Friday, 14 January 2011

The characteristics of IPA

Chemical and medical journals. What great sources they are. Especially as the articles usually have a reasonable basis of science. I'll be boring you with excerpts from these dusty tomes for a while yet. You lucky devils.

The quotes below tell us something about not only the characteristics of IPA, but how it was perceived by drinkers of the day.

We''ll start with part of a letter to the journal "The Chemist":

"Of all the fermented liquors as drinks, and I have paid some attention to the subject, I give the decided preference to the bitter pale ale, manufactured by Messrs. Hodgson and Abbott; and the reason why I give such decided preference to this is, because, from the many examinations that I have made of it, we are convinced of its purity; 2ndly, because it contains comparatively a small quantity of alcohol; and, 3rdly, because it contains a large quantity of hops. This ale has a peculiar bitter and agreeable taste; and I call the attention of medical men and physicians to it, considering that it would be found of much advantage to patients recovering from low febrile states, and during convalescence after various complaints, as it strengthens the body and gives vigor to the system without exciting the brain: for this purpose I prefer it to wines of any description, from observation of its effects. I am, Gentlemen,

Respectfully yours,

"The Chemist, Volume 4", 1843, pages 77 - 78.

I draw your attention to this phrase: "it contains comparatively a small quantity of alcohol". It's clear that the author, a medical man, did not consider IPA particularly alcoholic. I repeat yet again: IPA was not a strong beer by the standards of the day. Just in case you'd already forgotten.

"Ale is prepared with pale malt, and on this account is much lighter colored than Porter and Stout. The strongest kinds of ale are richer in alcohol, sugar, and gum, than any other kind of malt liquor : but though they thus contain a larger amount of nutritive matter, they are not fitted for ordinary use, on account of their intoxicating and stupefying qualities, and are especially to be avoided in diabetic and dyspeptic cases. On some persons they act as purgatives. The Pale Ale prepared for the India market, and, therefore, commonly known as the Indian Pale Ale, is free from these objections. It is carefully fermented, so as to be devoid of all sweetness, or, in other words, to be dry; and it contains double the usual quantity of hops : it forms, therefore, a most valuable restorative beverage for invalids and convalescents. It is taken with benefit by many persons on whom other kinds of ale act injuriously. For ordinary use at table, the weaker kinds of ale, popularly known as Table Ale, are to be preferred."
"A Treatise on Food and Diet" by Jonathan Pereira, 1843, page 200.

He mentions two types of Ale: Strong Ale and Indian Pale Ale. The former, because of its high alcohol content, the author (a doctor) considers "not fitted for ordinary use". IPA, on the other hand, "is free from these objections", i.e. is not high in alcohol. So yet another contemporary source saying IPA was not a strong beer. Eventually this fact is bound to get through even the thickest of skulls. The evidence is overwhelming.

Dr. Pereira makes some another significant observation about the nature of IPA: the high degree of attenuation. It was vital that pretty much all fermentable material had been fermented out before putting a beer on the ship to India. No-one wanted the beer to start fermenting or, worse still, pick up an infection in transit. Removing all the food for either yeast or bacteria was the best method of avoiding such a catastrophe.

IPA was not a strong beer. Just repeating that for luck.


The Beer Nut said...

A reputable scientific journal publishes an anonymous letter pimping a specific brand of beer? Am I just the product of a more cynical age or were people really that stupid in 1843?

Ron Pattinson said...

Beer Nut, you're the product of a more cynical age.

bryangb said...

I'm not sure if I should put my devil's advocate hat on here, but it's interesting that "Medicus" refers to "the bitter pale ale" - that could also be taken as implying that not all pale ale was especially bitter.

Craig said...

I came across Dr. Pereira, while Alan and I were doing research for the Albany Ale Project. He apparently did chemical analysis of a product he credited as "Albany Ale."

Alan said...

Is it fair to say, however, that (given what I think I am learning about Albany ale), strong ale might often be pushing 8-10% while not as strong is more like 6-7% rather than 3.5% to 4.5%?

Graham Wheeler said...

Surely strong or weak is a relative term.

The Earl Of Liverpool's Retail Brewers Act of 1823 enabled anyone to obtain a licence to brew beer and retail it for consumption off his premises. Although the type of beer that these "special" breweries could brew was not regulated, the strength was. They were only permitted to draw between five and five-and-a-half barrels per quarter, no more; no less. This would be around OG 1045.

These breweries enjoyed a favourable duty break which undercut the wholesale brewers for the same strength beer.

