Friday 19 September 2008

IPA - a strong beer?

I'm back on one of my favourite topics: the exact nature of early IPA.

Just to recap, the normal line of reasoning is that, as 19th century IPA was a strong beer, modern British IPA's of under 1040 aren't true to style. Let's take a look at the facts.

Here are the gravities of British beers, as listed in an early 19th-century brewing manual:

beer type____________OG
London Porter_________1060,94
Brown Stout__________ 1066,48
Family Table Beer______ 1049,86
London Table Beer______1041,55
Workhouse Small Beer___1016,62
"A Practical Treatise on Brewing" by William Chadwick, 1835, pages 38-39.

The weakest full-strength beer is Porter, with an OG of 1061º. What about IPA? I hear you ask.

“Scottish Ale Brewer” (by W.H. Roberts, Edinburgh, 1847, pages 171 and 173) has analyses of forty Edinburgh-brewed IPA's brewed in the years 1844 to 1846. They're a mix of beers for home consumption and export, some specifically to India.

The average gravity of these Scottish-brewed IPA's was 1059º. The weakest was just 1046º, the strongest 1070º. One India export version had a gravity of only 1054º, much lower than you would expect.

The weaker IPA's had a gravity similar to Table Beer. That's the stuff they let the kids drink. Even the strongest, at 1070º, is way short of what was considered strong at the time.

IPA was not originally a strong beer. IPA was not originally a strong beer. IPA was not originally a strong beer. If I say it often enough, maybe people will start believing me.


Anonymous said...

And, of course, those "Ales" would probably have been mild ales ... so much for "weak" mild ...

The "Burton" would have been the top-of-the-range Number One in the Burtion Ale style, same as Bass No 1 today, while the "Edinburgh" would have been an example of the very similar in style Scotch Ale - think McEwan's Champion, but even stronger ...

That Workhouse Small Beer looks pretty rough, though - talk about the squeezings from the brewer's apron ...

Whorst said...

I don't follow: "IPA was not originally a strong beer." Strong is subjective, as is "originally."

Research indicates that in the 1830s the heaviest IPAs shipped from Burton had an OG of 1070 and an ABV of about 7.0 percent. In the 1880s, Simmonds of Reading was shipping a 1080 OG, 8.0 percent ABV IPA, whilst Youngers marketed an Imperial ale (read IPA) at 1080 OG. Ushers shipped a 1060 IPA in 1885, when, it appears, the brewers first started lifting off the throttle a bit. Still, those are staggering numbers by today’s standards: 1036-55 OG, 20-42 IBUs. Not one modern British-brewed IPA comes close to these figures. A sad state of affairs.

Kristen England said...

Thats not true. Meantime IPA is 7.5% and right around 1070-75.

Bloody good beer, that.

Ron Pattinson said...

Wurst, 1830's IPA: average 1059º. The weakest 1830's Mild was more than 1070º.

By the standards of the day, IPA was not a strong beer. All British beers have got weaker since then.

Why does no-one say - but a Mild of just 1032º is a joke: it should be at least 1070º? And Extra Stout. It should at least 1075º, as Guinness was until 1917. Why is IPA the only style that is expected to be the same strength as 150 years ago?

Ron Pattinson said...

zythophile, Burton and Edinburgh Ales always top the charts.

I was surprised by the strength of the Table beers. I didn't expect them to be over 1040.

Ron Pattinson said...

Kristen, I could argue that Meantime IPA isn't true to style, because it's too strong. If I were a nitpicking, petty bastard. "You are, dad." "No I'm not Andrew."

Whorst said...

I understand your point, but most people understand IPA as a strong beer to make the voyage from England to India. Even at 1.059, that is not weak, perhaps by the standard of the day. That's a hell of a lot different than Green King IPA.

Ron Pattinson said...

wurst, I just love defending Greene King IPA.

You can't get hypnotised by strengths from one specific period. Greene King IPA is about the right OG, if you scale down those from the 19th century. It doesn't mean it's a good beer, or anything like an original IPA. But the style has evolved, as have all other British styles. That's where IPA ended up.

