Early Craft IPA and Bert Grant

Alan at A Better Beer Blog has written some good notes on the late Bert Grant, a Scottish-born Canadian who worked at Carling in Ontario in the 1940s and 1950s. Grant later moved to Yakima Valley in Washington State, did hop research and helped pioneer the modern IPA style via his Bert Grant’s India Pale Ale first released in 1982. Grant was also noted for his Scottish Style Ale, a beer that excited comment at the time for its apparent non-Scottish character. It was darker and more malty than the India Pale Ale but fairly well-hopped.

Alan makes a good case for Canadian involvement in the worldwide fashion for IPA via Grant’s obsession with hops and his IPA.

Well-hopped beers had appeared earlier in U.S. craft brewing including from Anchor Brewery in San Francisco. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was released around the same time as Grant’s first beers, perhaps a little earlier (1980-81). There was also Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve, a mid-1970s lager from Blitz-Weinhard, an old-established regional, which had a Cascade accent quite different from regular adjunct lager of the day.

But Grant was the first craft brewer to market a bottled beer, at any rate, under the India Pale Ale label. Ballantine India Pale Ale, which has 19th century, East Coast roots, was in the market until about 1996 (and was returned again some years ago). Ballantine India Pale Ale influenced the early American craft ale brewers. Why no one thought of using the India part of the name on their label until Grant is an interesting question.

Perhaps they thought the word was too exotic and would not be understood by consumers. Perhaps some were worried about being sued by Ballantine for trade mark infringement. Today we know that India Pale Ale is an old type-description for beer but early craft brewers may not have realized that. Grant would have known it, as beers were still sold in the 1980s in Canada using the generic description India Pale Ale, e.g., by Labatt and Alexander Keith.

Alan explains that Grant was influenced by a beer he liked at Carling’s Dominion Brewery in the mid-1940s, a White Label brewed by emigrant Scottish brewmasters. It was amber and used lots of English hops.

I remember both of Grant’s beers well. His IPA was austere in flavour, very dry and very hoppy/herbal. While Liberty Ale from Anchor Brewery was in this vein, Liberty Ale was not styled IPA then. A version of Liberty Ale is now available under the IPA moniker, incidentally.

So while Liberty Ale’s importance in the history remains – indeed it had to have influenced Grant’s IPA –  it had no influence on the use of IPA or India Pale Ale as a beer description.

Todd Alström at beeradvocate.com has an excellent 1998 taste note on Grant’s India Pale Ale, which is exactly as I recall the beer. At the time, I didn’t really like it but I see now how the high attenuation was authentic to the 1800s. Beers like that were the type actually sent to India, the “tonics” spoken of then, very hoppy and dry except using English hops not American-citric ones. Grant used the very bitter Galena hop and some Cascade.The beer was a floral/grapefruit bomb as most IPAs are to this day.

As for Grant’s Scottish Style Ale, I think it is quite clear that it was really an English pale ale. It was in the vein of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Boulder Pale Ale, and other early craft ales. See e.g., the same Todd’s review here from 1998.

It is not surprising that emigrant Scottish brewers would make this type of beer because breweries in Scotland were brewing IPA since the 1800s. At times this Scottish IPA has been confused with the older, Scottish strong ale which is the type people thought of when assessing Grant’s Scottish Style Ale, e.g., c. 8% abv McEwan Scotch Ale. Ballantine Brewery’s brewmaster after 1933 was also a Scot who arrived on our shores (North America) to brew after long experience at home.

Any professional Scottish brewmaster of the mid-1900s would have been an expert at brewing pale ale.

I think Grant would have been better off calling it a pale ale, it would have been a good stablemate to the “export” or India version he rightly called India Pale Ale.

Underlying all this of course is that pale ale and India Pale Ale are really the same thing. They can be differentiated, if at all, only by their extremes. This is why Grant’s Scottish Ale was not dissimilar to Ballantine India Pale Ale, there is no “contradiction” in saying that. But in general it’s fair to say, pale ale was probably less hoppy, and richer in taste, than IPA. Beer that didn’t need to go to India didn’t need a ton of hops and could afford an ample body. The beer would be drunk before bacterial or wild yeast infection got to it.

In this loose way, one can say that Grant’s Scottish Style Ale, really a pale ale with apparent influence from a 1940s pale ale brewed in Toronto, was in the same class as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Pete’s Wicked Ale, and similar early craft U.S. ales. Whereas Grant’s resolutely pale (blondish) India Pale Ale:

  • was at the “export” end of the spectrum, as Liberty Ale earlier
  • resulted from Grant’s obsession with hops and probably history he absorbed working in breweries in Canada
  • was innovative in establishing the India Pale Ale/IPA terminology

Note re image: the image above was obtained from this label collection website. Image is used herein for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.






1 thought on “Early Craft IPA and Bert Grant”

  1. “Today we know that India Pale Ale is an old type-description for beer but early craft brewers may not have realized that”.

    To comment further on this extract from my post: let’s remember that although steam beer was also an old type-description for beer, Anchor Brewery was able to trade mark it. It did so on the basis the steam beer term had fallen out of use in the market except for its use, so it was entitled to exclusive use of the name, via a trade mark, as the only brewer still using it.

    West Coast ale brewers, knowing this, perhaps were chary to use the full name India Pale Ale on a label, since before Grant’s India Pale Ale issued in 1982, Ballantine (Falstaff at the time) was the only American brewer using the term in the U.S.. This was a substantial business then and would have had at least as much interest to defend its labels as the smaller Anchor Brewery.

    Some imports may have used India Pale Ale or IPA on their labels in this period, 1970s-1990s. It is known at one point Bass Pale Ale’s label stated India Pale Ale in small script, but if these were in the market, this may not have been known by the nascent craft brewers on the West Coast, or perhaps it was felt such use was distinguishable from domestic use given the small and specialized import market.

    But viz. Bert Grant, as I said above, he would have known beers were marketed in Canada under the India Pale Ale/IPA name, and in any case clearly he considered no one should have a lock on these terms.

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