Some IPA History is Illuminated


Back in 2009, pursuing references to India Pale Ale in British journals online, I came upon a story from 1870 by a writer, “Meunier” (likely a pseudonym). He wrote that the ship Crusader sank in the sea off Blackpool, England and a cargo of India Pale Ale was sold as salvage in Liverpool, thus creating the demand for IPA in England. I mentioned Meunier’s account in a comment I made in 200to a post of Ron Pattinson on his beer blog.  

The beer style, IPA, had gained renown in British India as an export initially from London. It was a pale beer, circa 6% ABV, very well-hopped, sent by a brewer called Hodgson to Bombay and other ports.* British administrators and other servants of Empire in India enjoyed the beer with food and in clubs. Hodgson’s trade was later supplemented, and finally replaced, by that of the great brewers of Burton-on-Trent, notably Bass and Allsopp, also Salt, who perfected this form of beer.

For decades, I and many beer fans had read the story of an India-bound ship that had sunk after leaving port in England, with part of the beer cargo (IPA) being saved and sold in Liverpool, thus creating demand in England for a beer previously not consumed there, but only in far-away India. The story originated in an 1869 history of brewing in Burton-on-Trent by William Molyneux.

He wrote that India Pale Ale was not consumed in England until a ship carrying it as cargo, departing from England, wrecked in the Irish Channel in 1827 and some of the beer was sold off in Liverpool. He didn’t state the name of the ship. No trace of such a foundering and sale of beer rescued from the Irish Channel could be found, however, and some considered his story a romantic account, not a historical one.

This is my 2009 comment:

Ron, it is interesting to compare these 1909 pale ale references to comments I found yesterday in a 1871 [sic] scientific journal:

Two people answered a question of a T. O’Brien as to how bitter ale is made.  

“Meunier”, possibly a nom de plume, stated he worked in the beer export trade in London some decades before. He gives a figure of 1066 OG for bitter beer, 1012 at final, with pounds per barrel dropping to 4 from 24 in attenuation. Clearly this was the top quality. Possibly (by 1871 [sic]) he was referring to Burton production. He stated the beer fined of itself. This is a reference I believe to the gypsum in Burton water which promoted rapid clarification.

Meunier refers to the story often heard of a ship foundering off England and bitter ale becoming popular in England after. But he gives interesting details. He states the approximate year as 1839. He states the name of the ship, The Crusader. Internet research quickly confirmed a ship of that name did founder off Black Pool near Preston in 1839, captained it appears by a Wickman, I believe R.G. Wickman. It was outbound to Bombay from Liverpool:

I could not find any further reference to beer being sold by underwriters or publicans in Liverpool, however. Wikipedia states that the ship was carrying silk and refers to looting of the vessel by some people from Marton, but again no reference to beer.  

Some India beer was sold at auction before 1839 in London (Zythophile gives good information on this in his website). But this doesn’t mean this foundering event did not occur and have some influence. The detail given by Meunier and his asserted background in the beer business suggests to me there is something behind the story. I wonder if there is some way to find out what the full cargo was of The Crusader and what happened to it. I found also the date of the foundering, January 8, 1839. There had been a terrible storm in the area, a hurricane, and numerous ships foundered or were lost.  …. “.

Meunier’s account of 1870 (my references to 1871 were a typo), is here, and for the second link, and details of the Crusader and Captain Wickman, see here.

As I stated, I couldn’t find any evidence the ship carried beer or beer was sold in Liverpool from its salvage, and had to leave the matter at that.

As my comment also shows, I still felt there might be something to Meunier’s story. When you live, as I do, by a body of great water used, now or formerly, for navigation, you know that hundreds if not thousands of boats came to grief in the days weather could not be accurately gauged. Along the Great Lakes in certain areas, e.g., off parts of Prince Edward County, Ontario, hundreds of wrecks lie in waters offshore.

Beer was a common cargo from England out to the Indies and other distant parts in the mid-1800’s. It seemed likely to me casks of beer were probably not an infrequent salvage item sold in local towns to help offset the insurance underwriters’ payout. It makes sense that quick local sale was a recourse. The beer would have sometimes been damaged by seawater, for example: that and other practicalities would have suggested a “fire sale” to off-load the goods, so to speak.

Nonetheless, I could not establish that the Crusader actually had carried any beer, so to me at that time, the story of Meunier seemed either a dead end or at worst, a tall tale, another romantic account to add to Molyneux’.

Recently however, Zythophile, English beer writer Martyn Cornell, discovered that the Crusader did carry a beer cargo, and not just that, of ale from Burton bound for India, and that casks of it were sold in Liverpool pursuant to public sale. His detailed account is here.

And so, Molyneux, and Meunier, were right about a sea wreck off the English coast and sale of beer in Liverpool as salvage even though the former got the date wrong. He wrote that the wreck occurred in 1827 when, in fact, it occurred in 1839. The mid-1820s was a time when a theory of domestic introduction of IPA by a sale of salvage made more sense than for 1839. More sense because IPA was already being sold in London and elsewhere in England – even Liverpool –  for years before 1839, as researchers have found, see e.g. Alan Pryor’s account, at pp 13-17.

In 1827 though, India Pale Ale was virtually unknown in English domestic commerce. I am starting to think that Molyneux gilded the lily to make his account of India Pale Ale more attractive. Perhaps Meunier’s account in 1870 was a mild correcting of the record as, in his supposed corroboration (and extending) of the foundation story for IPA in England, he employs the qualifying words, “I believe”, showing doubt whether the Crusader was really responsible for introducing India Pale Ale to the English beer market.

It’s nice to know anyway that my thinking of six years back was on the right track, albeit I didn’t find a key part of the puzzle.

The Crusader, while it never completed its last voyage, nonetheless finally sailed into another kind of port: that of English beer history.


*Note added April 3, 2018: My later research suggests Hodgson’s beer was likely considerably stronger than 6% abv. See here.