The Juicy History Behind IPA Beer

The IPA is the most popular style of the modern American craft beer movement and its reign over the country’s bar scene appears to have no end in sight. “Hoppy,” “juicy,” “fruity” and “hazy” are what most of us crave when we belly up to the bar, but few of us know the real story behind the beloved brew in our glass.

Popular myth claims 19th century English brewer George Hodgson of East London invented the IPA by adding more hops to his beer to preserve it over the long sea voyage to India. This journey to the east is the inspiration behind the name India Pale Ale. Once the beer arrived, it was enjoyed by British army members stationed during their Empire’s occupancy—but that’s the lazy drinker’s version of the ale’s intricate backstory.

Cause We Go Way Back

Pale ales have been around since the 17th century with intensely hopped varieties known to exist since at least the 1760s, when British brewers were advised to overly hop their beers slated for export to any warm climate. Hodgson worked for Bow Brewery in eastern London and used its close proximity to the East India Shipping Company’s dock to his advantage. Thanks to him, Bow became one of the biggest exporters of IPA, but other breweries in London and from elsewhere around England shipped out extra-hopped beer to both East and West India.

These exported brews were hopped more and more over the next half century but were specifically for exportation, prompting British W.A. Brown Imperial Brewery to advertise “pale ale prepared for the East and West India climate” in 1817. Finally, in 1835, the Liverpool Mercury referred to the style as “India Pale Ale,” and the term has stuck for nearly two centuries.

Fade Away

While enjoyed by British civil servants and European aristocrats in India, hoppy IPAs didn’t catch on at home in England or much elsewhere abroad. Czech pilsner came up at the same time and was certainly the international crowd favorite, though an IPA was brewed by Ballantine in Newark, New Jersey starting around 1880 for over 100 years when it was discontinued in 1996 (and rebooted in 2014). Hindered further by the Temperance Movement in the UK and Prohibition in the US, the IPA slipped into brewing obscurity.

The Comeback Kid

Fast-forward to America in the 1970s and the beginning of a microbrewery movement that unearthed forgotten styles and methods. West Coast brewers like Anchor Steam and Yakima begin turning out IPAs made with newly developed American grown hops, setting them apart from the massive breweries of the East Coast and Midwest. As a greater number of smaller brewers propagated throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s more IPAs entered the market relying heavily on the Cascade hop introduced in 1972. Then, in 2009, the Citra hop was released and changed the game forever by pivoting the flavor profile of IPAs to juicy and fruity. After that, all bets were off.

Almost a decade later, you’ll find double and triple strains of the brew (IIPA and IIIPA, respectively), sour IPAs, saison IPAs, milkshake IPAs—the list goes on and on. American beer makers continue to riff on the style to set themselves apart from the rest of the international beer community as well as each other, gifting us refreshing reasons to lift our glasses in appreciation.