Article

Brewing British IPA

BritIPA insideWe all know what we mean by “British” IPA don’t we? It was a pale, relatively low-alcohol, highly-hopped beer that the thirsty soldiers of the British Army in India relished in the hot climate of the sub-continent. It was first exported to India for the Army around 1790 by George Hodgson, a brewer from Bow in East London. Hodgson was the first to have the idea that a high hop-rate would help to preserve the beer during the several months voyage to India, and brewed such a beer especially for export to India. His idea was later taken on by the brewers of Burton on Trent, notably Bass, which became England’s largest brewer on the back of IPA.

In fact, the above is mostly untrue, starting with the fact that there was no British Army in India at that time. What troops there were in India were those of the East India Company, and were mostly Indian natives. The Company was essentially a joint stock company independent of the British Government. It began purely as a trading company but came to effectively rule India, both militarily and administratively after 1754. Consequently the Company had large numbers of civilian employees, and it was generally these administrators who drank Hodgson’s pale ale. They and any expatriate company troops also drank porter, a good deal of it from Hodgson, but it also came from other brewers.

Obviously, a non-existent British army was not buying Hodgson’s beer (or anybody else’s), but neither was the East India Company. In fact, the beer was bought in London by the captains of the Company’s ships who re-sold it to the Indian civilian market. It was in fact a private business run “on the side” by the captains for their own (and not the Company’s) profit. An important reason for them taking Hodgson’s beer was that his brewery lay within a mile or two of the moorings for the Company’s ships. A second important reason was that Hodgson gave the captains long lines of credit, as much as a year or more.

There is evidence that Hodgson was not the first to ship pale ale to India and that another unknown brewer sent such beer there a few years before Hodgson got in on the act. And none of this pale ale was “relatively low in alcohol,” for it was actually October ale, a strong brew perhaps as high as 10-12% ABV. As such it may not have been as highly-hopped as IPA came to be in the 19th century. In any case Hodgson was not the first brewer to realize that high hop rates would help to preserve the beer on long sea voyages. In fact that idea goes right back to the days when hops were first introduced to England and brewers found that hopped beer kept better than unhopped ale. Even as late as the 20th century hops were rated with a “preservative value” determined by a formula involving both alpha- and beta-acids.

Eventually Hodgson’s son Frederick and a partner were running the brewery and they decided to end the long-standing credit arrangements with the East India Company captains, selling to them only for cash, and began shipping beer directly to India themselves. They also tried to prevent merchants in India from importing beer from other brewers by simply dropping their prices whenever they were threatened. Needless to say this upset quite a few people, and in 1822 Campbell Marjoribanks (pronounced “Marchbanks” as only the English would) approached the Burton brewer Samuel Allsopp and gave him a sample of Hodgson’s pale ale. Marjoribanks told him they wanted to be free of Hodgson and persuaded Allsopp that there was a good export trade to India if he was interested in brewing something similar.

The Burton brewers’ main market had been to Russia but that country had recently imposed severe tariffs on such imports, removing that source of income from the brewers. So Allsopp was very interested in what Marjoribanks had told him, and set about matching Hodgson’s brew on his return to Burton. It has been reported that the first successful brew made by Allsopp’s brewer, Job Goodhead, was made in a teapot; however, that report came out long after the event and may well be apocryphal. It amazes me how many myths have grown up around beer — a tour guide at one of our larger craft breweries in the Northeast once told me that porter was named after the railway porters who delivered it. What’s more he was reluctant to listen to me when I pointed out that porter became popular about a hundred years before railways began to be built in Britain!

The important point about Mr. Goodhead’s work was that the Burton water contained high levels of calcium and sulfate ions and was much more suited to the brewing of pale ales than was London water which was high in bicarbonate ions. In the next year after Marjoribanks’ approach to Allsopp the latter sent a shipment of his new pale ale to India. It was apparently received with acclaim, so much so that other Burton brewers were very quick to come up with their own pale ales, with Bass brewing its first version in 1823. For the record, it has been reported that the Edinburgh-Leith brewery in Scotland had actually made an “IPA” rather earlier in 1820. One type of Edinburgh water bore some similarities to that of Burton so it is not surprising that Scottish pale ales were of similar quality to those from Burton, and that Edinburgh brewers produced such ales in some volume as the 19th century wore on.

