Christopher Columbus set sail for India back in 1492, he didn’t find what he thought he was looking for and he didn’t have any India Ale on his ship. He came to what now is known as the promised land of India Pale Ales: America! Well not really that America, Christopher went to the Caribbean Islands, South and Central America only. There he met the hop loving indigenous people who once roamed all over the American continent, yes we are talking about Indians. They used hops for toothache and its sedative abilities, to cure anxiety and as an all-porous medicine. Growing conditions for hops were excellent in North America and it grew wild over there back then, at least in the northeast parts of the country. Humulus Lupus is very rapid growing plant and can grow up to 50 cm in a week, the actual hops we’re mentioning is the flower of the female version of that plant, it’s closely related to Cannabis so don’t rule out that some Native Americans used it to flavor their peace pipes with that aromatic flower we hop heads love so much. In hops there is a compound called Lupulin that relaxes the mind and makes you fall asleep faster, I haven’t tried smoking hops personally but reports says it tastes yummy and that you sleep like a baby afterwards!
Long sea journeys were kind of the thing back in those days, the way to get around for trading, colonization, exploration and general mischiefs. And this is where the importance of the hops come in, cause it got other properties than as a flavouring agent making them delicious in beer. Namely sanitizing properties, I guess we call that long shelf life today. This is at least what the main IPA legends tell, anyways, sea journeys: …but sadly it took quite a bit more time to get around back when science was just an infant. The sea route to India from England would take a whopping 4-6 months, after Vasco Da Gama actually found it, depending on the ship and the weather. And you can bet the thirsty English sailors wanted beer even on their way back home as well, so they needed to bring a lot! And of course the colonies was full of sweaty officers and others waiting for the boats loaded with refreshing IPA. Cause the IPA was a gentleman’s and an officers drink and the common soldier and sailor had to settle for a Porter, probably dry-hopped and delicious too. But India Pale Ale as a coined term wasn’t really used until the middle of the 19th century, but that’s not where this story begins. Let’s take a few steps back first.
In the beginning beer was dark, smoked and roasted, great for cold winters and as a night cap or just to avoid water poisoning, diarrhoea and other water borne illnesses, but maybe not what you want the most in the middle of summer or when your getting fried by the Indian sun? To produce Pale Ale you need pale malt, but it wasn’t pale like in today’s meaning of the word back then in 1703 when the expression was coined. The brew got the name Pale Ale cause it was paler than the rest of what was available which means it was probably brownish or amber coloured. The technique that changed it all was basically substituting wood with coke for fuel when kilning the malt. Coke is made from coal, and when heating over coke you have more control over the heat treatment process. Much less smoke is produced and no uncontrollable flames rise up to roast the malt, like fire from wood or straws would. Kilning is the third phase of making malt after the barley is steeped and then germinated. The grains are warmed up and dried out (Cured) and after this is done we have malt ready to be used to make beer. So this is how coke revolutionized malt production.
On a side note coke production started way before the industrial revolution, back in 4th century China. There’s evidence of malt being roasted by coke in 1642, way before it was thought up to be used to make paler malt later in the 17th century. But around 1750; the revolution and the technology that followed made it less expensive to produce pale malt. It was also discovered that pale malt had better diastatic power, meaning that one were able to produce more alcohol with the same amount of malt as one would have used before. And just to clear up one little misunderstanding and put in an important historical fact; the Czechs or the Germans did not invent pale beers or this malting technique, the British did. But the Germans and Czechs didn’t wait around to research or find out by themselves how to make paler brews. Instead them grabbed their walking sticks and went on a study trips to the British Isles to learn. About 100 years later we had golden lagers in Pilsen & Bavaria.
But for how long have hops been used in beer or alcoholic beverages? For all I know the Vikings who came back from North East America imported hops to Europe and planted them in the gardens of monasteries they pillaged a thousand years ago, while shaking their fists and saying “You better have some good beer ready for us when we come back!” No, not really, just kidding! Hops (Humulus Lupus) are actually thought to originate from China because it’s the only place where all the three “Humulus” species grow wild and also DNA analysis of hops show that the types we see in Europe and America are younger than the east Asian ones, the American ones are the youngest, around 500.000 years old. The Chinese sure like to do some exporting, both now and back in the days of rabid prophets so who knows, maybe the Chinese introduced the use of hops to Europeans? I for one really want to know why the king of Franks “Pepin The Short” had a hop garden back in the 8th century? It’s documented in his testament from 768 when he died. It’s also claimed that this is a misunderstanding and Humlonaria is a place name reflecting that wild hops grew there and didn’t mean hop garden.