As the number of issued brewing licenses suddenly jumped from about 1,500 in 1820 to 4,075 in 1824, 26,252 in 1825; and 36,550 by 1830, it seems that many thousands of breweries sprung up to take advantage of this act.

I have no idea how long the act enabling these special breweries existed, but logic dictates that there must have been an awful lot of 1.045 beer around for a few years at least. That would make a 1.065 pale ale relatively strong.

The author is comparing "all fermented liquors"; any beer would be weak compared with wine. Of course, so many of these so-called "scientific men" jumped on to the endorsement band-wagon for beers, water, and other foods and potions because they certainly were not doing it for free. It probably represented the major part of their income. On this count alone he should be distrusted.

Does anyone really believe that Ringo Starr regularly eats Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust Pizza?

charged a fortune for it.

Ron Pattinson said...

bryangb, I've seen many different combinations of pale, ale, bitter, beer and India. I've never been able to discern any difference in meaning between the variations and sometimes a couple of different ones will be used in the same paragraph.

Ron Pattinson said...

Graham, I can only go by the brewing records and analyses that I've seen.

The only beers under 1045 I've seen from London brewers were Table Beers. The IPAs analysed in Scottish Ale Brewer have gravities between 1045 and 1070. The weakest exported to India was 1054.

Was Porter a strong beer? In 1843, Whitbread's Cooking Porter was 1063. In 1836, 1064.

And Bass. In the 1860's, Bass's Pale Ale was the joint weakest beer they brewed.

Strong? Scottish Ale Brewer has analyses of Scotch Ales of the 1840's. The strongest is 1130 and only a handful are below 1080.

Craig said...

I correct myself.

Dr L.C. Beck is quoted in the appendix of the American edition of Pereira's journal. Beck states that Albany Ale, in barrels, contains 7.38% (alcohol) and in bottles 10.67%

Craig said...

I think the issue needs to be thought of in modern, cultural terms. Speaking for myself, as an American, who knows, a bit about beer and brewing; I would not consider 6-7% ABV as strong. I would reckon that most, standard, IPAs in the U.S. fall in a range from 5.5-6.5ish ABV. I think that most people who regularly drink that style would expect that much alcohol to be present.

I cannot speak for the wonderful residents of the United Kingdom, however, I would garner a guess that most British IPAs have a slightly lower ABV, say 4-5ish. That being said, If I were accustomed to drinking a 4.2% IPA and then was informed that an IPA from the early to mid 19th century was closer to 6 or 6.5%, I might be inclined to say IPA's in the 19th century were stronger beers.

It's a semantical difference, but that might be where the confusion is coming from.

The Beer Nut said...

I think the "confusion" (it's a nicer word than "ignorance") makes itself apparent when people write that 19th century IPAs were brewed extra strong to survive the journey to India. You still see that one around a lot and, as shown above, it's nonsense.

Graham Wheeler said...

I think that the "confusion" arises because of the misnomer "pale ale". It is a label slapped onto any old beer that the brewer thinks fit. No matter how one chooses to define an ale, 19th century pale ales certainly were not ales, and IPA even less so.

It is also frequently not appreciated that there was more than one "pale ale"; porter-era pale ale and post-porter pale ale were two entirely different beasts.

There were once "true" pale ales. Ellis in 1736 gives pale ale as drawing one barrel and a firkin from a quarter of malt; that is about O.G. 1130. Only stout was stronger, and then not by much because at those levels they are approaching the maximum that can be achieved.

It would be naive to think that proper pale did not also find its way to India; everything else did.

Early references in brewing books to the beer that eventually became IPA was usually called "Export Bitter Beer". Had that name stuck rather than the IPA misnomer, considerably less 'confusion' would have taken place.

I guess that the confusion occurs because people were looking for a distinction between IPA and bog-standard bitter beer. One would naturally assume that they would be different beers, when in reality there was very little difference. It would be natural to assume that the difference would be strength to survive the journey.

Nevertheless, the real ignorance would be to assume that IPA was a standard product; that every IPA exported to India, irrespective of brewery or time period, had the same gravity and hop rate.

Of course, ninety per cent. of so-called IPAs, even 19th-century ones, got nowhere near India.

Ron Pattinson said...

Graham, it's true that 18th century Pale Ale was a completely different beer. But that's not what we are discussing. Strong Edinburgh Ales were Pale Ales, as they were brewed from 100% pale malt.