I'm trying to fit together the story of how it got there. It looks to me as if there were two different types of beer called IPA. The classic Burton IPA, that was around 1065 in the 19th century and even in the 1950's still around 1045-50. Then you had the one London breweries and others in the Southeast made, weaker than PA, but hoppier. Whitbread's was weaker than their Mild in 1910.

It's all very complicated. I hope to be able to pick it all apart. I was looking at olf price lists today and you again see obviously different types of beer being sold as IPA. The classic Burton type is one shilling and sixpence a gallon. But there are others at just one shilling and two pence a gallon. That's just slightly better than cooking Mild, which was a shilling a gallon.

Lars Marius Garshol said...

In AGB Martyn Cornell writes that IPA developed out of October beer, which he describes as "pale, strong, well-hopped autumn-brewed stock bitter beer".

So this makes me wonder:
* How strong was October beer?
* What happened to IPA strengths from ca 1800 to the 1840s?
* Are Scottish IPA strengths typical of the UK as a whole?

I don't know the answers to any of these, but I'd quite like to...

Whorst said...

Funny thing that Greene King IPA. I drank it on cask some 12 years ago and thought it was great. Very hoppy, grassy comes to mind. I bought some in cans about a year ago and just about barfed. It was truly disgusting. I know many people don't like Greene King, but I'd really like to try the IPA again, close to the source. Their Abbot Ale I thought was nice. What about Kings and Barnes Festive???!!! I loved that beer!

Anonymous said...

The vast majority of IPAs I've seen in Victorian price lists are one shilling and sixpence a gallon, implying an OG of around 1065, though Burton beers were ALWAYS stronger and more expensive.

Table or family beers were almost always around one shilling a gallon, implying an OG of around 1045.

Wurst: "most people understand IPA as a strong beer to make the voyage from England to India. Yes, but as Ron and I have tried to demonstrate, "most people" are wrong. Even small beer was being successfully exported to India. You didn't need high alcohol to get beer in good condition from England to India, and strength is irrelevant to the IPA story. "Even at 1.059, that is not weak, perhaps by the standard of the day." No, it's slightly above the average (1057). "That's a hell of a lot different than Green [sic] King IPA." So what? As Ron said, Guinness Extra Stout, 1042 today, is nothing like Guinness Extra Stout in 1914, 1070-something.

Ron Pattinson said...

lars, good questions.

* How strong was October beer?

How long is a piece of string? It was a pretty vague concept. But pretty strong - 1100º or so.

* What happened to IPA strengths from ca 1800 to the 1840s?

They probably went up. Beer strengths, in general, increased after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. Taxes were lowered and the price of a pint fell. British beer strengths peaked around the middle of the 19th century.

* Are Scottish IPA strengths typical of the UK as a whole?

I don't know. They were big in the export trade and I lot of the samples were of export beer, some specifically for India. I was surprised to see ones below 1060º.

I'm not going to pretend I have all the answers. I really need to look at some Burton brewing logs. I think I'm missing a big bit of the story.

Oblivious said...

I have seen a recipe of India ale 1885 from Mew-loangdon, IOW with a O.G. of 1.056. that was designed as an IPA for UK consumption.

Could there rage of O.G. presented be explained by the fact that they were brewing IPA's for two different markets?

Whorst said...

Well, from what I've read over the years, there were problems with getting weak beer to India, that's why the alcohol was bumped and a shit load of hops were added. If they sent beers that were 1035-1050, I could care less. Facts speak for themselves, I'll let you guys argue over the finer details of the IPA style.

Ron Pattinson said...

zythophile, I was browsing through my collection of price lists today. I have such a full life.

You're right, IPA is mostly 1s 6d a gallon. It's the ones that aren't that intrigue me. They were overpriced, the Pale ales, in the beginning. A 1s 6d Pale Ale was the same OG as a 1s 4d X Ale or Porter.

I'm trying to pull together the stuff I have from brewing records and price lists. It looks to me as if the price of PA only truly represented its strength around 1900. Sorry, that was a wild guess. I can't be bothered to work it all out. Late, in any case.

Don't get me started on the relative changes in strength of PA and X Ale. Surprisingly nonlinear.

Sorry if I go on. My head is full of this stuff.

Oblivious said...

