1850 Advertisement for Abbott’s East India Pale Ale Sheds Light on Strength of Hodgson’s Pale Ale Sent To India
A number of statements from the 19th century suggest that Hodgson’s Pale Ale, an avatar of modern pale ale and IPA, was a strong beer. One appears in this 1890s economic survey of India, A Dictionary of the Economic Products of India: Linium to Oyster by Sir George Watt et al, stating the beer was “well-hopped and rather heavy”. In this context, heavy generally meant strong.
A second appears in 1840 in the Magazine Of Domestic Economy which contains an impressive and detailed chapter on porter-brewing. In that account, the uncredited author states Hodgson’s pale ale was “brewed of prodigious strength”. He also referred to its “low fermentation” and great attenuation. I think low fermentation cannot mean bottom-fermentation (lager process) but rather the high attenuation again.
It implies the product had a high original gravity and was fermented out to a low final gravity, lower than was usual for mild ale in particular. The dryness produced by the process assisted keeping the beer to destination: a rich, sweet beer was likely to “fret” or ferment uncontrollably in the days before pasteurization and end-to-end refrigeration.
But how strong in fact was Hodgson’s Pale Ale?
Hodgson’s, founded in Bromley-on-Bow, London, 1752, was exporting to India since the later-1700s. Its pale ale acquired a virtual lock on the India market until being unseated by competition notably from Bass, Allsopp, and Salt in the 1830s.
W.H. Roberts, in The Scottish Ale-Brewer and Practical Maltster, 2nd edition (1846) includes a table of India pale ales, see from p. 170. It includes ten leading exports to India. Roberts comes to an average of OG 1068, with domestic pales ales coming in six points under. There is also a group of yet weaker India beers, he says, for which less was charged.
Some researchers have concluded from this and other evidence that India beers were not generally >1070 OG.
For Victorian England, Martyn Cornell identified in 2010 a range of gravities for different beers, see his useful table. 1080-1095 is the range for EIPA, XXXXX, XXXK, and KKKK. EIPA, or East India Pale Ale (maybe sometimes Export India Pale Ale) was stronger than the pale ale/bitter beer/IPA norm of the 1800s, which was more around 1060 OG.
All IPA was originally a stocked beer in keeping with its October beer origins as explicated by Cornell in the early 2000s. Some continued to be long-stored into c.1900, often a year with the export process resulting in a beer 18 months or older when consumed in Asia or North America. The trip over would have allowed Brettanomyces yeast to consume some of the dextrin, making the beer even drier and a touch stronger. Long aging and shipping could increase a beer by 1% in abv.
Here, from Eltham Brewery in 1874, we see a range of pale ales and other beers. The pales for the purpose of this discussion are PA, IPA, and KIPA. All are indicated as “October”, meaning brewed in that ideal brewing season and aged for varying periods but usually over the winter at least.
The KIPA shown reflected the topmost-quality at 60s per 36-gallon barrel, or 30s for 18 gallons (kilderkin), and strength. That price was about the most expensive for pale ale in England in the 1800s. In OG, the KIPA was probably comparable to the range for EIPA seen elsewhere and variants sold at the same price, East India Pale Ale, that is. That meant an alcohol level of 8-9.5% abv. It would have varied depending on the time of storage, too.
If you look at this ad in the Medical Times from January 1850, not located by other commentators to our knowledge, Edwin Abbott, sole owner of the Bow Brewery founded by the first Hodgson, states that Hodgson Pale Ale is too expensive for daily use. He states that the price, “30s. the 18-gallon cask”, reflects its “body” (high original gravity, clearly) which is meant to keep the beer in conditions of high temperature and changes of climate. Therefore, he introduces to the English market a second pale ale at 18s. the 18-gallon cask, made like the original Pale Ale but lighter and at the price of ordinary family beer:
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.
At 30s. for 18 gallons, Hodgson’s Pale Ale was priced the same as Eltham’s KIPA and numerous other EIPAs and similar beers.
Indeed, Eltham’s XXXX Strong Ale was the same 60s. per barrel, or 30s. for 18 gallons. That XXXX was IMO an “ale” vs. a “beer”, as IPA always was, i.e., hopped much less but probably still aged, an old ale, hence its inclusion on the left side of the ad. Its ABV had to be the same 8-9% range as KIPA.
