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EVERYTHING YOU EVER NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT IPAS

IPAs have a fascinating history dating back to the days of British global dominance. Yet by the 1990s, they had fallen out of fashion, and it was almost impossible to find an IPA in a Britain whose bars were dominated by lagers, pilsners, bitters and ciders. Enter a new breed of craft brewers, and the IPA didn’t just get a new lease of life, it practically became the standard drink in the craft beer world. Here’s the story of IPAs, and where we are now.

WHY IS IT CALLED AN IPA?

IPA stands for India pale ale. It supposedly started being brewed in the UK in the 1780s and became a popular beer among British soldiers and administrators serving in India, which was then under the control of the East India Company. However, there’s much controversy about its history.

The commonest story is that a brewer named Hodgson pioneered the drink specifically to export to India, because it was too hot to brew in the subcontinent, and because it matured en route, a journey of four to six months.

This claim is disputed, though. A beer writer who goes by the name of Zythophile (“beer lover”)rebutted many of the common claims. The rebuttal was aimed specifically at a Smithsonian article, but the familiar story can be found in almost any history of IPA. Hodgson may have just got lucky, and happened to be selling “October beer” at around the time traders came a-looking for beer to take to India. It survived the trip surprisingly well, and that enhanced its popularity.

Claims that it completely replaced the previous favourite drink, porter, are demonstrably false, as there’s evidence porter was widely drunk in India in the 1800s – in much greater volumes than was IPA.

We can be sure of two things, though: IPA was indeed exported to India, and it was (and remains) a more hoppy version of pale ale. Whether it was pioneered in the 1780s by Hodgson probably needs further investigation. It’s a nice story though.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN IPA BEER AND REGULAR BEER?

IPA is a style of beer, which is popular enough these days to be called “regular” beer. It is a type of pale ale but is made with more hops, to give it a stronger flavour. There’s no standardised threshold at which a pale ale becomes an IPA, though. It’s all up to the brewer.

IPA became a popular choice among the craft brewing community in the 1990s, especially in the UK and the USA. There’s so much variety under the umbrella term “IPA” that it’s difficult to nail down a strict definition anymore. There are alcohol-free IPAs and 13% ABV IPAs, plus a whole host of flavours introduced by fruits, herbs, spices and other edibles.

WHAT IS PALE ALE?

Pale ale is where IPA gets two-thirds of its name from. It was pioneered in the 1600s and used coke-dried malts to produce a cleaner, lighter colour than normal ale, dried on smoky coal fires. Bitter and pale ale are essentially the same thing, But Bitters tend to be more malt forward and often opt for less fruity hops like Fuggles and Goldings, while Pale Ales promise a lighter malt base and prefer floral and fruity hops.

WHY ARE IPAS SO STRONG?

There’s nothing inherently strong about an IPA compared to other beers. Some IPAs are stronger than the average regular beer, and some regular beers are stronger than the average IPA. You can buy 0% ABV IPA but there’s also 8.2% ABV IPA.

If IPAs have got a name for being strong, it’s more down to the fact that their growth in popularity in the 2000s coincided with a greater appreciation for craft ales, which tend to be stronger than the lagers and bitters that were regularly drunk in pubs.

It’s always worth paying attention to the ABV on the IPA you’re looking at buying. There’s such a wide range on the market that you could end up getting a party brew when all you want is something light to sip with your lasagne (or vice versa, which is frankly inexcusable).

WHAT IS A DOUBLE IPA?

Double IPA is India pale ale but with twice the amount of hops used in standard IPA blends. The result is, as you’d expect, a stronger, hoppier flavour. Double IPAs often, but not necessarily, come with more alcohol than the average IPA, but it probably wouldn’t be double the amount.

WHAT IS TIPA?

You’ve tried double IPA (DIPA) – now it’s gone up a notch to triple IPA (TIPA). There’s even more hops in the mix, and they also tend to be a little stronger, with 13% ABV not unusual. TIPAs tend to be released as limited edition beers, so watch out.

IPA: HERE’S TO THE NEXT 200 YEARS

History, flavour and culture – what more could you expect from a drink? BrewDog started out with our timeless creation, Punk IPA, and we’ve since added to the range with the fruity Hazy Jane, zap-happy Mallow Laser Quest and our amplified beers that turn flavour and strength up to 11.

Who knows, in 200 years they might be saying we invented IPA in Scotland in 2007. Yeah, we could live with that.