Nevertheless, it was the Burton brewers, particularly Bass, who came to dominate the trade to India. They also achieved success in selling their pale ales and, later, IPAs in England itself. They were helped by external factors, notably that from the 1830s onwards a network of railways was built in England, so that beer could readily be exported from Burton all over the country. But the public’s taste was also changing, drifting away from dark porters and stouts and towards paler beers. Dark beers were in a terminal decline, although the decline was very gradual for in 1839 Bass was still producing porter as well as pale ale. Another factor was the growth of a middle class with disposable income who could afford the more expensive imported Burton pale ales over those produced locally and therefore more cheaply. Also drinking glasses, which showed pale ales to good effect, were becoming popular thanks to a removal of a tax on glasses in 1840.

An internal factor which helped the Burton brewers was the development of the Burton Union system. This consisted of very large wooden casks, fitted with attemperators, or cooling coils, and swan neck tubes in the bung holes of the casks. This allowed the fermenting beer to froth out into a collecting trough where the yeast would separate from the beer and the latter could be returned to the casks. The importance of this was that the brewers could use powdery, non-flocculent yeast and achieve high attenuation of the beer, thus making it more stable and unlikely to re-ferment when it had to be shipped over long distances. The outcome of all this is that Bass became the biggest brewer in England later in the century.

Burton IPA became the classic IPA and was exported all over the world, including to the USA. But its very success meant that other British brewers wanted to emulate it, and we have already seen that Edinburgh brewers did exactly that. But other brewers all over the country also made their own versions, some of which may well have been of poor quality for lack of suitable water. But as the 19th century wore on brewing chemists came to understand the importance of using the right kind of water, and how to adjust their supplies to match the quality of Burton water. So soon virtually every brewer in the land had his own pale ale. There was also a trend to making lower strength versions, such as dinner ales, leading to the emergence of bitter ales, which are now the most common form of ale in Britain.

This brings us into the 20th century when beer strengths went into a steady decline. At the beginning of the century the average alcohol content was 5-6% ABV; by the end it had fallen to around 3.7–3.8%. Some of that was due to changes in drinking habits, but an important factor was that of taxation. For over a century British beer taxed after 1880 was based on the original gravity of the wort and was due when the gravity was measured and not when the beer was sold, which was almost a double tax! Throughout the century beer tax steadily increased, with huge surges in the two World Wars. It is now based on ABV, and there is a reduction for small brewers (below 60,000 barrels), but still excise duty remains a burden on British brewers, and it was recently calculated that they pay 40% of the total beer tax in the European Union.

What has that to do with IPA in Britain? Well, as I said earlier the tax pushed brewers to reduce their original gravities and ABV levels, leading most of them to produce nothing but low-alcohol session beers. Although not in many ways a bad thing, it did mean that “classical” IPAs more or less disappeared in Britain. But the IPA name did not, and some brewers kept it for beers at half the strength of 19th century IPAs. The best-selling cask-conditioned beer in Britain is Greene King’s IPA, weighing in at just 3.7% ABV, and not the strongest pale beer on their list. Some would argue that these beers are not IPAs in any sense, but rather just regular bitter ales. Others might say that whatever a brewer calls his beer that is what it is. I used to think that such beers should not be called IPA, but have come round to the idea that we cannot ignore them if they are popular with drinkers, so perhaps it is best to look on them as another class of IPA, separate from the original forms. And remember that the “classical” IPAs were never a defined style, and were by no means always brewed from traditional English malt and hops, such as Goldings. Bass, in the 19th century, often used imported malt and hops, including American hops, so their IPA offering could hardly be termed “traditional.”

There have been other changes in British IPAs, notably the use of caramel malts, which were first produced only in the late 19th century. Their value in IPAs is to add some body and slight sweetness, so that it is possible to still use a relatively high hopping rate without making the beer thin and unbalanced. Other changes came with the craft brewing revolutions in Britain and the USA. Perhaps inspired by the American craft brewers wholesale love affair with IPA, some British brewers moved to create or revive their own versions. Some indeed have done so using American citrus-type hops, while others have been more traditional. But the interesting thing is that few have brewed their new IPAs to anything like the alcohol level of their 19th century predecessors. In fact, they have mostly brewed these new beers at around 5-5.5% ABV, such as Fuller’s Bengal Lancer at 5.0% ABV. And that to me gives us yet another class of British IPA, so that there are now three in all.

