Not its earliest days. As it was called something else back then. I just threw "India Pale Ale" in the British Newspaper Archive and this is what it spat back. This wasn't a random search. I'm giving a talk on the history of IPA in about four weeks.
It's for my mate Mike Karnowski, who runs Zebulon, a small brewery in Weaverville, just North of Asheville in North Carolina. He's brewed four historic IPAs based on my recipes. (I was paid for the use of the recipes.) The talk is to accompany their launch.
My search threw up some quite early references. This is the oldest:
CHRISTOPHER ATKINSON Has received by the John Heyes and Martha; BEST Lancaster HAMS; Red-apple POTATOES in hampers of 70 lbs.; double-refined LOAF SUGAR; best (wired) BROWN-STOUT ; Cider; fine, strong, Burton and West India Pale ALE; and SODA-WATER.
Barbados Mercury and Bridge-town Gazette - Saturday 27 March 1824, page 1.
Unfortunately, not for the right type of India Pale Ale, this one being shipped West Indies rather than India. I've no idea if West India Pale Ale was similar to an East India Pale Ale. I always thought it was Strong Ale and strong Stout that was exported to the West Indies.
The next example is a few years later, but definitely the right type of India Pale Ale:
Have just received, and offer for sale,
Leals very superior Madeira Wine, in hhds, quarter-casks and half-quarter-casks; Abbott's best London double-brown Stout, and Hodgson's East India pale Ale, in hhds.
Barbadian - Friday 08 April 1831, page 2.
Not only is it the right type of IPA, it's the right brand, too. Hodgson, who dominated the trade in IPA to India in the early 19th-century. Though it was being sold in Barbados in the West Indies.
Just a year later, there's another mention of Hodgson's beer, thus time on sale in India. Along with those of his two new rivals, Bass and Allsopp:
MESSRS. FRITH, BOMANJEE AND CO., have just commenced issuing a choice batch of the following, October Brew'd Ales, which they can recommend as of superior quality, sound and ripe.
Hodgson's Pale Ale 9 Rs- per doz.
Bass's Burton Ale 8 Rs- per doz.
Allsopp's Golden Ale 8 Rs- per doz.
Barclay and Perkins's India Pale Ale, bottled here 7 Rs- per doz.
Bombay, 14th November, 1832.
None of the three great rivals beers is described as India Pale Ale. Hodgson's is simply called Pale Ale, Bass's Burton Ale and Allsopp's Golden Ale. The only one called IPA was from Barclay Perkins. I didn't think they brewed an IPA, or any other Pale Ale, until much later, in the 1880s. I wonder what it could have been? Interesting that Hodgson's beer still commanded the highest price.
Just a couple of years further doien the road we find Hodgson's IPA on sale back home, in Liverpool:
HODGSON AND CO.'S EAST INDIA PALE ALE.
J.WILLSON, from HODGSON And CO.'S, London, begs leave to call the attention of Merchants, Private Families, &c. to the very superior ALE brewed by this well-known House to which he is SOLE AGENT <illegible> desirable qualities of keeping in any climate, and not bursting the bottle, have long enabled it to maintain the high character it possesses, as peculiarly suited for Exportation. Being brewed from the finest East Kent hop it contains a particularly fine tonic property, and is consequently much recommended by the faculty, even to invalids.
No. 2, Mersey-chambers, Old Churchyard. Liverpool.
Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser - Tuesday 27 January 1835, page 1.
So good even invalids could drink it.