This may seem like an obvious discussion point, but it's surprising how often here at YCB we get asked what IPA stands for, and why is it called an India Pale Ale? As with many things, the answer is quite obvious, but it is an interesting story to tell and one which stems back many years.
As Britain's empire expanded to far-reaching places across the globe, those people who were emigrating or working/fighting for the country, wanted some home comforts whilst doing so. This included beer! The only problem was, though, how do you keep it fresh and stop it from spoiling? At the time, during the 19th Century, the only means of transport was by boat, which was a time-consuming exercise, with voyages lasting up to six months subject to the destination. This included India.
At this time, England had a reputation particularly for dark beers such as Stouts and Porters, which were produced in London. Pale beers were being brewed at this time, but they weren't renowned like IPA was about to become. Experimentation began with pale beers being sent to India and beyond, but the beers wouldn't survive the journey. They would become spoiled, infected or barrels would even erupt before making it to their final destination.
This was until it was discovered that hops not only added flavour and aroma to beer, but it also preserved it too. This along with a slightly elevated ABV, upwards of 6%, was where India Pale Ale, or IPA for short, was born. Those who wanted English beer in India, rather than the spirit Arrack, found themselves surrounded by breweries competing to dominate the market, with regular supplies being shipped. The beers were reportedly bracingly bitter (similar to today’s West Coast IPA) and could withstand humid temperatures of foreign climates, and also a rough voyage across the seas.
But, once our empire began to shrink, so did the demand for IPA, and the style almost died off. During and after both World Wars, IPAs became diluted and reduced in strength, becoming more like Pale Ales of before. Soon Pales, Bitters and eventually Lagers dominated the market, meaning the IPA was nearly resigned to the history books. So whilst the IPA of today might never see the shores of India, its name represents part of our history and culture that has thankfully been revived as part of the craft beer boom.