As Cornell’s chart shows, beers of the gravity range that took in EIPA were OG 1080-1095. That equated to at least 8%-9.5% abv but could go higher with long aging. These are always estimates because the degree of attenuation can affect the final numbers, but in general pale ale was well-fermented on the long voyage out. So if anything one should go higher in strength for the article when consumed, not lower.
A beer 24-27s. per 18-gallons was 5.5%-6-5% ABV in range, more the typical range for Victorian pale ale. Abbott’s 18-shilling beer, meant for summer use, was probably 4-5% abv.
In April 1850 Abbott was offering three descriptions of pale beer as this ad shows. Here, the prices are by the barrel and are 32, 42, and 60s. The 60 is the original (India) pale ale again. The others, if the 18-gallon price was exactly half (it may not have been), were at 16 and 21s., perhaps 4% (for summer) and 5% respectively. It’s three strength ranges which endure to the end of the 1800s for some breweries albeit the strong end took in relatively few beers as a group. Still, they are notable as survivals of the pale October tradition, as Hodgson’s original pale ale was.
Perhaps the two lower beers were 4% and 5% but I believe the 30s. flagstaff was at least 8%.
Consider also this ad from Chilcott’s Descriptive History of Bristol, published in 1849. Hodgson & Abbott’s India Ale was listed – Frederick Hodgson hadn’t retired yet. By the case of 12 pints, it fetched the highest price (4s. 6d.) sharing the honour with, lo, Bloxsome’s Strong October beer. 1700s accounts of October Beer brewing suggest an OG of c. 1100, this has been shown by numerous modern analyses. That Bloxsome October beer could not in my opinion have been 7% ABV, it had to be more, possibly 9% even if not 10-11% by 1849. It may have been a point higher than Hodgson’s because the quart price is higher, but that is not certain.
The cask price equivalent of the Bloxsome’s (the Hodgson’s was not given) is hard to tell because two October beers are offered in cask and the names don’t correspond exactly to the bottled beer. (I’m thinking the bottled may have been a blend of the two October casks). Could the 27s. cask have been 7% beer? It’s possible, and also possible the Hodgson’s was. But I don’t think so. Using the October name suggests to me something closer to the 1700s range for October beer was wanted than 7%. And Hodgson & Abbott’s India Ale was the same price for the case of pints.
And so, I think Hodgson’s Pale Ale, the beer which conquered India, was 8%+ ABV in England, probably reaching 9%+ with final attenuation after shipment. Some accounts from India likened the beer to wine; you find such language used in relation to IPA into the mid-1900s. Ballantine in New York was using it after the brewery re-started in 1933 (see Jess Kidden’s pages). 7% doesn’t do that IMO, it has to go a couple of points more to suggest an analogy to wine. And if it’s one thing the Raj administrators knew, it was wine, all types.
But now it’s 1850, in England. Apart from the high price, without long shipment to India that original Hodgson’s Pale Ale may have been too rich for ordinary drinking, without the body thinning out on the Indiamen ships, that is. Abbott clearly felt in any case it was time to introduce a new pale ale.
Taking all with all, the 1850 Abbott’s ad suggests that the Hodgson Pale Ale sent to India was:
a) brewed strong to help survive the high temperature and journey, and this from the mouth of the brewery itself; and
b) at least 8-9% ABV when brewed, probably higher at final destination.
Based on mid-1800s analyses I’ve seen including from the Lancet, and analyses of many pale ales from original records by Ron Pattinson, what Bass sent to India, Allsopp too, starting in the early 1800s, likely wasn’t as strong, more like 7% maximum on consumption. Perhaps this difference from Hodgson explained, or in part, their appeal, it’s hard to say. There are a number of statements in 1800s literature that beer for India was wanted “light” and not too strong. Hodgson’s Pale Ale, issuing from a country English heritage and suiting well enough the habits and appetites of early colonists in India, perhaps was too heady when something more equable showed up and life in the Raj was more civilized and settled.
Or maybe the Burton brewers convinced the India market their product was “better” when it really wasn’t. This kind of thing happens all the time in the beer world. I am speaking in relative terms here, I have nothing against Bass and had an excellent one the other day, in fact, brewed under license in Toronto and very credibly. This is the fizzy “keg” Bass, not a cask version.
Note re images: The second image above (of Eltham Brewery’s advertisement) was obtained from an online search I did some years ago with a link provided to me by Ron Pattinson. The third image is from Jess Kidden’s beer pages linked in the text. All images, where not in public domain, are the property of their lawful owner or duly authorized licensees. They are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.