Beer and the Great British Empire: How IPA Got Its Name
Nothing evokes memories of the British Empire, that land on which the sun never sets, more than India. Spices, jewels and textiles made India the jewel in the crown for the Great British Empire. However, Britain also relied on India’s huge population to form the backbone of British military power.
So how to keep these men, far away from home and family, in good spirits and motivated to keep the wheels of Empire turning?
Well, beer of course! Specifically what came to be known as India pale ale (IPA).
The challenge came in logistics. How could beer be supplied to the Empire in the far East that would survive many months at sea and still arrive in India in good condition?
As early as the 1780s, a brewer called Hodgson of the Bow Brewery created a heavily hopped beer called October ale that had the characteristic of ageing and improving like wine before drinking, perfect for the long journey to the East. This became the forerunner of IPA.
Larger players such as Bass of Burton-upon -Trent took up the challenge and began to produce a pale, well-hopped beer that had a refreshing taste, suiting the Indian climate.
The secret to the Burton brewers’ success came from the water quality of the River Trent. The presence of gypsum in the water allowed the Bass brewers to far exceed Hodgson’s India Ale in clarity, hopping rate, and commercial viability.
Another crucial factor for successful export was the development of rail links to the mighty port of Liverpool. Speedy transport made the Burton brewers - Bass, Salt and Allsopp - successful exporters of IPA.
However, the success of IPA and the dominance of the Burton brewers was relatively short lived. Other drinks came along to challenge its hot-climate stronghold. Tonic water, which became available in 1858, went nicely with gin with the added bonus that the quinine it contained warded off malaria.
The growing availability of ice made brandy and soda a more acceptable drink for the tropics. Most damagingly, in the late 19th century, industrial refrigeration made it possible to brew beers year round and to make more beers of the crisp, light lager style popular in Germany and Bohemia. In the tropics, a beer that was refreshing when cold and could be brewed nearby had a lot going for it. Much like sipping an ice cold craft beer on a hot summer day!