There will be people telling you that hops was used in brewing by the Romans back in the first century, a certain fellow called Pliny The Elder wrote maybe the first modern encyclopedia back then and mentioned the use of something that can be mistaken for hops, though it isn’t unlikely it could have been hops it still doesn’t make it true or prove anything. Sadly his heroism punished him when he got too close to an erupting volcano at Pompei. American brewery Russian River named a brew after him. Back to Mr. Pepin the King of Franks: But did Mr. Pepin use hops in beer? Or maybe he used hops to make dye to colour clothes or to make paper or rope? The possible uses for this plant are many. Pepin the Short was Saint Adalard/Adalard of Corbie’s cousin who actually documented in the rulebook of the Abbey he was running, a link between hops and malt in brewing back in 822. It said that 10% of the hops and malts harvested by the tenants of the lands owned by the monastery should be given to the appointed porter of the monastery. If the porter needed more to make enough beer he had to acquire it elsewhere. A monastery porter is the representative (a monk or a nun) who keeps contact with the public outside. Now it must be mentioned that a look into Pepin & Adalard’s family three is rather interesting, it goes back quite a while from statesmen to royalty to bishops and so on, the bloodline even links in to a Roman Emperor in the third century. I lost track there and weren’t able to go further back but still that’s two centuries away from the well-travelled Roman army commander and naturalist Mr. Pliny who also befriended Emperors. I find this vague link across the centuries very interesting. And I wouldn’t be surprised if new clues would change the history of the usage of hops in brewing very soon. After all hops are awesome!
I’ll just jump in real quick here that back before we humans started documenting everything single thing we did in diaries or in facebook statuses, we used what we had available from our own back yard, mother nature. Production of alcoholic beverages can be dated back at least 9.000 years, that’s older than the earth if you ask a creationist! So hops have probably been used for flavor and medicine for a really long time the places it grew wild. I mean when even African monkeys can get drunk and have a party from over eating on fermented fruit it would be only stupid to assume that this culture started with the “homo sapiens”. We’ve probably been getting drunk one way or another since we were Neanderthals, or maybe even as far back as “homo erectus”. My point here is that both alcohol culture and production and the use of certain ingredients are probably far older than what we can document.
It’s quite interesting that a term and a brew like India Pale Ale could have its beginning in a traditional place like Great Britain. A country that didn’t exactly embrace the hops like the Germans and the Dutch had done before them. I’m not even gonna go into the “Hildegard of Bingen” story other than that some claimed that the German nun lived long cause she was so found of brewing with lots of hops in her ales. On the British Isles “Ale” was a term for beer without hops and “Beer” meant that it included hops, this was the “rule” right up to the 17th century. But as Pale Ale came along, and got lighter in colour and gained nicknames such as “The champagne of beer” something happened. A nickname that by the way would never been born hadn’t it been for the troubles between the British and their wine producing croissant eating neighbour in the southeast. The same goes for Barley Wine, first seen as too expensive to produce, but when mentioned neighbour weren’t a reliable exporter of wine the Brits needed an alternative.
A huge break came when a fellow named George Hodgson from London struck a deal with the Mega Corporation of his age “The East India Trading Company”. A company that was given monopoly on trades with India and some other colonies by Queen Elisabeth I herself. They ended up taking control of much of India themselves with private armies and overstayed their welcome with at least 100 years. But whatever, Hodgson’s brewery (Bow Brewery) stood close to the docks where the India bound ships set sails. In 1793 the first boat loaded with “Pale Ale Prepared for Indian Market” set sails to India bearing the Hodgson logo. But this is where it gets messy and part of me would just like to ignore that I know that “Pale Ale” had reached India before this time. Apparently as early as 1716 in Madras the governor of the Bencoolen province Joseph Collett sat down and drank so much pale ale that his tab has survived into the history books. But how light was this “pale” ale and how hoppy? It is told that even back in 1760 brewers were advised to put extra hops in all the beers brewed for export to tropic climate. Also it is said that the first beer Hodgson exported to India was the strong and hoppy October Ale that were meant to be stored for a year or two before drunken. But then again it is also said that this ale inspired others to make hoppy lighter pale ales before Hodgson actually did that himself. The October brew had a sky high Original Gravity and would probably be seen as an Imperial IPA/Barley Wine style ale today. The brewery slowly adapted it into what became their IPA. George Hodgson’s son Mark focused even harder on the Indian marked after his father passed. And in January 1835 we have the first evidence of the phrase “East India Pale Ale” being used in an ad in the “Liverpool Mercury”. And after 1845 when glass taxes were abolished sales of IPA on bottles increased in the land of cask beer. “India Pale Ale” was a termed used as a quality standard and the drink turned very fashionable across the whole of the British Empire. IPA had its peak in Britain somewhere before the First World War.
