India Pale Ale – Amazing Double act


On January 24, 1863 The South Australian Weekly Chronicle in Adelaide published a article on India Pale Ale, a reprint from the Illustrated London News.

It seemed more or less an advertorial on Allsopp, the great Burton-on-Trent brewer.  Yet, despite its tone of boosterism – to some extent a Victorian staple – considerable useful information was conveyed, both historically for the early development of IPA and technically on its production.

The writer recalled the time IPA was new in London, and described the odd effect it had on people not used to it.

In beer-historical terms there is something special about IPA as the modern, American-inspired example continues to show. IPA, unlike mass-market lager, never was commodified into blandness.*

With the passing of the great pale ale brewers of the 19th and 20th centuries and lager taking the majority of sales in the UK, one might think IPA would have passed into history. After all, porter and stout mostly did, Guinness a signal exception.

As the saying goes, there can be no double act – yet IPA proved it wrong.

The reason the phoenix has risen, though, is in many ways the obverse of what is stated in the 1863 article. Then, IPA was viewed as more temperate than brandy-and-water and double stout, tipples it partly displaced. Its strong bitterness was not liked initially but people accustomed to it, the drink gaining its spurs as a tonic, or quasi-medicine.

Today, IPA, whose average strength is about what it was in 1863, is sought out because it is stronger and more zesty than standard lager or cider especially in the UK.

Extracts of the 1863 article follow. Note: a “griffin” was a Briton newly arrived in India, a greenhorn we might say today.

In India, as may presently be shown, this delightful beverage has been known and appreciated since the early part of the century; but in England it was long considered with us a potation fit only for exportation, and had to work its way gradually and laboriously ere it could obtain favour. We well remember the first appearance of pale ale in the metropolis, when our beloved Sovereign was quite a newly-crowned Queen. People made wry faces at it at first, talked about gall and wormwood, and disparaged the new ‘Indian ale’, as it was called, as a nauseous potion, fit only for Indian ‘griffins’ with no palate, and Indian Judges of Sudder Adawiut with no livers.

Speedily, however, it was discovered that the sparkling, brightened decoction of malt, hops, and pure water known as pale ale was in verity the ‘cup that cheers and not inebriates’— that it did not stupefy or lead to congestion and heartburn like double stout— that it did not tend to vertigo and the endangerment of the centre of gravity like Scotch ale taken ‘so early in the morning’ — that it did not lower the system or impair the digestive organs like soda-water— that its alcoholic properties were sufficient for gentle stimulation but not for intoxication— that its medicinal qualities were manifold; and that in many cases its moderate consumption gave health to the invalid, and made healthy persons healthier. In process of time pale or bitter ale became a great fact.

It has been called the champagne of the middle classes; but it is ten times more palatable than bad champagne, and twice as wholesome as the very best. Pale ale, having made its mark, has continued year after year to increase in popularity. That popularity has now attained an amazing pitch. Everybody drinks pale ale, either in bottle or in draught. It refreshes the Royal Duke at his modest Horse Guards lunch — it consoles the subaltern pining in his hut amidst the desolate boredom of Aldershott — it is the solace of the commercial traveller, who is beginning to eschew those potent magnums of brown brandy and water of which the abuse is so pernicious. Pale ale relieves the dulness of a sea voyage. Pale ale is to be had at the refreshment-rooms of every railway station in the kingdom.

*I mean in its traditional forms of cask bitter and bottle-conditioned beer. Some keg, and bottled or canned, versions of pale ale did end as rather bland, but none of them became a world-important beer in the way of American Budweiser or Stella Artois, say.