Hodgson’s India Beer: Today’s Double IPA

The great unresolved issue of beer history, well, one of them, is the character of Hodgson’s Pale Ale in its India heyday. London-based Hodgson’s beer had a near-monopoly on pale ale in the early Raj and was progenitor of the IPA style.

IPA was famed in the 19th century, it conquered markets near and far ultimately. It had a long decline as a bottled beer but is today again a world citizen, this time due to attentions by American craft brewing.

18 months ago ago I found a 1850 advertisement by Abbott & Son brewery* in England giving pricing for different qualities and indicating characteristics of the beer that made Hodgson’s reputation in India.

Parsed correctly as I think I did, the ad suggests the beer was quite strong, 8-9% ABV if not more sometimes. You can read about it, here.

This conclusion is reinforced by other evidence, recounted in the post, stating or implying the beer was uncommonly strong. The Burton brewers later made a less potent version which did very well of course, but the 1850 ad suggests Hodgson’s India export beer was heady stuff. Given alcohol content is rarely the least of beer’s virtues, especially in the Britannic conception, the strength of the beer may well explain its early fame.

Then too, more alcohol never hurt a beer’s stability.

The beer shown here, a strong IPA from Brasseur de Montréal Inc. in Quebec, is based on American hops. Still, it has a colour, strength, and taste I feel are proximate to Hodgson’s India beer. The Amarillo hops in particular with their Kentish, orangey note reinforce this. An American cousin so to speak, shipmate if you will with a hard-to-place accent.

For those who need to, bear with the technics in the post, it’s worth the ride.

Here is the ad itself:

Abbott and Son, East India Pale Ale Brewery, Bow. – From a peculiar mode of fermentation instituted at the above brewery, it has been celebrated for nearly a century in supplying India with its choicest beer; but, from the necessity of giving it a greater body to bear the changes of climate and high temperature, its cost, viz., 30s. the 18-gallon cask, has hitherto prevented private families in England from enjoying it  at their daily tables. The objection is now obviated by Messrs. Abbott having succeeded for use of families, clubs and public institutions, a lighter description of their Pale Ale, brewed upon the same principles as for Indian consumption, at the cost of ordinary family beer, viz., 18s. the 18-gallon cask, which they trust, from its being so highly recommended not only as a wholesome luxury to the healthy, but as a most appropriate beverage to the more delicate, will meet the approbation of the public. It is necessary to order a supply in March as, from the lightness of and delicacy of the ale, removal in warm weather injures its qualities.

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*Abbott and Son were successor to Hodgson’s original concern in Bromley-on-Bow, London. As to the physical location of the brewery by 1850, it may have changed, closer to the Thames: see more on this in another post of mine, here.

4 thoughts on “Hodgson’s India Beer: Today’s Double IPA

    • Yes that’s right, as far as I know as well. We must infer from evidence available then, and the 1850 ad is fairly persuasive when parsed properly.

      Gary

  1. Nice Article and interesting research there Gary ; I’ve yet to see an IPA brewing ledger entry for both domestic and export (as yet) from the early days ! ,
    Cheers ;
    Edd

    • Thanks Ed, I agree. But following the logic of that ad (not previously considered by beer researchers to my knowledge), suggests strongly Hodgson’s version was strong.

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