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Imperial India Pale Ale (2005)


This is a new American beer steeped in British tradition. At the end of the 18th century the British were firmly established in India and the colonists there needed beer. Brewing in India was impossible. It was too hot, water quality was poor, and barley and hops were unavailable. Several attempts were made to ship beer from England, with disastrous results. The sea voyage around the horn of Africa lasted months, with two crossings of the equator and usually rough seas. The sweet, dark ales of London, shipped in large wooden hogsheads, arrived flat, sour and undrinkable.

The British navy had tried to solve this problem for years, with little success. British sailors in the English Channel received a ration of a gallon of strong brew a day, and became angry when they were forced to go without. The navy tried brewing onboard with concentrates, which worked in cooler climes, but failed in warmer ones. The navy finally settled for grog, a less healthy mixture of rum, citrus juice and sugar.

The British in India would have been drinking grog, too, if not for a London brewer named George Hodgson, who made a pale ale that was stronger and more bitter than his regular beers. The increased alcohol and hops helped to protect the beer from spoilage. He aged his ale in London for months, until the yeast had consumed all the sugars in the beer, leaving little for spoilage organisms to eat. Finally, he added hops to each hogshead of finished beer for added protection.

The ale survived the journey in spectacular fashion—it arrived clear, strong, and aromatic. Few at home in England were familiar with the style until 1827, when a ship bound for Calcutta was wrecked in the Irish Sea. Some of the 300 hogsheads of IPA were salvaged and sold at auction in Liverpool, and soon people throughout England were demanding the new “India beer.” The style’s fame spread, and IPAs were brewed in Norway and even Germany. Several breweries on the East Coast of the United States brewed it as well. Ballantine’s IPA, brewed in Albany and then Newark, retained some of the style’s original character into the 1970s. By the 1980s, IPA was just another name for a low-strength bitter in Britain, and was all but forgotten in the U.S.

American craftbrewers, particularly on the West Coast, revived the style, and a few British producers have brought it back as well. Now a good, hoppy IPA is in the repertoire of most American craftbrewers. British IPAs tend to be balanced, restrained, even subtle; American versions are bold and brash, usually featuring flavorful, aromatic Northwest hops such as Centennial and (most often) Cascade.

In recent years, American brewers have created a new style: “Imperial,” or “Double” IPA. Our version is brewed with twice as much malt and hops as our everyday Sweetgrass IPA, dry hopped with American Cascade and Amarillo hops, and fermented to 7.5 percent alcohol by volume. The hops provide citrusy, resinous spiciness, making this beer a great match for any bold, flavorful food. Try it with prime rib, Indian food, cajun blackened pork or chicken, Thai or Vietnamese cuisine.