Friday, 2 July 2021

Even earlier IPA

Knowing that I wouldn't find the term India Paler Ale earlier than the 1820s, I gave the search terms "Pale Ale" and "India" a whirl in the newspaper archives. And came up with lots of material.

From the mid-1780s, there are loads of mentions of Pale Ale in the Calcutta Gazette. All advertisements for the sale of the "investments" of ship's officers. That is, the goods they had bought for the outward journey, intended for sale to the British living in India.

Judging by the number and bulk of the items, this must have been the whole cargo of the ship. There are lots of bulky items like furniture. As well as casks of various types of booze. Obviously, it's the latter that attract my attention.

Here's just the alcohol section of one sale:

The entire Investment of CAPTAIN GREGORY, or THE MANSHIP, PURCHASED BY POPE AND FAIRLIE, And which will be exposed for SALE, at their WAREHOUSE, as soon as landed; Consisting chiefly of the following articles
Ditto form Stockdale,
Ditto from Urquhart,
Old port wine
Old Jamaica rum,
Rum Shrub,
Old Coriac brandy,
Cherry brandy.
Herefordshire Cyder,
Porter, in casks,
Pale ale, in ditto,
Hereford cyder in bottles
Calcutta Gazette - Thursday 15 June 1786, page 6.

That's pretty typical of the drinks you see: claret, port, Jamaica rum, cider and beer. The latter being almost always Porter and Pale Ale.

Something that's pissed me off for a while is the claim that the original IPA was based on October Beer. So that it must have been 9% ABV, at least. I've never come across the slightest evidence for that. Yes, it might say "October brewed" in the description. But that doesn't mean something was an October Beer in style. It just meant that it had been brewed in the best time of the year for a Stock Ale. 

Right through the 19th-century Stock Pale Ales were advertised as having been brewed in October. But October Beers they certainly were not.

My argument has always been: As no brewing records exist for IPA from this period, we can only guess as to their strength. Though there is another way of getting some idea of this: the price IPA sold for. Which is why this is so revealing.

THERE being considerable sums due to Messrs. Towers and Allen, previous to, and since their partnership; and as they have now in possession a stock of the best liquors; that their friends and the public may be accommodated, and to induce a speedy adjustment of out-standing debts, they will take in payment of the same, and for their liquors, all orders and bills, payable at the offices of Government, or on persons of credit here, at a discount of five per cent. or bearing common interest; they will give liquors for any overplus of bills, offered them in payment of debts, free of discount. As a further encouragement, they have reduced the prices of their stock as follows. 

Hock, rich and old, per dozen, sicca Rupees 50
French bottled burgundy and claret, highly flavoured 30
Cyder, remarkably fine 20
Strong Jamaica rum, old and pure 25
Do. coniac brandy, do 21
Elegant white brandy 32
Rum, in small casks, per Gallon 7
Brandy, do. do. 6
London Porter, and pale Ale, light and excellent, per hhd. 150
Do. in half hhds.  80
Do. in quarter do. 40
Do. in bottles, per dozen 12

Empty Bottles taken and allowed for.
The malt Liquors are engaged sound and in perfect order.
Calcutta Gazette - Thursday 08 April 1784, page 7.

Pale Ale is the same price as Porter. As it was usually sold at a premium compared to Porter, if they are the same price the Pale Ale has to be weaker. It's also described as "light", which isn't a term you'd use for a big, fat, heavy October Beer.

The first analyses of Porter by Richardson in the 1770s give it a gravity of 1075º and 7.5% ABV. Given the increase in the tax on malt in the 1780s, the strength would have fallen.  My guess would be that the Pale Ale advertised would have been 6.5% ABV, at most.


Anonymous said...

It is some evidence, and useful to that extent, but still lots of unknowns: e.g. brand, but might have been Hodgson's; prices reduced, in this case, but was standard price as between pale ale and porter the same?; OGs surely not well-understood in brewhouse still; and some mid-1800s examples of strong IPA (8%-10%) like Salt, Dow, Labatt. I'd argue too Abbott & Sons 1850, successor to Hodgson, from an advert I also discussed a few years ago.

As you are a specialist in study of brewing records, as a matter of interest, why have 1780s London records proved so elusive, yet abundant starting about a generation later?

That India Ale of 1799, Barclays IIRC mentioned by Peter Mathias, where would the record for that be? He had analyzed in-depth its rest books, perhaps the brewing records exist, too.

Gary Gillman

Anonymous said...

In case your database doesn't include US newspapers, it may interest you to search the Library of Congress database,

For example, the earliest hit I saw for IPA was in the Vermont Telegraph of Nov. 20 1839, which refers to cargo from a Liverpool ship including "6 cases East India Madeira Wine, 20 casks Pale Ale, 10 do. Brown Stout, &c"

Since Madeira doesn't come from India, I think this maybe an indication the wine, Pale Ale and Porter were a portion of the cargo bound for East India.

Ron Pattinson said...


in the 1780s the big brewers in Britain knew exactly how strong their beers were.

IPA was always more expensive than Porter in the UK, even when their strength was the same. IPA - and Pale Ales in general - was always sold at a premium relative to its strength, in the 19th century. In the 1870s, Bass Pale Ale had the equal lowest OG (along with their weakest Mild), yet was one of their most expensive beers.

I don't have a single analysis of an English IPA over 8% ABV. The earliest solid data I have - from the 1840s - averages IPA out under 7% ABV.

The earliest Barclay Perkins brewing book is "missing", i.e. stolen. I think I might have seen it offered for sale on the internet. Almost no 18th-century brewing records exist. Why? I'm not sure.

The Beer Wrangler said...

I thought the connection to October Beer wasn't the strength but that it was made using pale malts and was hopped for longevity/stability (I.e. a strong pale stock ale)
Pale ales for India were an 'ordinary strength" version?
Clearly I may well be very wide of the mark...

Anonymous said...

The 1862 Lancet analysis, has a Salt pale ale at 7.76 "absolute alcohol", and an Allsopp pale ale at 8.46 ditto, which are weight measures AFAIK, and translate of course to higher abv. Pretty sure you include that in an earlier blog post and one of the books? Not saying it was typical, but perhaps Hodgson, always known for its special reputation, etc., was similar.

Plus the 1850 advert of Abbott, inferentially again.

The Salt/Allsopp 1862 attenuations were quite low, around 1007 vs., the others in the Lancet table of less strength, but this would be usual with some pale ale going to a hot country.

The Canadian ones are not English but were part of the British world, in 1867 Canada had just turned (quasi-) independent. And those colonial brewers surely knew, or those who trained them, Hodgson's overseas.

Anyway, pity to hear about an apparent abstraction of an important record. Hope one day it will turn up or something analogous.

Gary Gillman