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IPA origin

Just read another article about how the IPA was brewed strong and hoppy to preserve it for the long journey. I think it’s a myth. Beer was stored for more than the time of the trip to India all the time so that theory doesn’t wash. How about if they just added the water when they got there. Saved on freight and taxes. Of course wouldn’t say that for a number of reasons right. Watering down beer was probably done all the time.


That’s a myth. IPA in the 1800’s was basically a tweaked pale ale. The high hopping rate did help it survive the journey as it prevented souring, but a high OG was counter-productive as yeast had fairly poor attenuation at the time and higher OG meant more fermentables in the finished beer, which promoted spoilage.

But IPA had an OG of about 1.055 because of tax reasons. At the time, raw materials were taxed for beer consumed in the UK. If beer was exported, the brewer could reclaim some tax money, called a “drawback.” The drawback system required brewers to brew a minimum gravity of 1.054 for them to claim their refund. So why not brew double the gravity and water it down upon arrival? Because the brewers got the same drawback regardless of actual OG, as long as it was a minimum of 1.054. Plus the brewers were basically selling beer to the east india trading company, who may have benefited by watering down beer, but it did not benefit the brewers themselves.

So was the beer that good, or was it alcohol addiction? It sure seems governing people are very creative in their ways to squeeze money out of products so they can keep their jobs… Not that I’d like camp run a muck in a uncontrolled state/country… Sneezles61

Well it was a British colony, and the British did like their beer. Most of the beer exported to India was porter, though, which also had higher hopping rates (black IPA, anyone?).


I’ve read some of those web articles about this topic, and they note other beers, especially the porter, made the trip, but they never give the recipes of these other beers! It’s just a fact that they put up with spoiled batches of beer back then, so I don’t think we can say that wasn’t a major concern. And spoiled rations or goods were an even bigger concern on long ship journeys back then as well. In one extreme case Magellan’s water is said to have rotted as they were going across the Pacific. It just seems unreasonable to assume that they didn’t worry about spoilage or find methods to reduce spoilage.

So it definitely makes sense that they would seek out a way to reduce spoilage on long sea journeys scientifically speaking. Perhaps they didn’t brew IPAs stronger, but definitely hoppier, and we know that hoppier beer is less inclined to spoil.

It is an interesting idea that they may have watered it down after they arrived. Or maybe that it was meant to be watered down at least, it would have to be done right before drinking, because splitting the IPA with a barrel of water would be a sure way to make sure it went rotten after a few weeks. If the guys stationed in India thought it lessened the quality though, the practice wouldn’t necessarily survive when they didn’t have to do it.

From what I’ve read most beers we’re sour anyway back then. I’ve made a sour Porter which is outstanding and also a Brett Porter which is also very good. I’ve also enjoyed a sour IPA although I have not made one yet. If I get an inn back then I’d freshen my barrel up with some water and a plug of molasses. Don’t see how that would spoil it

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I think there’s a historic east india porter recipe in Mitch Steele’s IPA book… I’ll have to take a look later. If I remember correctly, it’s pretty much a standard porter recipe for the time with more hops.

I can’t imagine what a barrel of water would have looked like after sitting stagnant in a barrel for a few months in the heat of the tropics.

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