Archaeological digs have found evidence for hop seeds in England back to tenth century and production got large fast and licenses to start export were first given in 1524. In the nineteenth century Kent was the biggest supplier of hops to the India ale brewing breweries and for a period the district supplied 60% of the hops used in Great Britain. For one month every year many East Enders from London had their annual “vacation” to Kent to work in the hop harvest. Men, women & children all would work, thousands of people would travel to Kent for this, so many people would come to Kent that there weren’t enough living quarters for everyone, people lived in tents and stables. Sanitation was a huge problem for the workers and during the nineteenth century Kent had at least four huge outbreaks of Cholera and Typhoid fever. Many people died doing this job. The East Kent hop industry still exists today, though it is a famous hop, its nothing compared to how huge it was back then. In the 1850’s Kent had almost 3.000 farms growing hops, and they had almost 10 acres each. How many workers does it take to harvest that manually? I’m not a huge fan of modern English IPA so I don’t want to say anything more about that except that it’s a scam and as export decreased and domestic sales increased, both hop usage and alcohol volume were lowered due to war time taxes on malt and the Brits have kept their “IPA’s” that way ever since. But American IPA’s, that’s another story.
I found this little video for you to enjoy,
since there’s no pictures in this article.
Peter Ballantine was a Scottish immigrant who came to America in 1820, he set up a brewery in Albany in 1833. In 1890 after his death the brewery started making the first known American made IPA. This was a 7,5% ABV, 60 IBU, one year oak aged heavily hopped brew. The Ballantines IPA was both dry hopped and added distilled hop extract from whole Bullion hops. I expect it was one crazy beer back in the days. During the later years of the brewery changes were made and the brewery moved several times through the years, but the beer was a classic until it was discontinued in 1996. Ballantines Brewing Company was one of the biggest brewing companies in America both before and after probation. (1920-1933) And Ballantines inspired many, among them another very old brewery from San Francisco, namely Anchor Brewing. A couple of years before starting brewing the first modern IPA in 1975 they resurfaced an old American classic lost after the probation, the steam beer. Times were hard and this brew saved the brewery because a millionaire kid named Fritz Maytag liked just that beer so much, that he took up an interest in the brewery, he ended up buying majority interest and then luck turned for Anchor. Fritz got involved and is by many seen as the father of modern craft beer. In 1972 the Cascade hop were released to the public, Coors were the brewery that first used it commercially and saved the hop for the future, cause the breeders were just about to give up on being able to sell it to anyone. Coors eventually bailed on the hop but not before Anchor created the heavily hopped Liberty Ale. This brew is still a classic and it has all the well tasting flavors from the awesome Cascade hop. Then in 1976 came the first modern American Microbrewery, New Albion from California. Inspired by big brother Anchor this was a short-lived adventure but it again inspired others. In 1980 Sierra Nevada opened and released their very hoppy pale ale, currently the sixth largest brewery in America. And in 1982 Yakami Brewing opened the first brewpub in the US since pre-probation. And after that the scene exploded and has kept getting bigger and bigger with more and more microbreweries all across the United States ever since. The American microbrewing trend gave birth to a stronger version of the IPA, the Imperial or double IPA, first sold only as seasonal or as one off brews, but today any microbrewery with self respect has Imperial IPA in their product range. Blind Pig IPA released in 1994 is seen by many as a prototype Imperial IPA, Vinnie Cilurzo brought this beer on to Russian River who are most famous for their Pliny The Elder Double IPA. Greg Koch of Stone claims that Ruination IPA from Stone were the first Imperial IPA to be put in regular year round production when it was released in 2002. There is no country in the world that makes as many different delicious IPA’s as the United States and that is why I call them the promised land of IPA.