There were other changes on the British brewing scene through the 20th and into the 21st century. Mostly these had to do with brewery amalgamations as the larger companies grew by buying up the smaller ones, mainly to get their hands on their “tied houses” (pubs owned by the brewer and in which only that brewer’s beer was sold). The result of this is that there is now only one British brewer in Burton, Marston’s. Apart from a few small craft brewers the others in the town are now owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev (Belgium/USA) and Miller Coors (South Africa/USA). Bass as a company has disappeared, and I am presently drinking a Bass Pale Ale brewed by AB InBev in the USA.

Defining and Brewing British IPAs

The Brits have no body or institution which defines beer styles, and as discussed earlier it is clear that they have very loose ideas as to what constitutes a British IPA and that the IPA style has been something of a moving target. Therefore, I am not going to give precise definitions in the style of the Beer Judge Certification Program, but rather just some loose guidelines along with the example recipes on pages 90–92.

Traditional or classic IPA, by which I mean IPA, roughly according to the Burton IPAs of the 19th century, were actually quite simple beers, based only on pale malt. Actual analyses of beers of that time indicate OG of 1.065–1.070 (15.9–17.1 °P), with finishing gravities around 1.008-1.012 (2-3 °P), giving 7-7.5% ABV. As to hop rates we do know that these were high at 3–5 lbs./barrel or 6-9 oz./5 US gallons. What we do not know is what varieties of hops were used — Goldings were probably a favorite, but Bass for one is known to have used some American hops. We do not know the condition of the hops, as they were stored without refrigeration, and might well have been very low in alpha-acid when used. However, educated guesses suggest that these beers had IBU levels of 70 to as much as 100+. They were generally dry-hopped in the cask for both aroma and preservative purposes, but again we do not know just how effective this procedure was for producing aromatic character, as much of the hop oils could have been lost in storage.

I have given a recipe for IPA in this article (starting on page 90) taken from an 1868 publication, which is simply a collection of recipes that gives a beer fitting the above description. The brewer, George Amsinck, was apparently working in London, not Burton, but his recipes are very detailed (a rarity at that time!) and easily capable of conversion to homebrewing. But the beers described above are very highly attenuated (over 80%) and therefore very dry which would accentuate the already high hop bitterness, and in my view would taste somewhat thin. I have therefore given recipes for my classic IPA in which I have gone for “only” 70 IBU and have added some crystal and amber malt just to beef up the body. For the Amsinck recipe I have stuck to East Kent Goldings as he did, but my “classic” uses a mixture of Goldings, Fuggles, and Styrian Goldings which is a more modern interpretation of the style. In each case dry-hopping in the secondary with one or more of the latter three varieties is a must. I have opted for Whitbread yeasts rather than a Burton strain, since the latter is less easy to find and in my experience it is difficult to handle in a normal homebrew setup.

Modern British IPA (recipe below) is my obvious term for the “revival” products offered by several British commercial brewers. We would call these pale ales, but I’m sticking to the attitude of “it is what the brewer says it is.” These come in at around 1.050–1.055 (12.4–13.6 °P), finishing at around 1.010-1.012 (2.6-3.1 °P), and about 5-5.7% ABV. Hop levels are lower than for classic IPAs at 40-50 IBU, using English Goldings and Fuggles for aroma, and higher alpha-acid varieties such as Target or First Gold for bittering. Again dry-hopping is important, and preferably done with Goldings or Fuggles. One or two British brewers do use citrus character US hops, so that gives you some room to work in if you want to use Cascade, Centennial, Citra®, and so on.

Ideally these should be brewed from English 2-row pale malts, such as Maris Otter or Golden Promise, although US 2-row pale malts still work well, and you could even use a Pilsner malt if you wanted a very pale version of this beer. British brewers are fond of crystal malts, and a small amount (about 5% on total malt) of a low-color crystal (20-40 °L) does add a little palate fullness to this type of beer. The choice of yeast is wide and almost any English strain will give good results, so long as it gives good attenuation (70% or better). Keep the fermentation below 70 °F (21 °C) as esters are not wanted in this beer which should have a “clean palate.”

