Thursday, 26 February 2009

Another nail in that IPA myth

Thanks to reader Gary Gillman for helping me stumble across this one. I'm back to the "IPA was brewed strong so it could survive the journey to India" myth. It pisses me off so much every time I hear it repeated. I'm going to keep shouting the opposite until people start paying attention.

The following passage gives a very different reason for IPA being the strength it was:

"ALE, PALE OR BITTER; brewed chiefly for the Indian market and for other
tropical countries.—It is a light beverage, with much aroma, and, in consequence of the regulations regarding the malt duty, is commonly brewed from a wort of specific gravity 1055 or upwards; for no drawback is allowed by the Excise on the exportation of beer brewed from worts of a lower gravity than 1054. This impolitic interference with the operations of trade compels the manufacturer of bitter beer to employ wort of a much greater density than he otherwise would do; for beer made from wort of the specific gravity 1042 is not only better calculated to resist secondary fermentation and the other effects of a hot climate, but is also more pleasant and salubrious to the consumer. Under present circumstances the law expects the brewer of bitter beer to obtain four barrels of marketable beer from every quarter of malt he uses, which is just barely possible when the best malt of a good barley year is employed. . With every quarter of such malt 16lbs. of the best hops are used ; so that, if we assume the cost of malt at 60s. per quarter, and the best hops at 2s. per lb., we shall have, for the prime cost of each barrel of bitter beer—in malt, 15s.; in hops, 8s. ; together, 23s ; from which, on exportation, we must deduct the drawback of 5s. per barrel allowed by the Excise, which brings the prime cost down to 18s. per barrel, exclusive of the expense of manufacture, wear and tear of apparatus, capital invested in barrels, cooperage, &c., which constitute altogether a very formidable outlay. As, however, (his ale is sold as high as from 50s. to 65s. per barrel, there can be no doubt that the bitter ale trade has long been, and still continues, an exceedingly profitable speculation, though somewhat hazardous, from the liability of the article to undergo decomposition ere it finds a market."
"Ures' Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures and Mines" by Andrew Ure & Robert Hunt, 1867, Page 306

A word of explanation. "Drawback" was the money refunded to a brewer when beer was exported. The idea being that excise duty was only payable on beer consumed in the UK. It was a bit complicated in the period 1830-1880 because there was no tax as such on beer. It was the raw materials, malt and hops, which were taxed. Hence working out how much tax had been paid on a particular barrel of beer wasn't easy. So instead there was a simple flat-rate refund.

Anyway, what Ure is saying is that it made no financial sense for a brewer to export an IPA with a gravity lower than 1055, as he wouldn't get his 5 shillings a barrel back from the taxman. He implies that without this rule, the gravity of export IPA would have been lower.

I'm intrigued by his assertions that a Pale Ale with an OG of 1042 would survive the journey better and be more suited to the tropics.

Let's recap:
  1. IPA, at around 1060, was an ordinary strength beer
  2. it would have been weaker, but for the tax regime
  3. its gravity didn't help it survive the voyage
As I'm having trouble getting some people to listen, I'm going to continue shouting at you about the strength of IPA for some time yet.

20 comments:

Bill in Oregon said...

Great stuff Ron and thank you Gary for helping out. I think it's also interesting that there's an implication that weaker beers were prefered in the hot climate of India. ("More pleasant and salubrious to the consumer"), which makes perfect sense to me. A lower strength IPA with its high hopping rate would be incredibly refreshing in a hot climate (almost like a bitter tonic).

It's also incredibly interesting that brewers thought lower strength beers had much less chance of secondary fermentation and were more stable. I'd love to see more of this IPA myth debunking.

Ron Pattinson said...

Bill, glad someone other than me is enjoying this stuff.

This was a completely new line of reasoning for me, that IPA would have been weaker but for the tax.

Don't worry. There'll be a passing bit of IPA myth debunking tomorrow.

Tim said...

Bill, many of the tables Ron has posted show IPA with greater attenuation than other beers. I interpret this to mean that a beer with fewer residual sugars is less likely to spoil. I don't recall any mention that a lower ABV beer is better suited for the voyage.

Ron, this is a great find. I'm sure I will quote it next time I hear the IPA myth repeated.

Gary Gillman said...

All I can think of is that if 1042 or under, you could get almost full attenuation and therefore less extract was liable to be re-refermented wrongly (with wild yeast influence) on the voyage over. Result in ethanol content would be 5% ABV or more maybe which was a good strength for India. However, with the high OGs the law required to obtain duty drawback, you had to leave fermentable extract in the brew so as not to make it too strong for India. I recall in some materials Zythophile found and mentions in his books that the Indian market did not want a too-strong article. So indeed as you say Ron, the conventional wisdom about IPA seems the wrong way about...

Gary

MentalDental said...

This all seems very sensible. I mean would you want a heavy bodied 1090 beer when the temperature is 40C outside? No thanks! One of those new fangled light, refreshingly hoppy IPAs would be just the job, if you please.

The secondary fermentation stuff is quite interesting and I can see that a fully fermented out lighter beer might well be easier to handle in the equatorial/tropical situations a cask of IPA would find itself. A ship's hold full of rapidly fermenting beer in closed casks might have been quite exciting, don't you think?

Keep up the good work.

Matt said...

I think we've pretty much nailed the IPA myth but any idea how it originated? The 'porter was a mixture of three beers' myth clearly derives from a misreading of the Obadiah Poundage letter but the IPA one? I'd guess that it's origin is more recent, maybe a beer writer speculating on what pales ales were like in the 19th century.

