India Pale ale – an Amazing Double act

In 1863, an Adelaide, South Australia newspaper had an article on India Pale Ale, a reprint from the Illustrated London News.

The article was a seeming advertorial on Allsopp, the great Burton-on-Trent brewer. Despite the undertone of boosterism considerable technical information is conveyed. There is also an appealing personal quality in that the writer recalls the time IPA was new in London, and describes the odd effect it had on people not used to it.

There is something special about IPA in this regard, as its modern American-inspired iteration continues to show. IPA, unlike mass-market lager, never was commodified into blandness. Even traditional English bitter retains the essence of what made IPA distinctive to begin with.

One might think that with the passing of the great pale ale brewers of the 19th and 20th centuries, IPA is an item of largely historical interest, as say Imperial Stout. Or in other words that, as the saying goes, there can be no double act.

IPA has proved the adage wrong. The reason the phoenix has risen is in many ways, though, the obverse of what the English writer explained in 1863. Then, IPA was viewed as a more temperate drink than brandy-and-water and double stout, tipples it partly displaced. Its strong bitterness was not liked initially but people accustomed to it and viewed the drink finally 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 the default lager or (in UK) cider.

Some impactful extracts from the article follow. Incidentally a “griffin” was a Briton newly arrived in India, what we would call a greenhorn 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.