But Whorst maybe not all those IPA's where been sent to India, there was a indigenous taste of such beers in the later 19th centery. one example is the fad of tonic ales

Lars Marius Garshol said...

Wurst: "Well, from what I've read over the years, there were problems with getting weak beer to India"

You really need to read this. Better still, get hold of this and read it.

Ron Pattinson said...

oblivious, the Scottish examples include ones for India export that were quite weak. It seems quite complex.

Lots more to learn. Burton is a big hole in my knowledge. If anyone wants to photograph 19th-century brewing logs from a Burton brewery, I'll be happy to send them a box (6 75 cl bottles)of my Whitbread recreations.

Lars Marius Garshol said...

Ron, thanks for the answers.

"I'm not going to pretend I have all the answers."

That makes the bits you do supply all the more believable.

"I really need to look at some Burton brewing logs. I think I'm missing a big bit of the story."

Burton logs from 1825 and onwards would certainly be pretty damn definitive. If those weren't strong, then, well, that would be it as far as the original IPA is concerned. (Well, I guess the Hodgson log would be the ultimate, if that is to be had anywhere.)

Lars Marius Garshol said...

Ron: "If anyone wants to photograph 19th-century brewing logs from a Burton brewery, I'll be happy to..."

Do you know of any archives that have such logs? (Not that I'd be likely to do this, much as I'd like a Whitbread bottle.)

Kristen England said...

Yeah the Burton archives were closed when Coors closed the museum. Its reported that they were moved but I'm not sure where.

Jim Johanssen said...

Ron, do you have any indication that the IPA to be much hopper and more attenuated than most other Ales. I thought the difference from Mild was IPA was hoppier, more attenuated and it was stored. The Alcohol and hops would help preserve the shipped beer thus STORED like a Stock ale, but not have the Bret. (sour, stale) Stock Ale flavors upon arrival.

Ron Pattinson said...

Jim, IPA's had the highest hopping rates and generally quite a high degree of attenuation. Exactly how long it was stored before use, I'm unclear about. I know that Bass just stacked up full casks of Pale Ale in their yard. If it got a bit hot, they threw some wetted straw over them.

X Ales weren't sent out straight after being put into the cask. At least not in the first half of the 19th century. They were kept back at the brewery a couple of weeks.

Another thing that intrigues me is the relationship between PA and IPA. In some breweries IPA was more expensive, in others, for example London breweries, it was the other way around. But where I have seen logs of both PA and IPA for the same period, i.e. Whitbread, the IPA is more heavily hopped, even if it is weaker.

Thanks to everyone for their comments and questions. They are a real help in pulling all my thoughts together for the book.

Zythophile said...

Lars asks: How strong was October beer?

The answer appears to be: "How strong would you like it?" I don't think, from my reading, there was a particular set strength for a beer to be called "October". It just had to be strong enough to last through to the next autumn. North of 1065OG was regarded as "strong" - the "ale" equivalent of IPA in terms of price, one shilling and sixpence a gallon, was generally called "XXXX Strong Ale", and the "stout" equivalent at the same price was "Double Stout", and these would have been 1065-1075 OG. But that's still short of the really strong Burton No 1s and Imperial Stouts, above 1100 OG, and way below the Arctic Ales, Chancellor's Ales and the like, at 1140-plus.

However, as Ron has indicated, things would vary from brewer to brewer. I've pulled out a price list from my own collection (yup, I'm really sad too) from EJ&C Healey of Watford dated January 1898, which contains 10 different draught beers, and their IPA is the same price as their single stout, at 1s 4d a gallon, probably 1055-1060 OG. But they also made an "Extra IPA", at 1s 8d a gallon, more expensive than their 1s 6d Double Stout and their 1s 6d XXXX Strong Ale, and I'd guesstimate the Extra IPA at north of 1080OG.

Zythophile said...

Hmmm - re-reading that comment, it might appear that I'm disagreeing with Ron. I'm not. What I was trying to say was that IPA was generally (but not universally) strong-ish, that is, stronger than the most popular beers, porter and "four-ale" mild (around 1045-1055 OG in Victorian Britain) but not by much, and it wasn't anything like as strong as the really strong beers that were available.