Very Small Modern IPA (recipe below) is the unglamorous title I have picked for the third British IPA category. For me the OG for this type of beer should be around 1.036–1.038 (9-9.5 °P), although this is not written in stone. The finishing gravity should be no lower than 1.009 (2.3 °P) so the beer will be around 3.5–3.7% ABV. Bitterness levels should be around 25–30 IBU, and I have opted in the recipes for bittering with Fuggles and Target and First Gold for late- and dry-hopping respectively. But you can use any English hop you want for any of these purposes, including Progress and even the high alpha-acid Admiral varieties. I do not see this as a beer where you would want to use a US citrus hop.

Base malt choices are much the same as for Modern British IPA, although again Maris Otter would be my first choice. You also need a slightly higher level of light crystal malt at about 8–10% of the grist just to give that little extra bit of body to what is quite a light beer. Almost any yeast strain labelled “London” or “English Ale” will do, so long as they are not highly attenuating. Keeping fermentation temperature near to 65 °F (18 °C) will help avoid over-attenuation and keep the beer’s palate clean. Lastly, don’t expect too much from this beer, it’s a session ale meant for no more than pleasant drinking.

Recipes

1868 East India Pale Ale

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.067 FG = 1.015
IBU = 100+ SRM = 6 ABV = 7.1%

Ingredients

14 lbs. (6.4 kg) Maris Otter pale ale malt
51 AAU UK Goldings hops (90 min.) (10.25 oz./0.29 kg at 5% alpha acids)
3 oz. (85 g) UK Goldings hops (dry hop)
White Labs WLP017 (Whitbread Ale) or Wyeast 1099 (Whitbread Ale) or Safale S-04 yeast
2⁄3 cup corn sugar (if priming)

Step by Step

Mash grains with hot water (1.2 qts./lb.) at 150–152 °F (66–67 °C) for 1 hour. Run off and sparge to collect about 6 gallons (23 L) of wort. Bring to a boil and add the bittering hops, boil 90 minutes. Cool to 65–70 °F (18–21 °C) and pitch with yeast, preferably two packs prepared previously as two 1-qt. (1-L) starters. Ferment 5 days, rack to secondary and add the dry hops in a sanitized weighted muslin bag. After 1–2 weeks rack to keg or bottle and prime or carbonate in the usual way.

*This is a lot of hops, which will likely result in loss of wort in the residue when racked. I have used Goldings for this to follow the original as closely as possible. However, it is more practical to replace these with 29 AAU Progress hops (3.6 oz./102 g at 8% alpha acids).

Extract Version:

Simply replace the pale malt in the recipe with 9.3 lbs. (4.2 kg) Maris Otter liquid malt extract. Boil for only 60 minutes — the shorter boil will not materially affect the actual IBU since the figure quoted above is merely a calculation and is probably higher than the actual solubility of iso-alpha-acids. As above, you may find it more practical to replace the Goldings bittering hops with 29 AAU Progress hops (3.6 oz./102 g at 8% alpha acids).

Modern British IPA

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.056 FG = 1.012
IBU = 45 SRM = 8 ABV = 5.9%

Ingredients

11 lbs. (5 kg) Golden PromiseTM pale ale malt
0.75 lb. (0.34 kg) Bairds Carastan malt (35 °L)
12 AAU Target hops (90 min.) (1.5 oz./43 g at 8% alpha acids)
1 oz. (28 g) UK Fuggles (dry hop)
1 oz. (28 g) UK Goldings hops (dry hop)
Wyeast 1098 (British Ale) or White Labs WLP007 (Dry English Ale) or Lallemand Nottingham yeast
2⁄3 cup corn sugar (if priming)

Step by Step

Mash grains with hot water (1.2 qts./lb.) at 149–151 °F (65–66.1 °C) for 1 hour. Run off and sparge to collect about 6 gallons (23 L) of wort. Bring to a boil and add the bittering hops, boil 90 minutes. Cool to 65–70 °F (18–21 °C) and pitch the yeast, preferably prepared previously as a 1-qt. (1-L) starter. Ferment 5 days, rack to secondary and add the dry hops in a sanitized weighted muslin bag. After 1–2 weeks, rack to keg or bottle and prime or carbonate in the usual way.

