The Story of India Pale Ale

A map of British India


One of the most popular styles of beer that we serve down in the Black Creek brewery is our historic India Pale Ale. Visitors who are fans of a hoppy, fruity, and bitter tasting beer tend to enjoy our IPA – it is balanced, smooth, and refreshing. As they sip their IPA sample, they are treated to the history of the India Pale Ale by our brewmaster.  One of the most popular questions he gets asked is – “Why is it called an India Pale Ale?” They are usually surprised to hear that the IPA’s roots trace back all the way to colonial times – to India during the time of the British Raj.

In the early days of British rule, the colonizing Brits were likely taken aback by the cultural and environmental differences between Britain and India. One large difference was the climate – it was hot and humid all year long. In this time period, beer brewing depended on the temperature and was usually a seasonal pursuit. This type of hot weather was not conducive to brewing, but beer was still required to satiate thirsty soldiers serving on behalf of the Raj.

In this case, necessity was the mother of invention. It was not possible to send beers such as malty brown ales over to India, as they would spoil on the months long journey by ship. The proposed solution was to double up on a natural preservative already found in beer – hops. This natural preservative ended up being the solution, and extremely hoppy beers managed to survive the journey to India, maintaining an acceptable taste and freshness.

However, the IPA did not retain its popularity between colonial times and now. With the end of the colonial period (and the dawn of refrigeration), the desire for India Pale Ales dwindled. Brewers instead opted to brew weaker Pale Ales instead, which were much less hoppy and bitter. It seemed as though the India Pale Ale was destined to be forgotten by time, right along with the sherry-cobbler cocktail and the gin sling… so why is it that every other craft beer on the market seems to be an IPA?

The India Pale Ale has made a comeback in the last few decades, all due to a newfound interest in craft beer brewing in the United States. American craft brewers became bored of the traditional lagers that were crowding the market, and were apt to try something new. This included brewing old English recipes, such as the forgotten IPA. American  brewers have put their own spin on the India Pale Ale – American (and Canadian) IPAs tend to be more fruity and citrusy than the traditional British version of the IPA. This winning combination of bitter and fruity has made the India Pale Ale one of the most popular types of craft beer on the market today. So next time you order a Boneshaker, a Lagunitas, or even a Black Creek historic IPA in the brewery, you can think of the rich and complex history that brought that India Pale Ale to you.

Hops to you,


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