Wednesday, 15 December 2010

IPA was not a strong beer

Ever get into an argument with a style nazi at a beer festival and not have any evidence at hand to prove them wrong? Then I've got just the thing for you.

When the annoying geek next to you starts bullshitting about how IPA was brewed especially strong to survive the journey to India, just point at your chest. And let my "IPA was not a strong beer" T-shirt do the arguing for you. You'll be free to continue drinking beer while your new friend drinks in the facts.

I'm getting myself one for christmas. Why not do yourself a favour and get one, too. You won't regret it.


Atj said...

Does that mean it was never a strong beer or just that there were no rules - cause you could just as soon as have IPA was not a weak beer t shirt as well, depending on what geek you wanted to annoy. Just thinking revenue stream...

Ron Pattinson said...

Atj, it was never a strong beer. And sometimes it was pretty weak, so no chance of a second T-shirt, sadly.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

Still confused Ron, what’s a 1060 OG, about 6%ish, isn’t it something that would be regarded as strong in the UK in your local boozer now, but then would it not have been regarded as not that strong in the 19th century? So are we looking at definitions of strong changing through the ages? Was it ever sent to India? See I’m still trying to think of new tshirts for you? ;-)

Ron Pattinson said...

Adrian, if you look carefully you'll see none of Bass's beers had a lower OG. Only the weakest Mild is also 1060. Now Bass No. 1, that was a strong beer.

I've plenty of similar T-shirt ideas. Maybe Porter and Stout next.

Craig said...

I don't think 6% ABV is all that high. Then or now.

I think the reality of the situation is that brewers (home or otherwise) like to think that historic IPAs were second only to Indy car fuel, in strength. This justification allows for the creation of 8, 9 and 10%+ ABVs, today, with "history's" blessing.

Rod said...

Yes - a t-shirt proving that Stout and Porter are the same thing. Not two different styles at all. And neither originates in Dublin.
I'll buy one XXL ( no, that's a size not a beer)

Gary Gillman said...

winosOnce again the strong IPA thing is a post-1978, largely American inference which derived IMO from Michael Jackson's influential writing on Ballantine IPA, which when made in Newark, NJ was 7.5% ABV. Later it dropped somewhat in strength but was always higher than the 4.8% ABV U.S. lager norm.

Ballantine IPA was being made before 1900 by Ballantine Brewing, and revived post-Prohibition. So it was likely 7.5% in the 1800's too. Also, it's brewer in the 1930's was a Scot who had brewed extensively in the U.K. Had he thought the 7.5% level was an oddity without tradition I doubt he'd have continued with it.

This IPA was a strong IPA and it was well-hopped too, around 60 IBUs. Some 1800's English IPA was rather strong, e.g. the KIPA (the "Eltham Ale") we discussed here some time ago from Eltham Brewery must have been 8% ABV at least.

It is evident that IPA being one of a range of bitter beers, some would be stronger than others and there would have been a range of qualities, in England and India.

Does this change any of Ron's excellent research? No, much of the IPA made including as sent to India was only 5-6% ABV, not all that strong at all. And those are valuable and original findings. But at the same time some IPA was strong and hoppy and such factors did assist stability on the voyage.

Factoring that even 6% ABV beer was at least 15% stronger than the U.S. beer norm circa-1978, I have no difficulty accepting as a potted statement that pale ale sent to India was strong and well-hopped to stand the voyage. The real story is far more complex, but for popular purposes in the U.S. that's not a bad summary.


Martyn Cornell said...

There's no doubt the standard strength of IPA in Britain in the second half of the 19th century was about 1060 OG or a teeny bit higher: I've looked at ads from – well, dozens, certainly, very possibly more than a hundred different Victorian brewers, and when they did an IPA it almost always sold at 1s 6d a gallon, which when you peg that against known prices and strengths of other beers, suggests almost incontrovertably something in the 1060s. Certainly hardly higher, if at all. Out of many dozens, I can think of only two or three IPAs I have seen that were more expensive than 1s 6d for a gallon and that weren't carrying a "top brand price premium" of the sort got away with by Bass and Allsopp (who charged 1s 8d a gallon, the same as Bass IPA, for their own "D" IPA - not to be confused with DIPA). It's not true, from the evidence I've seen, to say IPA was absolutely never at all a strong beer, but IPAs stronger than the 1060s were very rare indeed - rare enough to be (dare I use this expression?) "Not True To Style".

Rod said...

Ron ( and, indeed, Martyn) -

Purely for clarity, could I ask this -
You have proved that 19th century IPA had original gravities in the 1060 range, ie 5.5% - 6.0% ABV. Is there any truth, then, in the contention that IPA started out as a stronger, more heavily hopped, beer? (You can see why people would believe this) Was IPA originally based upon strong October Ale, and then got weaker, or was it always around 6% ABV?

As I say, not doubting anything that you've posted - if the myth is a myth, well...then it's a myth

Ron Pattinson said...

Rod, I've seen no evidence that IPA was ever stronger than 7% ABV.

The exact origins of IPA are a bit of a mystery. Anyone who tells you they know what Hodgson's beer was like in the 18th century is a liar.

I have plenty of analyses from 1839 onwards. None of them are over 7% ABV. And it's worth bearing in mind that gravities generally increased after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, peaking ion the 1840's. So I would expect the beers being exported to India between 1790 and 1830 were weaker than the ones I've seen analyses for.

For example, Whitbread Porter was 1051 in 1805 and 1064 in 1844.

I can't see why IPA would have been any different.