In Norway there were no such thing as IPA until the 90’s, the first to brew IPA in Norway were Oslo and Trondhjem Mikrobryggeri. Oslo Mikrobryggeri had brewed a very popular IPA “Light” back in 1989, a 4,75% ale with lots of American hops. A few years later they brewed a normal IPA, still low in alcohol 5,5% ABV, hopped with Cascade and Goldings. Christopher Jerner & Frithjof Hungnes who opened Oslo Mikrobryggeri had been studying together in Berkley California and needed something tastier than normal Norwegian lager. The reason for them holding back on the ABV were that Norwegian law didn’t allow beer to be stronger than 7% back then, but back then we were still following the Reinheitsgebot too, the last German hold on Norway. But Norway had made hoppy ales far before the 90’s, actually we can go back to mid-nineteenth century. Sigrid Strætkvern from Ringnes told me this: “Ringnes Brewery, Arendals Brewery, Kristiansand Brewery, Bodø Aktiebryggeri, EC Dahls Brewery, Schous Brewery and Frydenlund Brewery all brewed pale ales back then. Frydenlund Brewery was founded in 1859, it was built for serving the huge export market, since Norway was a shipping nation. The founder, Mads Landgaard, was originally a Captain. Pale Ale was one of the beers Frydenlund exported. Unfortunately we do not know how hoppy the pale ale was, but since it was brewed for the export market, it is likely to believe it’s was in the upper scale of IBU for pale ale, although it was probably not on an IPA level.” But just to set the record straight Nøgne Ø were the first in Norway to master the IPA like it should be in 2003, bold, hoppy, fresh, bitter but also balanced. Kjetil told me that the response they got from people when releasing it was: “This isn’t beer, nobody likes this.” The Norwegians palate sure has changed a lot since back then. This year Ægir won the award for best Norwegian beer with their IPA. Brewer Evan Lewis who’s been a home brewer since 1989 started brewing IPA’s in 1995, single hop after single hop, making the same beer over and over again, never doing more than one change at a time. Then later searching for the perfect hop combination. Evan started Ægir back in 2007 when he and his wife escaped the busy life of Silicon Valley. The winner brew Ægir IPA is brewed with Galena for it’s clean bitterness and Centennial for it’s piny and grapefruit character. And just a tiny bit of Citra. Try it fresh. Fresh IPA is awesome. I e-mailed Evan from Ægir, Mike from Lervig and Kjetil from Nøgne and asked them some questions about IPA’s, the one thing they all said and held as extremely important in an IPA was freshness, and as a home brewer myself I must agree, there’s nothing quite like a fresh IPA. After it’s carbonated, keep it cold until you open and drink it!
Since I started writing this IPA article and sending questions and interview request to people about IPA I have learned a lot about the subject. And thanks to Gahr Smith-Gahrsen answers, the IPA’s me and Kjetil is brewing taste even better. We all have our ways I guess, but I really like to dry hop the hell out my beers. Just a bit of first worth hops, skip the bittering hops, then a lot of hops at the end of the boil. Amarillo, Simcoe, Citra, Nelson Sauvin, Chinook these are my favorite hops, all power hops. When using a lot of these hops your beer will have enough bitterness even if you only use them at the end of the boil. I never use more than three different hop varieties in one brew cause that usually give a messy flavor. Keeping the malt base simple is nice, and not using too much Crystal malt gives you a better beer. Don’t be afraid of Rye and Oat malt, it really makes a huge difference on the body and mouth feel, and if you’re like me and brew your IPA’s strong a little backbone can do no harm. Read the interviews we posted with Gahr & Palmer and follow their advices. Cleanliness is alpha and omega, adjusting your water pH makes a world of difference, always make a yeast starters from fresh yeast and make sure you leave it alone for at least three weeks after pitching it. Only use fresh hops and make sure you don’t oxidize them before use. Follow these small advices and your home brew will taste like heaven!
This article and the IPA stories would not be what it is without the help from; Gahr Smith-Gahrsen of ABC Brewing, John Palmer author of “How to Brew”, Sigrid Strætkvern of Ringnes, Evan Lewis of Ægir, Kjetil Jikiun of Nøgne Ø, Mike Murphy of Lervig, Sigmund Melberg of Cardinal, Frithjof Hughnes of Oslo Mikrobryggeri & Jan Halvor Fjeld Norwegian Home brewing Champion.
And when it comes to sources for facts I recommend Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile blog & Garrett Oliver’s The Oxford Companion to Beer over anything from wikipedia. And if you think something in this article sound too crazy to be true, it’s just me and my crazy mind! 😀
I still have unused material from this IPA focus period that I will try to assemble into a post for all you lovers of bonus material. And there might be another chapter in the IPA stories too, you never know.
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But now I need to go and grab myself an IPA!