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IPA: beer with a past and a great revival

Added: Friday, July 14th 2017

Protz IPA

IPA – India Pale Ale – is a world-wide phenomenon. It’s enjoying an astonishing rebirth and is brewed in just about every country in the world. In particular, it’s the most popular beer style brewed by craft brewers in the United States and there are some 300 versions produced in Britain, its country of origin.

But how much do we know about the birth of IPA? I have set out in IPA – A Legend in Our Time to dig deep into the roots of a beer first produced to refresh the upper class gentry and aristocrats known as the Raj, the rulers of India during the reign of Queen Victoria. It was an exclusive beer – the Raj made it their own and the ranks of the army and the civil service in India continued to drink darker – and cheaper – mild, porter and stout.

IPA achieved a wider audience when it was made available, along with lower strength Pale Ale – to the domestic market in Britain. Burton-on-Trent became for a while the leading brewing town in the world and Bass the biggest brewer as a result of the demand for IPA.

What was the beer like – and were 19th century versions similar to those brewed today? I took a Victorian recipe for Bass to the specialist brewer UBREW in South London, who made a batch and stored it in wood for three months. The beer when sampled was remarkable – and quite unlike most modern interpretations.

But there are survivors from the early days and the book details Worthington’s White Shield, still brewed in Burton, and two recreations: Ballantine’s IPA from the U.S. and McEwan’s Export in Scotland.

The book explains in detail how IPA is brewed and the importance of water – in particular the sulphate-rich water of the Trent Valley. Brewers today “Burtonise” their brewing “liquor” in order to replicate the flavour and impact of Trent water. I also describe the importance of grain, especially pale malting barley, and hops. Hops not only add bitterness to beer but keep bacteria at bay – an important consideration when the early IPAs had a long sea journey from Britain to India.

The role of hops is emphasised by the development of new varieties that give a big citrus punch to modern IPAs and have led to the creation of a distinct American style. And within the U.S. there is a clear distinction between West Coast versions and those brewed in other parts of the country.

The book goes on to select IPAs from all round the world. As well as the U.S. and UK, there are versions brewed in Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, China and Japan.

The book details new interpretations of IPA, including controversial “Black IPA” and those made with the addition of fruit.


The book will be launched on Thursday 10 August at the Great British Beer Festival, London Olympia, 7pm in the bookshop.

York Beer Festival: 20-23 September: I will officially open the festival on 20 September.IPA talks and tastings 7pm 20th and 4pm 21st. York Knavemire, Grandstand, York Racecourse.

St Albans Beer Festival: pre-festival event, Alban Arena, St Peter’s Street. Ticket event, with IPAs from local breweries. 7.30pm. Sponsored by Fuller's and Heritage Brewery, Burton-on-Trent. Beers will include Fuller's Bengal Lancer and a cask-conditioned version of the legendary Worthington's White Shield. £12, £10 CAMRA members. Ticket details:

Steyning Food and Drink Festival, Sussex: talk and tasting at Dark Star Brewery, 5 October, 7.30pm. 22 Star Road, Partridge Green, West Sussex RH13 8RA.

Chorleywood Literary Festival in conjunction with Chorleywood Bookshop: Saturday 14 October, 12 noon, The Junction, Christchurch, WD3 5SG. Book voucher £8. Book £15 on the day.

Norwich Beer Festival, St Andrew’s Hall, 23-29 October. Time and date TBC. 

*IPA: A Legend in Our Time, Pavilion Books, £20.