This month is the 77th time The Session has been run, and the topic has been set by Justin of http://justinsbrewreview.blogspot.com.au/ who wants to know why people get in such a froth about IPAs.
India Pale Ale
Being an Englishman, who spent a large portion of his childhood as an expat in Africa and the Middle East, I understand the romance in the IPA story. When you live a long way from your home and family, there is something deeply reassuring about anything which comes from the old country and links you back to what you left behind: It’s why Aussies in Britain eat Vegemite, and why Brits in Australia crave Marmite.
The story goes that only the most heavily-hopped pale ales survived the 6 month journey from London to India (incredibly, the voyage often started out by heading southwest to South America before turning southeast to round the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa and then northeast again to India!). As only the most heavily-hopped pale ales survived the journey, they gained the name India Pale Ales (or IPAs). Hops are naturally preservative, so extra hops should equal extra preservation. Unfortunately, “India Pale Ale” is a misleading term for a number of reasons – firstly, styles other than hoppy-pales were also sent to quench the thirst of the colonial British (often in equal or greater volumes – Porter was especially popular!). IPA can’t really claim the India appellation. Secondly, “pale” is a subjective term – yes, they’re paler than porter but they’re darker than true pale ales, saisons, weizens… While I’m talking about IPA colour, what is the go with Black IPA? Let’s look at that again; BLACK India PALE Ale – so that’s pale black is it? Let’s just all agree to go with IBA or India Black Ale shall we? And also, the term India Pale Ale wasn’t even coined until the 1830s, 50 years after the hop-driven ales were first shipped to the colonies. And it was a term used for beers sold in Britain, not in India itself. Nostalgia was obviously in vogue during the 1830s. Plus, the East India Company traded with many British colonies, not just those on the Indian peninsula.
So, we’ve decided that both the IPA name and history, have a romance associated with them. And like most romances; there is some degree of rose-tinting but, at the core, there is something truly special.
Modern IPAs are hop-tastic, alcoholic and unctious. They are the poster-child of the craftbeer movement, but they’re not for everyone. Some people regard them as severely overrated – a brewed version of the emperor’s new clothes. Me? I’m not really a black and white kind of guy. I think there are IPAs and IPAs (or should that be ipas and IPAs?).
My first grownup beer was Bass. It’s a memory beer for me, but I only recently found out that it is an IPA. It’s hardly hop-driven, and is at the other end of the scale from a modern craft IPA. Speaking of which, I’ve said before that Mornington Peninsula Brewery‘s Imperial IPA is one of my Desert Island Beers (for explanation, see BBC’s long-standing radio interview programme Desert Island Discs – a different interviewee every week for 71 years – where the interviewee or “castaway” must select 8 pieces of music, 1 book and 1 luxury item).
I’ll be honest; I love hops. I love the bitterness, the resin, the floral-characters. I love that Fuggles are different from Galaxy, which are different from Citra or Nelson Sauvin. I love that there are brewers like Ben Kraus at Bridge Road and Mikeller who brew whole series of single-hop IPAs, and I love that they really do taste different. I love modern IPAs – it’s the style that I seem to gravitate towards. They’re fun, and can be a bit lairy. They’re complex and interesting, but approachable. They can be a main event or something to drink while watching “the game”.
I love hops, and hop-forward beers. But not to the exclusion of malt and yeast.
I’ve got so many more adventures to have – why would I miss out on Belgian Dubbels and Tripels, on smoked beers, on peated-beers (props to Yeastie Boys), or on Saisons and Lambics?