Any beer lover is sure to have heard of the well-known India Pale Ale style of beer. Not only that, they’re sure to have tried it! But they may not be familiar with its history or the reason for its unique flavor.
Also called IPAs, beers brewed in this style are hop-forward and have a higher ABV than the traditional Pale Ales that proceeded them. Modern IPAs come in many varieties, including Session, Hazy, Imperial, and the classic English IPA.
If you weren’t aware that IPAs came in so many versions, then keep reading to learn more about the English IPA and which ones you should try!
History of the IPA
Though IPAs have recently become popularized on the West Coast of the United States, the IPA is, in its origins, fundamentally English!
It is said that the IPA was created by English Brewers when the British Navy was searching for a way to make traditional English Pale Ales survive the journey to India. Beer is not a beverage native to the Indian Subcontinent. It is warmer in India than in traditional brewing areas. The equipment to create “modern” brews was not readily available or easy to import for the British military. Since it was such a challenge for the British colonists to brew in India, they needed to import their beer from England.
Unfortunately, the long journey caused many products to go rancid, including the weak Pale Ales popular at the time. So the IPA was invented! With higher alcohol content and more hops than Pale Ales, this beer style had the natural preservatives needed to survive a long journey by sea.
The IPA was first exported by George Hodgson, a brewer from East London, in 1790… and these experimental high hop beers were a roaring success!
But is it true?
Probably not! The story is now considered to be more fable than fact! While this origin story has gained a foothold in the popular imagination, the truth is murkier than fiction!
There is evidence that English brewers produced IPAs before the colonial period while experimenting with their Pale Ales. That’s not all! Many brewers in England and Europe supplied beers to the Indian Subcontinent long before Hodgson sent his IPAs. Lower alcohol content than contained by IPAs is enough to preserve other styles of beer for a long journey! Popular beers like Aes and Porters are known to have successfully survived the long trip to India and were enjoyed by English administrators and military men.
Still the story will be sticking around as the name “India Pale Ale” has roots in this period and Hodgson’s tasty, hoppy beers.
Are Modern English IPAs Different?
Yes! Starting in 1880, taxes on beer in the UK were allotted based on the gravity and ABV of the beer. As brewers sought to save money, the strength of beers declined, pale ales regained popularity, and low alcohol session beers that continued to be named IPAs took over the market. Not only was alcohol content on the decline, but beers were also changed with the addition of new malts and new strains of hops from the Americas to the English market in the 20th century, mixing American and British flavors in many beers.
What’s Special about the English IPA
English IPAs, are hoppier and have a higher alcohol content than Pale Ales but are milder than their American off-shoots. Honey golden in color, they are brewed to accentuate the character of the English hops essential to the favor of this ale.
These earthy and floral English hops give the English IPA a more rounded flavor than the American versions of the beverage.
What does an English IPA Taste Like?
The English IPA is characterized by, what else, English ingredients!
IPAs are hop foward beers, so hops are the most dominant ingredient and central to crafting the flavor of these beers. English hops tend to build beers that taste floral, earthy, fruity or have a tea-like quality that is rarely as bitter as those brewed with American hops. Popular English hops incude Golding (also called Kent Golding / East Kent Golding), Challenger, Fuggle, and Northern Brewer.
English malts are biscuity and bready with a more robust maltiness than the malts from other regions. These English malts give beers a dominant biscuit and toffee flavor that is notably sweet and bready. Crystal malts are especially popular with English brewers, and well-known English Malts include Maris Otter and Golden Promise.
Finally, English ale yeast adds its unique quality of fruity esters. There are many strains of yeast in the UK of various ages. Popular English yeasts for brewing English IPAs include Safale – English Ale Yeast S-04, Danstar – Nottingham Ale Yeast, and Wyeast – London Ale III 1318.
Exceptions to the Rule
It is worth noteing that though true English IPAs are made with ingredients native to England, many are now brewed with ingredients grown in Europe and the United States. Often these are imported strains that have there origins in the UK. Still, American hops have become popular with British brewers. It is rare to find beers with truly single origin ingredient lists.
Great English IPAs to Try
These IPAs are both American and English in providence but have characteristics that make them “English IPAs”! Specific English hop varietals are grown in the US, and the flavors and styles can be mimicked with local ingredients!
Hopfish IPA- Flying Fish Brewing Co
Though labeled an American IPA, Hopfish IPA is considered one of the closest to the English style to be found in the United States. Made with Superior Pilsen, English Medium Crystal, Black Prinz, and Munich malts, and Nugget and Ahtanum Columbus hops, this beer has the authentic rich caramel flavor of a great English IPA.
Iron Rail IPA – Wedge Brewing Company
The flagship beer for this Ashville, NC brewery the Iron Rail IPA is a strong and bitter mix of English/American IPA styles. With a malty backbone of Maris Otter, Canadian Honey Malt and Belgian Crystal this well balanced beer supports the strong hop flavors of Centennial, Kent Golding and Cascade hops for an smooth drink with a citrus forward flavor.
The Marble Arch – Earl Grey IPA
Earl Grey IPA is brewed in Salford in the UK. The traditional English flavor of this beer is enhanced by the addition of Earl Grey tea throughout the fermentation process. Smooth and citrusy, this very English IPA is made with Sabro hops!
Even Sharks Need Water – Verdant Brewing Company
This English Brewery located in Penryn excels in IPAs of all kinds, but Even Sharks Need Water is an authentic English beer. Brewed with English yeast that brings out a fruity character, this beer is sweet, creamy, and not too bitter. Brewed using Citra Chinook and Centennial hops and Simpsons Golden Promise, Crisp Flaked Barley, Crisp Torrified Wheat, Superfast Porridge Oats, and Simpsons caramalt malts, this is a must-try English IPA!
Great Lakes Brewing Co – Commodore Perry
This Cleveland, OH brewery has captured the spirit of the English IPA! Named for Matthew C. Perry, a US naval officer who defeated His Majesty’s Royal Navy in the war of 1812, Commodore Perry is a hoppy, caramel smooth, and a truly tasty spoil of war! Made with Simcoe, Willamette and Cascade hops and 2 Row Base and Carmel 30 Males, this strong IPA has an ABV of 7.7%, giving it the strength of a heritage IPA.
Enjoy English IPAs!
With a mythic history and great flavors what’s not to love about English IPAs? Everyone should go out and drink these tasty hoppy beers, and not worry to much about mistaking them for their American cousins.
To learn more about other kinds of beer to enjoy, read our beer styles blog posts.