: my go-tos while creating recipes are Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels (history p. 152-158; brewing p. 153, 163, 166-174) and Brewing Classic Styles by Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer (p. 182-3). The information here is fairly sparse, though, and generally repeat the BCJP information.

If you’re interested in the history and development of English IPAs though, and not just how to brew the style as we understand it now, things get far trickier. Prepare for a brief trip down the rabbit hole.

Ask anyone unfortunate enough to be around me regularly: I do not stop talking about this damn book

Obviously I’m going to suggest reading Hops & Glory by Pete Brown. It’s one of my favorite books, combining the history of the IPA with a travel diary recreating its journey. The issue, at least in the US, is getting your hands on it. It’s possible (I’ve done it) but he still hasn’t gotten a publisher in the US so it can be hard to find. If you’re looking for concise information on how to brew the style it’s fairly useless, but for education, entertainment and general information it’s great.

When I’d like information on the history of beer and brewing online, there are generally two places I turn: Zythophile, from Amber, Gold and Black‘s Martyn Cornell, and Ron Pattinson’s Shut Up About Barclay Perkins. If there are others then please let me know, because while I entirely understand peoples’ apathy towards the history of beer — who cares where it came from, it tastes good now — this is one of the things I’m into.

Both of the men can be a bit standoffish, especially about this topic (though go tell Ron that Kölsch is an ale; go on, I dare you). Part of it is probably that they’re British and I’m not, but also realize that as historians they’ve had to deal with hearing the same myths and mistruths about beer being repeated and it gets on their nerves. I don’t blame them: if I had to, for instance, hear repeatedly about Steve Christie’s ‘wide right’ field goal attempt in Super Bowl XXV, after 10 or 20 years that would make me a bit irritable. (also, perhaps, Ben Franklin’s ‘beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy’ nonquote)

I’ll say it again: there is a style of beer we American homebrewers currently identify as being an English IPA. That is, for many people, enough. As we’re about to go into, there’s no one official be-all ‘English IPA’ anyway, so if we’re going to pick one it may as well be that, right? If semantics and history bore you, I won’t be offended if you stop reading.

'The drink for all who love good things' - now there's a slogan!

At Zythophile there is an excellent summary, with many, many other links, of the IPA origin story. It’s a somewhat condensed version of his ‘first ever reference to IPA‘ post (which, you’ll notice, cites Pete Brown, who cites Cornell’s Beer: The Story of the Pint in Hops & Glory, and are both cited by me. This is all a bit cyclical and incestuous)

Then Ron Pattinson, who will read through foreign language brewing histories from centuries ago as well as comb through any brewing logs he can find, steps in: not only saying that the strength of the IPA wasn’t out of the ordinary, but also providing actual recipes showing that the gravities of this style have risen and fallen over the years. First is a 1928 Barclay Perkins IPA (OG 1.048) and a 1923 Whitbread IPA (OG 1.036).

(If you’d like to bring in the factors of a post-war UK on the gravities of beer then that’s fine [Pattinson has plenty of evidence], but you’ll be arguing history, semantics and the variability of beer styles and so you’ll be just as crazy as I am.)

That doesn’t mean that IPAs were always low gravity: just that at certain times throughout its history. Want to brew a 19th century version? The Calcutta IPA brewed for Hops & Glory was based on Bass Continental, a beer not brewed since the 1920s, which was itself based on the Bass ales from what we would consider IPA’s heyday. Chapter 5 of the book deals with the brewing of the IPA, with some specifics of the recipe coming on p. 51-57 (as well as his blog). It’s not the full recipe, but it’s quite a lot of it:

Malt
100kg UK pale malt
2.5kg crystal
(scale these to create a 7% abv beer)

Hops
2kg Northdown @60?
(they walk away for 45 minutes, but someone adds ‘late hops,’ so I’m assuming a 60 minute boil. Or they could have been at flameout)
More Northdown dry hopped in the keg (unspecified amount)

Yeast/etc
Blend of two Worthington yeasts (can we get White Shield in the US?)
Water ‘rich in gypsum’ from Burton
Mash at 66*C (150.8*F) for 90 minutes

Anybody have one of these we can store some beer in for a few months?

It’s certain that hot maturation — which would occur during the process of sailing around Africa — does have an effect. Pete Brown tasted his Calcutta IPA side-by-side, and Martyn Cornell has done the same experiment, albeit with less voyaging himself. Brewdog’s done it, et cetera, et cetera: changes occur. Now, it’s not as clear whether or not these changes are only possible due to hot maturation, as Pete Brown has said:

Beers that didn’t go on the long sea voyage would be cellar-aged before being sold, and in the book I’d already postulated that the effects of cellar ageing on the beer were similar to the sea voyage – it just takes longer.

So, to conclude, we have three main points, I’d say:

  1. The beer we call IPA doesn’t quite have the same origin we may have thought it did
  2. The beer we call IPA wasn’t always called that (sometimes pale India ale, pale ale brewed for India, etc: see ‘The first ever reference’ for more on that)
  3. The beer called IPA would, at times, have been unrecognizable to us under that name

Want to argue 2 and 3 more? Good. We’ll get there in future posts. This one’s long enough, don’t you think?

(Many, many thanks to the three sites referenced above; most images have all been lifted from them)

2 comments on “Fun with shouting about English IPAs

  1. Alex on

    Excellent…I cannot wait to get started on EIPA for random trios. Also, I think the argument on whether IPA is called so because it needed to make the trip from UK to India is particularly interesting…I’ve found convincing info for both sides.

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