Alan said...

What I don't understand about the myth of the IPA is why one of the reasons to send strong beer would be that it is a concentrate that could be watered down in India for the soldiers. Surely to god sending twice as much beer by sending concentrate would have made more money.

Lars Marius Garshol said...

Hmmmm. Maybe I'm confused, but I thought the myth was that it was the amount of hops that helped it survive the journey to India. Yes, the alcohol strength, too, but primarily the hops.

Anonymous said...

Ron,
as usual another thought provoking piece.Maybe you could collate all your thoughts on IPA and condense them down to an A4 side of paper. I will then place it next to the handpumps especially the Deuchars and wait for the ensuing enlightentment.
Best Wishes
Ben

Gary Gillman said...

The IPA aura as often understood by craft beer fans comes from three things taken as true IMO:

item: IPA was a strongly hopped beer, more strongly hopped than surviving English and North American examples in the pre-micro era. This part is true although I believe often it is not appreciated that on arrival in India the beers would have lost a lot of their bitterness. Many 1800's sources I have now read state that long storage/shipment degrade hop character and even Pete Brown's modern experiment showed this I believe. So those fierce U.S. IPAs and double IPAs may not really show what shipped IPA tasted like in the 1800's.

item: IPA was a high alcohol beer. This is driven I think from one source: Ballantine IPA as reported by Michael Jackson had in its prime a ABV over 7%. However,Ron has shown that IPA was often not notably strong. In the Ure discussion of pale ale or bitter beer he even states that domestic IPA was more "spirituous" and Ron has shown this too.

Item: IPAs were fairly dark because Ballantine IPA was, not light-colour like say Keith's IPA (a commercial type) is in Canada. Again this was proven wrong as e.g., the Loftus discussion on Ron's site shows, classic pale ale in the 1800's was light-coloured.

Gary

tbscotty68 said...

I'm with Lars; I have never heard anything regarding specific gravity of an IPA aiding in the survivability, only the high hop content.

Zak said...

Another very interesting nail.

As an aside, the drawback system is alive and well - it still happens today when beer is exported from the UK, and is still called drawback.

Having spent a year doing the paperwork for an import/export operation, the insane paper trail required to complete the process today is the main "drawback" [geddit!?!]

Lars Marius Garshol said...

Back when I used to believe the myth I believed the first two items that Gary posted. I don't think I've heard the third before.

Unlike tbscotty68, I had heard that the alcohol content would help IPA survive the journey, but that the hops were the main thing.

Ron Pattinson said...

The BeerAdvocate description of IPA mentions strength:

"First brewed in England and exported for the British troops in India during the late 1700s. To withstand the voyage, IPA's were basically tweaked Pale Ales that were, in comparison, much more malty, boasted a higher alcohol content and were well-hopped"

The usual argument against things like Greene King IPA is that "IPA should be a strong beer".

The BJCP says it's incorrect to call anything under 4% ABV IPA.

Ron Pattinson said...

Alan, you said "Surely to god sending twice as much beer by sending concentrate would have made more money.". But by doing that you'd also only get 5s drawback for the one rather than the 10s for two barrels.

Gary Gillman said...

On the point of darkness for IPA: having seen the craft beer renaissance in North America from its inception, it is my perception that intially and for some time, most IPAs were made amber or even darker. (Not quite all, e.g., Granite IPA in Canada was always light-coloured, but most IPAs were darkish and there seemed a break between pale ales and IPAs in this respect which in retrospect is not justified IMO). This trend has changed somewhat in recent years. People know the history better now.

Whence though this apprehension of full colour for IPA? I believe it derived from a famous early comment by Michael Jackson. He wrote that pale in Victorian times meant amber because the term should be understood in relation to very dark porters.

However, Michael was only partly right about that. Very pale malts existed always in English brewing. Combrune makes that clear for the 1700's for example. Nonethless sometimes pale was used to mean amber, even in Combrune this usage sometimes appear. So Jackson was not completely wrong. And the fact that Ballantine IPA, which I bought many times until its demise, was an amber beer (close to Bass in colour, which sometimes also was styled IPA), was an example of permissible variation since of course it had no ax to grind as it were. It's the same thing with e.g., the 5% ABV (export) Greene King IPA, or Wells IPA.

But there was a tendency in North America in my view to think that no IPA should be very light-coloured. Developments in beer and brewing history in the last 20 years have shown that not to be correct, however.

Gary

MentalDental said...

Also on the concentrated beer thing:

Didn't the IPA trade start because the East India Company ships were sailing to India largely unladen? If so, then reducing the bulk of the beer would not have been such an issue.

Matt said...

Reading Gary's comments, I think there may be a link between Michael Jackson's description of IPA and so-called 'southern English' brown ale, i.e. taking a still available brand and making it the template for the whole style - Ballantines with IPA (strong, hoppy) and Manns with 'southern English' brown ale (low abv, sweet, basically bottled mild) - and then coming up with a theory to make the history fit this('must have been strong and hoppy to reach the troops in India').

Felipe said...

Curious - How much of a role did the cuisine of the tropics have to play on this decision? Surely a hoppy IPA stood up better to spicy curry than a traditional bitter.

Ron Pattinson said...

Felipe, "traditional Bitter" didn't exist at the time. Bitter is a later development from IPA.

In my opinion, a strong Stout goes much better with spicy Asian food than anything else. Guinness FES is widely avaible in the tropics and my first choice to accompany curries.