The Complete History of the IPA, Part 3: India-Style Ale is Born
When we last left the story, bitter beer was all the rage, England turned India into one of it’s colonies, Burton Upon Trent was becoming one of the most important brewing cities in the world and George Hodgeson invented the India Pale Ale and there was much rejoicing.
Okay, I lied, about that last one. As I hinted last week Hodgeson has gotten a lot of credit for the style but no evidence suggested he had much to do with the style, but Britain was becoming one of the largest exporters of beer in the world and Hodgeson wanted in.
The East India Company, which owned all the ships that sailed to and from India, was interested in selling the wealth of Indian spices, silks and other goods to Europeans. But they had little to no interest in what went to India and, as a perk, the captains of these ships were allowed to haul pretty much whatever they liked to India for free, sell it and pocket the profits. These ship captains began shipping English goods to colonists to bring them a little taste of home. These good included wine, cheese, clothing, perfume, jewelry and, of course, beer.
Most breweries in Burton Upon Trent were focused on the Russian and Eastern-European markets so Hodgson found himself a niche. And, by offering special loans to the ship captains he managed to more or less carve out a small but attracive monopoly.
The Bastard Brewer
Besides offering generous terms to the ship captains, Hodgeson had a reputation as a ruthless, even underhanded businessman. Whenever another brewery became interested in shipping beer to India, he promptly lowered his prices to drive them out of the market. And once he had complete control again, he would restrict supply and drive the price back up. Though his loans helped, he gouged the shippers whenever he could get away with it.
The last straw came when Hodgeson attempted to cut out the middle man and send ships under his employment, a move that angered both the ship captains and the East India Company. The timing of this move was astoundingly bad as trade disputes with Russia and the Napolionic wars dried up almost all of the export market for British Beer. For a long time India was a relatively tiny market and most businesses were content to let Hodgeson have his little monopoly.
But with India becoming an important trade center, Bow Brewing was about to face some stiff competition.
Allsopp All Up Ins the Market
Legend has it that a British businessman sent a sample of Hodgeson’s pale ale to the brewmaster at Allsopp brewing and, using a teapot, managed to brew his own version of this pale ale. After some tinkering the began producing a beer of equal quality to Bow brewing. Hodgeson’s beers were gaining a reputation for being inconsistent, murky, overly sweet and suffering from supply problems. It is even reported that people in the supply chain were filling empty Hodgeson bottles with some kitchen swill further damaging Bow Brewing’s reputation.
By the mid 1800’s Hodgeson brewing was on its way out. It would be bought and sold a few times before going bankrupt entirely 1862.
India Pale Ale Is Born:
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment the IPA was invented. But in the early 1800’s there seemed to be some idea that pale ale heading for India was intrinsically different. The first references to IPA are in the form of advertisements in the 1817 and 1822 referring to ‘Beer brewed for the East and West India Climate.’ (Note that, at the time, the West Indies were the Caribbean islands, Mexico, South America, The Bahamas and Florida. So, in a sense, India Pale Ale is as much a product of Central America as India.)
But, according to Mitch Steele’s history of the IPA, the words ‘India Pale Ale’ first appeared in an Indian newspaper, the Bengal Hukaru in 1828.
It should be noted that, while the beer enjoyed some success from Indian colonists, the surge of popularity came from beer drinkers in England. Interest in the style got a major bump in the early 1800’s and there is a strange legend to explain why.
The story goes that a ship bound for India found itself adrift and wrecked off the coast of Scotland. Barrels washed ashore and the locals, being the good sort of people who would never let beer go to waste, cracked open the casks and marveled at the delicious elixir contained inside. Once the barrels were empty, the townspeople being thirsty, sober and… well… Scottish, demanded more of this mysterious new style of ale. Thus IPA became famous.
There is absolutely zero evidence that this story is true and, more likely, the popularity began with colonists coming back to England and craving the same style of beer they enjoyed abroad. But a couple other factors contributed to IPA’s rising popularity as well. First was the perceived medicinal qualities of heavily hopped beer; IPA was seen as a treatment for, stomach problems, diabetes and simply as ‘a restorative beverage for invalids and convalescents.’
In addition, while darker porters and milds were the preferred drink of the working class, IPA was a middle-class beer. It’s brilliant clarity looked especially good in a clear glass and it became a popular drink to pair with Champaign.
I guess what I am saying is that IPA is the original Champaign Of Beer so High Life can suck it.
The 1800’s and beyond:
But the popularity would not last.
Toward the end of the century, trends began to emerge that would threaten IPA’s popularity. First was emergence of the temperance moment that would increase demand for lower alcohol beers. And the second was the increasing popularity of lagers, especially German pilsners and similar styles.
As the first World War set in, it seemed that India Pale Ale was destined to fade into obscurity. And then, just as the last vestiges of this style started to fade into history, something weird happened in on of England’s old colonies.