Do IPA Beers Come From India? (The Answer May Surprise You)

The favorite drink of hipsters and beer aficionados alike, the history of the IPA encompasses some unexpected continents.

Do IPA Beers Come From India? (The Answer May Surprise You)

For a start, it wasn’t originally from India at all. However, the drink so perfectly matched the climate of the subcontinent that the two became closely linked. 

Although the IPA might not come from India, the country plays a key part in its creation. Find out where the IPA came from, and how its popularity boomed, diminished, and boomed again, with our guide. 

What Does IPA Stand For?

Before we get started on the history of the IPA beer, let’s quickly clear up what the name means. IPA stands for India Pale Ale, and although it’s been produced for over 200 years, this is a beer with a quickly growing popularity.

Do IPA Beers Come From India?

IPA didn’t originate in India, but the subcontinent plays a key role in its creation. 

The story of the IPA kicks off around the end of the 1700s, and the start of the 1800s. At the time, the British Empire had a heavy colonial presence in India.

In the hot weather, brewing beer was difficult, but the British Army still wanted their preferred refreshment. So, beer had to be transported from England to India by boat.

This was a long and difficult journey, and much of the beer that arrived was undrinkable. And the barrels that did survive the travel weren’t up to much, either.

In London, the popular style was dark porters that matched the chilly English weather. But in the stark heat of India, this beer just didn’t sit on the tongue the same.

The answer came from George Hodgson’s Bow brewery. He sent to India heavily hopped pale beer, known as ‘October beer’, that normally needed time to age (as you would age a wine).

By the time the beer had traveled almost halfway around the world to India, it was just right. Pale and hoppy, and in perfect condition, the British soldiers enjoyed the bitter drink under the hot Indian sun.

This pale ale became the standard beer in India, and Hodgson’s idea was quickly replicated by other competitors. This pale ale, and George Hodgson, became linked with India, and the legend of the IPA was born.

At least, that’s roughly the true story. George Hodgson wasn’t the first person to add extra hops to beer before a long journey, and the advice had been around since at least the 1760s.

Dark porter beers were more than capable of surviving the trip, and many still enjoyed the flavor, even if the heavy drink wasn’t a perfect match for the temperature.

And while George Hodgson was a key player in getting pale ales to India, he was hardly the only brewer involved. But he was the most popular, which is why his name is so closely linked with the IPA.

As for the name IPA, it would take a few decades before the beer was commonly described this way. For some time, IPA was better known as pale ale for India, or pale ale prepared for East India etc.

The first recognized use of the term India Pale Ale occurred in 1935, in an advert for Hodgson’s ‘East India Pale Ale’.

So, IPA doesn’t come from India, it went to India. The light and hoppy beer was perfect for the climate, and survived the long sea journey in good shape. 

The IPA Today

The IPA Today

While the IPA may have originally found its audience in British soldiers living in the Indian heat, the IPA revival really took off in America. 

Following the success of the IPA in the mid 1800s, its popularity took a nosedive.

As home refrigerators were on the rise, along with more sophisticated brewing techniques and technologies, the long lifespan of the IPA was no longer a major selling point.

Known for being hoppy and bitter, the drink fell out of popularity. 

A growing interest in homebrewing revived the almost forgotten IPA, and brought it to greater attention in America. But it was the rise of the craft brewery that really injected life into the IPA market.

Many craft brewers have a flagship IPA, and the expanded brewing methods changed how the drink was defined. The IPA was no longer the bitter British drink, but a fruity and intense brew. 

The American IPA brings to focus the fruity styles found in the hops, while reducing the strong bitterness associated with traditional IPAs.

West Coast IPAs were the beginning of the fruity revolution, with a clean body and plenty of carbonation. Another popular style is the New England IPA.

This style is known for having an extra complexity and a hazy pour, plus a hint of citrus with reduced bitterness. 

But it’s not all American takes on a British beer named after India. Belgium is another country getting in on the style. A Belgian IPA is made using Belgian yeast, giving a bakery warmth and sweetness. 

Are IPAs And Pale Ales The Same?

IPAs are always pale ales, but not all pale ales are IPAs. Pale ales tend to be lighter, with a lower ABV. Although they still have a distinctive hop taste, the standard pale ale isn’t quite as hoppy as an IPA.

The pale ale was created around the start of the 1700s, as new brewing techniques opened up the range of what could be created.

From this, the IPA was born, with its origins shaped by the British presence in India. Pale ale is a pretty wide term, and encompasses many different styles, of which the IPA is just one offshoot.

Final Thoughts

While the differences in climate between Britain and India, not to mention the large distance, was integral to the creation of the IPA, India Pale Ale does not come from India.

It was actually first created in Britain, but gained popularity when enjoyed by British soldiers abroad.

The IPA fell out of fashion when refrigeration became more common, but the style was revived with the help of American homebrewers. Now, the IPA is a staple on many craft brew menus.

Mandy Winters

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