Pale Ale as prepared for India Pale Ale was always regarded as something different from the old-fashioned Pale Ale. And the analyses from Roberts specifically state which beers were for the domestic market and which were for export to India. And yes, the gravities varied, as I pointed out before, from the low 1050's to 1070.

I've many, many sources that stress the importance of export IPA being very highly attenuated. Leaving yeast and bugs nothing to feed on was much better protection than higher strength. As many sources emphasise. Export IPA was often slightly higher in alcohol than the domestic version, but with a lower OG.

I've seen brewing records and analyses of hundreds of 19th century Pale Ales and the highest OG was 1070. Most were 1060 - 1065. In the 1840's that was about average strength.

"It would be natural to assume that the difference would be strength to survive the journey."

I prefer to work from facts rather than assumptions. Where's the proof of this?

The sorry state of historical beer writing is the result of authors making assumptions rather than looking for evidence.

I'll be publishing more evidence about the strength of IPA, as opposed to guesses, soon.

Martyn Cornell said...

"The sorry state of historical beer writing is the result of authors making assumptions rather than looking for evidence."

I might have that printed on a T-shirt.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, I am the first to agree that evidence is needed, but all evidence is subject to interpretation. Even when you drill down, sometimes more questions arise than before. Secondary evidence can be just as valuable as primary: both are used in scholarship, indeed Barnard, whom you just quoted on Burton water, is a good example of secondary evidence.

And so take this comment about Hodgson's pale ale in an early 1800's article on porter:'s+pale+ale+bottled+in+India&hl=en&ei=SFkzTeLrKsmr8AaKk-jnAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CC8Q

The article was written by someone who clearly knew a lot about brewing. One might deprecate his suggested use (for one only of the porter recipes) of cocculus indicus, but "drugs" were clearly used in some recipes at the time. The technical knowledge of this author is undoubted and he is writing away closer to Hodgson's salad days in India than our own.

He writes that the beer was very strong, and gives some details about bottling in India that are interesting. And so when I read this, it makes me think, some India pale ale might have been very strong - in line with the known origins of pale ale - and the special reputation of Hodgson's perhaps was due to this factor. IIRC, Hodgson's pale ale was not one of the ones cited in Roberts' book or other 1800's analyses of beer strength.

Nothing is 100% clear to me on this issue other than that some, perhaps most, pale ale of the mid-1800's had a respectable but not outlandish strength. But even 6% ABV is 20% stronger than the U.S. norm of the late 1970's when writers first suggested IPA was a strong beer, and as I've mentioned before, the surviving example of Ballantine IPA showed people the truth of the supposition. It is the double IPAs that are 8%, when people say regular IPA was "strong", I can't disagree with that while recognizing that valuable recent research has shown it was not of extraordinary strength - save perhaps for Hodgson's.


Gary Gillman said...

Ron, I hadn't initially focused too much on the author's comments on porter, but I find them of great interest too.

First, I was wrong to state he advised use of cocculus indicus. In fact he states the opposite. But he does support use of flavouring products such as licorice, molasses, grains of paradise, capsicum, and other things which he states were traditional in porter-manufacture until the law prohibited their use. His two recipes for porter both advise use of some of these substances, so clearly (or one must take it) that he is speaking of private brewing, but I read him as offering a true taste of the old porter.

His comments about taste are interesting, that the drink must still taste of hops and malt but be flavoured with these extra things, no one of which should predominate.

And his comment that hard porter drank better when flavoured than when made only with malt (including patent malt) and hops is intriguing too. I read that as suggesting that the bouquet of the herbs and flavouring made up for the decay of the hop taste, just as bouquet enhances the taste (he said) of certain wines, which also would have been dry or on the edge of sour when drank.

While people like George Watkins and other brewing writers in the 1700's never mentioned such substances, all insisted on the great diversity of flavour in the porter brewery in London. I believe some producers must have used additives of this type. It seems irresistible that molasses at least and perhaps other sugars, were used by some, a practice that revived once the Free Mash Tun and repeal of custom duties got going. Watkins (I think it was) did advise use of elderberry.

Can we say this man knew nothing of large-scale brewing and assumed wrongly that additives were used in the 1700's when they never had been? I don't think so, he sounds too knowledgeable for that.

I am sure you saw too, returning to pale ale, the comment that Hodgson used a low fermentation.


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, that quote does indeed say that Hodgson's Pale Ale was strong. But it's a bit vague, don't you think?

And it's just a single, rather offhand reference. Be interesting to see if there are other sources that agree.

Gary Gillman said...

I agree Ron, but it does suggest something I think.