Confusing, to say the least and an often misinterpreted beer style is India Pale Ale (IPA). This style of ale is now also popularized in South Africa amidst the offerings of numerous Craft Breweries. It was brewed originally in the UK by English brewers to be exported for the consumption of thirsty English troops during the colonization of India in 1772 for a brief 30 years.
It thus meant “a keeping beer” brewed to withstand a sea journey and a bitterness that would have made them undrinkable, safe for the fact that the beer softened during the long sea journey.
Let me immediately state that none of the beers brewed nowadays by a modern generation of Craft brewers are per definition anything close to the original India Beer from the Hodgson’s brewery. We might try our best to emulate and even come close to the hop profile or the colour – even the alcohol level and malty ness we may be able to duplicate. But, we fail miserably to capture the nostalgia and flavour of a beer filled in 54 gallon wooden hogsheads, stored in the dark and damp ship’s hull, rocking for close to 3 months while at some point enduring the unforgiving Cape of Storms and fluctuation sea temperatures, before reaching it’s hot and humid destination. What is remarkable is that the beer was still expected to reach the marketplace in good condition where it was scrutinized by expert tasters before coming under the hammer.
Pale Ale was a modified version of IPA, brewed for quick consumption in the British Isles with a lower alcohol level and greatly reduced hop bitterness – but it is an abuse of history to call them India Pale Ales. Perhaps the true qualifying criteria should be that no beer be called an IPA unless it could withstand a long sea journey in a wooden cask.
Secondly, India Pale Ale should have an enormous hop character – not only from a solid punch of hop bitterness in the upper 30’s or 40’s, but also in hop flavour and aroma that could verge on being resiny.
An IPA should be burnished gold colour as opposed to the copper red “modern” IPA’s. This immediately exposes the beginner brewers who misinterprets the style and who’s beers taste overly sweet due to the overuse of crystal malt which was not widely available in the heyday of IPA.
For the lover of real IPA, nothing quite satisfies like the domination of pungent hops on the palate and the long, intense bitter finish.