New LCBO Beer: Empirical Ale

That’s right, we have a new beer in the LCBO! Just ahead of Victoria Day, we are releasing the Empirical Ale. The Empirical Ale is brewed along the same lines as an IPA.

This makes sense, given that this beer pays homage to the beers shipped throughout the British Empire to supply thirsty soldiers: particularly those in India. Beer was not completely unknown in India, but it was primarily made from rice and millet. The first European-style brewery was opened by Edward Dyer in the late 1820s, near Kasauli (northern India). By the 1880s, there were still only twelve European-style breweries in India. Soldiers preferred the brews they’d been drinking at home – let’s face it, if you were stationed somewhere far away, you probably would too, right? However, since so little ale was produced locally, they relied on imported beer from Great Britain.

From the eighteenth century, British brewers had struggled to export beer to India. The beer simply did not weather the voyage well; it could take six months travelling around the Cape of Good Hope and then north across the Indian Ocean. However, a brewing manual from 1768 suggests the following:

From "Every Man His Own Brewer; Or, a Compendium of the English Brewery" by Samuel Child
From “Every Man His Own Brewer; Or, a Compendium of the English Brewery” by Samuel Child (1768)

So eighteenth-century brewers already knew that hops helped beer destined for warmer climes.

George Hodgson is a name often associated with the India Pale Ale. According to beer history site Zythophile, Hodgson’s brewery was located a short distance from the East India Company docks; thus, the East India Company used his beer for sale in India. The ocean voyage aged Hodgson’s pale October ale beautifully. By the 1820s, more and more brewers were joining in, creating extra-hoppy pale ales for the Indian market, a style known as “India Pale Ale” by the 1830s at least.

And now, in 2014, we offer our Empirical Ale. This 5% beer is deep amber in colour with a really strong nose. If you’ve ever smelled our jar of hops on our Historic Brewery Tour, you’ll be familiar with the scent. Piney/resin-y aromas abound, with hints of citrus as well.


This is definitely one for the hopheads (myself included!). The focus here isn’t so much on the malt, but on the hops: we’ve used Cascade and Nugget. This is a bitter beer, but to me, this bitterness leans more towards pines and resins than towards the grapefruit flavours of our standard IPA.

The mouthfeel is bright and sharp. The front of the tongue feels it first; the finish on this one is shorter than our Irish Potato Stout, but my mouth tingled by the end! It’s the kind of bite that makes you want more—it reminds me somewhat of a dry white wine. This beer would be great on a hot day, or at a BBQ; perhaps over the Victoria Day weekend? 😉

The Empirical Ale should already be rolling out to stores, although it does not seem to be on the LCBO website as of yet. This ale will be here for a limited time, so hop to it!