Replicating an 1800's IPA

The India Pale Ale has seen a massive resurgence in the last 15 years or so. On the bar of British pubs and Craft Bars it is not uncommon to see low ABV IPA’s, Black IPA’s, Double IPA’s, American IPA’s, Session IPA’s and many more deviations. We have produced many of these spin-off styles ourself, and one of the things we find time and time again are comments like “How can you have a Session IPA? IPAs are strong!” or “Black IPA is an oxymoron!”. We believe that styles change overtime, but, to fully understand the style we consulted the history books to brew a proper, as-traditional-as-it-can-get, 1800’s IPA….

The tale of IPA begins in the late 1700’s when there was a need for beer to be exported to the British Empire Colonists in India. India was too hot to brew beer, or more importantly, ferment beer in those days so one option was to import to meet demand. Problem was, the journey by ship from England to India was long and beer, up until IPA, was not consistently surviving the journey. By the 1830’s the term IPA was born. Brewers had discovered around the turn of the century that by adding lots of hops to beer this preserved the quality.

So that is the basic story, however, from a brewers perspective the tale is more important when it comes to the water used in brewing. IPAs, or specifically Pale Ales, wouldn’t have gained popularity if it wasn’t for the boom in brewing in Burton-Upon-Trent. It was found that the hoppy flavours in pale ales were fuller in flavour from breweries in Burton-Upon-Trent, this was down to the sulphate rich water which in the late 1700’s breweries around the country, and specifically in London, began to replicate for the exported India Pale Ales.

Today, we tend to be presented with IPAs heavily hopped with American hops - often fruity, sweet and juicy in flavour. The hops present in an 1800’s IPA, surprisingly to the hopheads out there, were used in abundance compared to the hoppiest of beers today. However, the hops used would have not been the High Alpha Acid hops used today and most likely of poorer quality. Also unlike today, only whole hop cones were used, not pellets that modern breweries use for maximum hop flavour.

The next strange part of an 1800s IPA, compared to one of today, is the aging process. One of the core principles of a hoppy beer today is its freshness. Aging mellowed the super-bitter hoppy flavours - but not without risk, oxidation can completely ruin a hoppy beer.

Finally then, its key to look at yeast and the 1800’s brewers lack of knowledge about it. By the 1900’s sanitation processes improved in brewing and yeast strains became better understood, wild yeasts became something that was intentionally avoided or added. In the 1800’s however, Brettanomyces would have most likely been unintentionally found in aging beers. This, broadly speaking, would add a sour, off-flavour, to the beer that when controlled is fantastic and actively added by many breweries in Belgium, the US and UK today. Brettanomyces was probably quintessential to the flavor of British beer in the 1800’s.

So with a bit of research we decided to replicate some fundamentals of an 1800’s IPA:

  • Intense full cone hopping (four ounces per gallon!)

  • Long aging period to mellow out the hoppy bitterness

  • Controlled addition of Brettanomyces for a slight sourness

With this brew, we intend to age it for a year in cask. To emulate the oak casks that would have been used in the 1800s, we’ve added untoasted oak chips into the beer. We hope you can join us in September 2019 to give this 6% Traditional IPA a try.

Should this be a successful experiment, we’re going to expand our wooden barrel collection and using one of our many contacts in Gosport with sea legs, we hope to not only barrel age the beer but have it out at sea where it can sea-age too!

Perhaps you can help us come up with a name for this beer, Gosport is steeped in nautical history during the 18th and 19th centuries. Looking for inspiration? Perhaps the excavation of Weevil Brewery in Gosport will help, or this local history page can provide some guidance for further search.

Matt Curd