It may just be that our brewing ancestors originally used hops in beer for their preservative, or antimicrobial properties. Since, as we learned in our talk about Belgian beers, these brewers weren’t adding anything to the mash other than water, barley and heat, save for the occasional bitter flavor of something like, say, yarrow. I imagine a rather industrious brewer out there somewhere in Europe tiring of making a delicious ale, putting it in a barrel and having it turn into vinegar (Fish and chips, anyone?) What can he or she do? Someone must have noticed that the oils within the hop cone kept the beasts at bay, as it were. Maybe experimenting with tea, or all other sorts of the fermenting of things that was happening in order to preserve food. Someone somewhere, long long ago figured it out. If they were alive today they’d receive a Nobel Prize for such a discovery. We will never know for sure when, how or why it happened as there is so much folklore and evidence on the subject. There is even an old brewer’s tale that the Jewish people were free of Leprosy while in captivity in Babylon because they drank beer made with hops, which led to the widespread use of them to prevent microbial infection. This has been mostly debunked, but…?
It is a difficult thing to nail down, as the pollen from hops and hemp are identical, archaeologists are unable to distinguish cultivation of hops vs. hemp. General consensus is that hops were starting to be used in the 6th century, and widely used by the 8th century. This gave advantage to the more industrious brewer looking for some upward mobility. If I can sell this much beer to my neighbors, how much could I sell to neighboring counties and beyond? In order to achieve this longer shelf life, more hops (and alcohol, such as a Dortmunder Export Lager, which came in at a hefty 5.5% or so. By today’s standards a modest ABV) were added and viola! I can export my ale to your county, and tack a luxury fee on it as well. You know it couldn’t have been easy to transport these wooden beer barrels over the countryside via horse and wagon. We’ll avoid the science and chemistry of all this, but let’s just say that beer spoilage organisms cannot properly function when certain components of hops are present. Some can, but they are more rare. This, in concert with the alcohol and lower ph in a properly fermented, hopped beer creates an environment in which these little bugs basically die, or go dormant.
So, fast forward a bit to the mid 1700’s, and we see these higher ABV (by historical standards anyway) higher hopped beers making there way to warmer climates and the European people who now found themselves in India, in desperate need of a proper British Pale Ale start to get there chance. Here too, there is much folklore and unverified historical data, such as that the name IPA was specifically given to the beer brewed and sent to the Troops that were stationed in India during England’s occupation there. This would be the mid-1800’s to the mid-1900’s Evidence does suggest otherwise and it is now thought that most of the stuff was being consumed by middle class European settlers and military officers, and starting at least 100 years before that. The moniker “IPA”, or “India Pale Ale” itself is hard to nail down as many of these beers were called Pale Ale for India, Pale Export India Ale, Pale Ale As Prepared for India were all names used. The first known mention of the beer being referred to as “India Pale Ale” is from the Liverpool Mercury, January 30th, 1835 . The article makes mention of the beer having “…the very desirable qualities of keeping in any climate, and not bursting the bottle, have long enabled it to maintain the high character it possesses, as peculiarly suited for exportation.” Perhaps, again, a clever marketing person realized that “Pale As Prepared for India”, or PAPFI didn’t quire roll off the tongue as well as “India Pale Ale”, or IPA. The rest, is history.
Today the beer is generally quite different then what these forefathers were making. There are still some notable examples such as Flying Fish’s Hopfish IPA. English IPAs have deep golden/amber color and are known for being very well balanced. They typically have strong malty character with dominant toffee, biscuit and caramel flavors. The hops used in English IPA contribute very specific herbal flavors that balance the sweetness through a controlled hop bite. These are hops low in alpha acids (bitterness), but highly aromatic. Traditionally English grown hops such as East Kent Golding were used, but today similar European varietals are common as well.
It is in this spirit that we are currently brewing our very own English IPA, Whirlybird. It will use pale, biscuit, caramel, wheat and roast malts, Styrian Golding and Cascade hops, and a British ale yeast. Stay tuned for it’s release! Until then, come only for any of the other ales and lagers we have on tap. Ph, and don’t forget your scrapbook.