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
ENGLISH CLARET, from Barns,
Ditto form Stockdale,
Ditto from Urquhart,
Old port wine
Old Jamaica rum,
Old Coriac brandy,
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.
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.