What is IPA?

India Pale Ale

Good question!  What does India have to do with beer?  Wasn’t beer invented in Europe?

Well, yes and no.  Beer has been manufactured for very long time by every culture in the world.  In India’s case it was made from rice or was made from millet.  It’s been known by a number of names such as Sura, Medaka, Prasana or Handia.

Biologist J. B. S. Haldane deduced that consumption of locally brewed beers was helping to keep diseases like Beriberi in check.  Beriberi is actually a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1) which happens when you de-husk the grains of brown rice.  The rice was not de-husked before making beer therefore the thiamine was still present.

The major drawback to this home brew was that elephants found it particularly attractive.  They were known for attacking villages so they could steal the brew.

Just Don’t Fancy It

All the Brits wandering around in India in the early 1700s didn’t really enjoy the local brews.  The difficulty was, with the long sea voyage from Britain to India, conventional beer either spoiled on route or lasted a very short time once it had arrived.  Time and weather were conspiring against them.

Two beers actually made it all the way to India without spoiling; one was called pale ale, the other was Burton Ale (from Burton-on-Trent) with a remarkable 12% alcohol content.

Pale ales are generally brewed with lightly-roasted pale malts and typically have an equal malt-to-hop ratio.  You can taste the hops but they’re not overpowering.  This occurred before 1720, and over the course of the next 70 years led to the very hoppy brew that came to be known as India Pale Ale.

Additional hops led to a higher alcohol content and better preservation due to the chemical nature of the hops themselves; hops possess some acidic qualities which are expressed as a preservative characteristic.  What started out as slightly bitter, slightly hoppy, and crisp, became bitter, hoppy, and sharp.

Never content to leave things alone, there soon were “American” India Pale Ales where the amount of hops actually outweighed the malt in the wort.  This aggressive hopping results in a bitter flavour, reminiscent of grapefruit, or the smell of pine resin.

Still not content, they went further and created the very-literally named Double IPAs (also known as Imperial IPAs).  These brews typically use two or even three times the amount of hops for an IPA.  Naturally they add more malt to compensate, so the result of beer is extremely hoppy, and very malty.  Consequently it has a significantly higher level of alcohol, but the intensity of the flavor is not necessarily for everyone.

Finally, several breweries have developed, and interesting variant.  Known as an IPL, this India Pale Lager is brewed with a large number of hops.  The difference is that it utilizes bottom fermenting yeast, at typically low lager temperatures, and for very long periods.

As you probably know, brewing an ale can take as little as seven days, but brewing a lager can take weeks or months.  The intent was to create a cleaner, lighter beer that emphasized the hoppy aspect, while showing off its nuances.

Just for a change of pace, maybe you should grab one and try it.

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