The History of IPA

Pale Ale and Industrialisation

The history of IPA starts not in India but in London and then found its home in Burton-upon-Trent, an ordinary town in Staffordshire, Britain, where beer has probably been brewed since 1004, when an abbey was founded there. Monks were (and still are in Belgium) prodigious brewers, and would have used the water from the local River Trent to brew their early ale. What made Burton so special, therefore made it the most important centre of brewing in Britain (and even the world for a while) was the water from the river. Its natural minerals happened to be perfect for brewing beer, particularly (as it turned out) Pale Ales. In fact today many brewers add mineral content (Gypsum or Sulphate) to their beer before brewing – a process still called ‘Burtonisation’.

Brewing in Britain was largely done by the owners of pubs, inns and ale-houses for their immediate customers, and so the beer would not have had to travel far before it was consumed. With the onset of early industrialisation there was suddenly a need for larger brewers who could supply the fast growing urban populations, and thankfully the growth of the canal system gave them the means to transport it. Burton, already noted for its fine ales quickly became an important centre of Brewing.

At the end of the 17th century the process of kilning malts was becoming more efficient, due to the use of coke, derived from coal. This meant that you could kiln a malt (stop it from germinating by heating it) without the use of so much direct heat. This had two consequences; the finished malt was paler than before and it produced more fermentable sugars per grain. Initially this was a fairly expensive process, so the early pale ales (more likely to be a dark amber) were mainly drunk by the wealthy, who were also the ones who could see the colour, due to the fact that glassware was so expensive. (The ordinary drinker would still have used a pewter or leather tankard for some time!)

The beer that became IPA descended from a beer known as “October Ales” – named because they were brewed in that month, and were highly thought of because of their strength, and extreme aging potential (as well as high hopping levels). Documents telling of 25 year old October beers being consumed and enjoyed exist from 1773.

The East India Company

The Company was founded in 1600 as a speculative venture that would trade spices from the east back to Britain. This company would come to be, in its heyday, one of the largest, wealthiest, most successful and most unethical companies the world has ever known. The British government did not formally take India from the Indians but nationalised the Company in 1857 after the Indians “mutinied” against them. They had their own army (made up of British and Indian soldiers) a vast merchant fleet and many local maharajahs in their pocket.

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