Modern British IPA

(5 gallons/19 L, extract with grains)
OG = 1.056 FG = 1.012
IBU = 45 SRM = 8 ABV = 5.9%

Ingredients

7 lbs. (3.2 kg) Maris Otter liquid malt extract
0.6 lb. (0.27 kg) pale dried malt extract
0.75 lb. (0.34 kg) Bairds Carastan malt (35 °L)
12 AAU Target hops (90 min.) (1.5 oz./43 g at 8% alpha acids)
1 oz. (28 g) UK Fuggles (dry hop)
1 oz. (28 g) UK Goldings hops (dry hop)
Wyeast 1098 (British Ale) or White Labs WLP007 (Dry English Ale) or Lallemand Nottingham yeast
2⁄3 cup corn sugar (if priming)

Step by Step

Place grains in a muslin bag and steep for 15–20 minutes in 2 qts. (2 L) hot water at about 150 °F (65 °C). Run off into boiler and rinse grains with 2 qts. (2 L) of hot water, and carefully dissolve extract in this liquor. The recipe is for a full 5-gallon (19-L) boil; if you use a smaller volume increase the bittering hops proportionately. Boil 60 minutes, cool to 65–70 °F (18–21 °C), and pitch with yeast, preferably prepared previously as a 1-qt. (1-L) starter. Ferment 5 days, rack to secondary and add the dry hops in a sanitized weighted muslin bag. After 1–2 weeks, rack to keg or bottle and prime or carbonate in the usual way.

Very Small Modern IPA

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.037 FG = 1.009
IBU = 27 SRM = 7 ABV = 3.6%

Ingredients

7 lbs. (3.2 kg) Maris Otter pale ale malt
0.75 lb. (0.34 kg) Bairds Carastan malt (35 °L)
4 AAU UK Fuggles hops (90 min.) (1 oz./28 g at 4% alpha acids)
8 AAU UK Target hops (0 min.) (1 oz./28 g at 8% alpha acids)
1 oz. (28 g) First Gold hops (dry hop)
Wyeast 1028 (London Ale) or White Labs WLP002 (English Ale) yeast
2⁄3 cup corn sugar (if priming)

Step by Step

Mash grains with hot water (1.2 qts./lb.) at 152–154 °F (67–68 °C) for 1 hour. Run off and sparge to collect about 6 gallons (23 L) of wort. Bring to a boil, add the Fuggles bittering hops, boil 90 minutes then add the Target hops and let sit 30 min. Cool to 65–70 °F (18–21 °C) and pitch with yeast, preferably prepared previously as a 1-qt. (1-L) starter. Ferment 5 days, rack to secondary and add the First Gold dry hops in a sanitized weighted muslin bag. After 1–2 weeks, rack to keg or bottle and prime or carbonate.

Very Small Modern IPA

(5 gallons/19 L, extract with grains)
OG = 1.037 FG = 1.009
IBU = 27 SRM = 7 ABV = 3.6%

Ingredients

4 lbs. (1.8 kg) Maris Otter liquid malt extract
0.5 lb. (0.23 kg) pale dried malt extract
0.75 lb. (0.34 kg) Bairds Carastan malt (35 °L)
4 AAU UK Fuggles hops (90 min.) (1 oz./28 g at 4% alpha acids)
8 AAU UK Target hops (0 min.) (1 oz./28 g at 8% alpha acids)
1 oz. (28 g) First Gold hops (dry hop)
Wyeast 1028 (London Ale) or White Labs WLP002 (English Ale) yeast
2⁄3 cup corn sugar (if priming)

Step by Step

Place the grains in a muslin bag and steep for 15–20 minutes in 2 qts. (2 L) hot water at about 150 °F (65 °C). Run off into kettle and rinse grains with 2 qts. (2 L) of hot water and carefully dissolve extract in this liquor. This recipe is for a full 5-gallon (19-L) boil; if you use a smaller volume increase the bittering hops proportionately. Boil with Fuggles hops for 60 minutes, then add the Target hops and let the wort sit for 30 minutes. Cool to 65–70 °F (18–21 °C), and pitch with yeast, preferably prepared previously as a 1-qt. (1-L) starter. Ferment 5 days, rack to secondary and add the dry hops in a sanitized weighted muslin bag. After 1–2 weeks rack to keg or bottle, and prime or carbonate in the usual way.