Origin of the IPA

Uno de los estilos más revolucionarios, recuperado por el movimiento “Craft” americano a finales de los años 70 y principios de los 80, es la India Pale Ale o IPA. Se trata de cervezas con mayor cantidad de lúpulo añadido en comparación con el resto de estilos, lo que les confiere mayor amargor y un aroma intenso. El origen de la IPA se remonta a la década de 1790, en Londres, aunque a partir de 1947 y a lo largo de la década de 1950, la producción de este estilo quedó casi en extinción, encontrándose únicamente en algunas localidades británicas.

Detalle de la etiqueta de una cerveza IPA británica con un mensaje sobre la historia de las Pale Ale más lupuladas que se enviaban a la India.
Figure 1. Detail of the label of a British India Pale Ale beer with a message about the history of the most hoppy pale ales that were shipped to India.

    Versión popular del origen de la IPA

    There is a version about its beginnings, famous and widespread in the beer world, however, it is not the most truthful. To begin, this popular story will be told, and then what is true and what is not true will be analyzed.

    Since the 16th century, the United Kingdom founded colonies in India, along with other European countries, taking advantage of the country's internal conflicts. In 1845, India as a whole came under the control of the British East India Company. Many British emigrated to India to establish their lives there, but the downside was that there was no beer brewing in this country. Part of the UK beer production was destined for the colonies, so that their compatriots could continue to enjoy their favorite drink from distant lands. But this mission brought with it certain problems, the journey was made by boat from the United Kingdom to India, so it was very long, in addition to having to cross the tropics, where temperatures are very high. The route was not easy, it was necessary to skirt the western part of Europe by the Atlantic, to cover practically the entire western edge of the African continent, crossing the tropics and the equator, crossing the Indian Ocean, until finally reaching India. At that time, there was no technology to pasteurize beer or to filter it until it was crystal clear as today, and after those journeys, the beer arrived at its destination spoiled and defective.

    Embarcación de la Compañía Británica de las Indias Orientales, atracada en Londres, que transportaba mercancías a la India.
    Figure 2. Ship of the British East India Company, docked in London, carrying goods to India.

    A solution was needed, and brewmaster George Hodgson of Bow Brewery in London found the key. Hodgson considered taking advantage of the alternatives available to him to prolong the conservation of the beer: hops and alcohol. In this way, he took the recipe for the Pale Ale beer that was made in his brewery, making some adjustments: he increased the addition of hops, taking advantage of its bacteriostatic properties, and increased the alcohol content. Pale Ale beers were a very common style in England, with a graduation below 5%. Thus, around the year 1790, Hodgson created a new style with more body, more bitterness and more aromatic, and what is more important, more resistant to deterioration. Being a new "Pale Ale" specially made to be destined for the Indians, the beer was called India Pale Ale, abbreviated as IPA. Thanks to their greater conservation capacity, the IPAs arrived in better conditions in the Indian colonies, allowing them to be enjoyed by the British who lived there. The Bow Brewery managed to dominate the beer export trade to the subcontinent for two decades.

    So far the most widespread version about the origin of the IPA, now what has been demonstrated about it and other aspects that are known from that time on the production of beer will be detailed. One of the great researchers who has collected more information on these facts is Martyn Cornell, a British writer.

    Portada del libro Amber, Gold & Black: The History of Britain’s Great Beers, de Martyn Cornell, donde se habla del origen del estilo de cerveza IPA.
    Figure 3. Book cover Amber, Gold & Black: The History of Britain’s Great Beersby Martyn Cornell, where the origin of the India Pale Ale style of beer is discussed.

    The truth about the origins of the IPA

    For starters, the first beers that were exported to India did not have to arrive in bad condition. Although they lost freshness, they were suitable for consumption. In the case of Porter beers, their dark color benefited their conservation and they could be aged for more than a year. They had a good reputation in the Indian colonies and were consumed without problem, there was no need to create a new style of beer.

    The idea of ​​adding more hops to beer to prolong its shelf life did not originate with George Hodgson. In the 1760s, the brewer Michael Combrune already suggested that for each month that you want to preserve the beer, you should add one pound (0.45Kg) of hops for each quarter (12.7Kg) of malt. With these recommendations, British brewmasters were already aware of using more hops for beers that were exported on long trips or destined for hot areas, although no particular new style has yet been named.

    The reason George Hodgson's beers had such a strong presence in the Indian colonies was because the Bow Brewery was at a strategic point, near the docks of the River Thames, where the ships of the British East India Company docked to pick up the goods, obtaining Hodgson advantage to negotiate directly with the carriers. By 1793, it was already known that Bow Brewery Pale Ale and Porter were marketed in India, becoming the most demanded and recognized brand over time, especially for its Pale Ale beer, but there are no references to show that that beer had more hops. Initially, the beer had several names, such as "India Ale" or "Pale Export India Ale", but it was not until 1835 that the term "East India Pale Ale" first appeared in an advertisement in the English newspaper Liverpool Mercury. referring to Hodgson's Pale Ale. Later the name was shortened to India Pale Ale or IPA.

    Diario Liverpool Mercury, donde apareció la primera referencia al estilo de cerveza IPA.
    Figure 4. Liverpool Mercury newspaper, where the first reference to the India Pale Ale style of beer appeared.

    It wasn't Hodgson or Bow Brewery who took credit for creating the first IPA. In 1869, the writer William Molyneux was the one who claimed that the first India Pale Ale was made in London by the brewer George Hodgson, in his work Burton-On-Trent: its history, its waters, and its breweries. This is why the story about the origin of India Pale Ale revolves around this brewmaster.


    Hornsey, I. (2003) A history of beer and brewing. Cambridge, UK: The Royal Society of Chemistry.

    Cornell, M. (2011) Amber, Gold & Black: The History of Britain’s Great Beers. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: The History Press.

    Cornell, M. (2010). The first ever reference to IPA. Recuperado 12 de junio de 2020, de ZYTHOPHILE website: http://zythophile.co.uk/2010/03/29/the-first-ever-reference-to-ipa/

    Ludden, D. (2013). India and South Asia: A Short History. UK: Oneworld Publications

    Licencia Creative Commons
    This work is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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