India Pale Ales, or IPAs, are experiencing an explosion of popularity at the moment. It seems no brewery’s standard list is complete without at least one IPA.
Pale ales require the use of pale malts, and the technology for producing pale malts in any commercial quantity became available during the 18th century. Pale ales had been brewed before then, the earliest known example dates to 1675, but large, commercially viable production of Pale Ale had to wait a little longer. The normal malting process is a smoky affair, leading to dark, roasty malts, but pale malts require smokeless malting, using smokeless fuels such as coke. This paler malt naturally produces a paler beer, quite different to the brown ales that were the staple of the time.
The original IPAs were of high alcohol content (typically 6.5%, occasionally even higher) and were heavily hopped. Both these features helped to preserve the beer in the non-regulated temperatures of rolling sailing ships as they undertook the long journey to India, where there was a huge demand for fine quality beer.
It’s an old tale that George Hodgson of the Bow Brewery ‘invented’ India Pale Ale in the mid-eighteenth century. It’s a nice tale, but there is actually no evidence for it whatsoever, it’s just been repeated so often that it has become a factoid.* All we can say for sure is that the style developed in the late 18th – early 19th centuries. The name ‘India Pale Ale’ is first recorded in an advert in the Liverpool Mercury dated the 30th January 1835 – though that is no indication of how long the term had been used.
The experience you can expect from an IPA begins with the smell, which should be rich with hop aromas. The head should generally be white and persistent. The taste should be good and hoppy, but balanced by a sweet maltiness. Other flavours often present include citrus fruits, particularly a grapefruit pithiness.
Here are a few IPAs that I have enjoyed recently:
Acorn Conquest (5.7%) Light yellow in colour, this beer starts with a smooth opening to the taste that hints at fruit without being overtly fruity. There’s a spike of flavour in the midtaste that is slightly soapy and there’s a lingering quinine-like bitter end. Unusual and very good.
Blakemere Cosmic (6.0%) This’ll knock your socks off if you’re not careful. The smell is pure grapefruit. The mouthfeel is nice and smooth and the taste has a lot of citrus zing, particularly grapefruit. It’s very moreish, and at 6%, that’s its danger!
Redwillow Endless (3.8%) There’s that brewery again! This beer is way down the strength scale, probably too far down to be considered a true traditional IPA, but the taste is spot on. It’s bright and cheerful with lots of that grapefruit pith and bags of hops. All expertly balanced with sweet malt to provide an excellent taste sensation.
Whim Hartington IPA (4.5%) Not a standard IPA taste by any means. The hops are far less apparent here than in any of the previous beers. Overall I found this to be dominated by the sweet malt. It is smooth and refreshing with a tiny hint of cream. Very tasty.
Swale Indian Summer Pale Ale (4.2%) This beer is brewed under licence by Archers. Another very smooth ale but this time with a lasting aftertaste that dries in the mouth. Very refreshing.
BrewDog Punk IPA (6.0%) BrewDog have gone off on their own with this one. A massive hop bomb that delivers a very strong hoppy flavour and heaps of citrus pith. The mouthfeel is quite thick with a rush of thick sweetness. The aftertaste develops slowly and is really quite bitter.
BrewDog Proto Punk IPA (2011) (5.4%) The smell delivers tons of very aromatic hops (I don’t know, but I suspect these are American hops – Cascade?). The taste is much smoother than the Punk, and less abrasive, though still strongly hopped.
York IPA (5.0%) This is just as an IPA should be. It’s smooth, hoppy, zesty and refreshing.
*Factoid – a piece of information that has every attribute of a fact apart from truth.
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