This single-topic epic by Mitch Steele, ‘brewmaster’ at Stone Brewing Co. in California, contains more information about India pale ale (IPA) than most people will need or want to know, and only brewers will get full value from it. Detail junkies, however, will find plenty in which to wallow.
We don’t know Steele or anything about him and went into IPA: brewing techniques, recipes and the evolution of India pale ale expecting something, after the house style of his employers, ‘aggressive’ and ‘passionate’ in style. In fact, the tone is quietly scholarly, and reassuringly deferential to researchers and historians who have gone before, such as Mark Dorber, Ron Pattinson and Martyn Cornell. Nor is there any sense that this is a publicity opportunity for Stone: where they are mentioned, it is only where it might have seemed crazy to omit them.
The first half of the book is among the best attempts to synthesise the entire confusing history of IPA in the light of recent work by Pattinson, Cornell and others. Steele acknowledges that some old myths have been demolished without crowing about it, and negotiates the intricacies of the story (the sticking points, you might say) with care. East London and Burton upon Trent are given due attention and credit, before the focus switches, rightly, to America and the American influence elsewhere. All the history is thoroughly referenced, too, with footnotes on almost every page. (If you are put off by footnotes, go and watch Spongebob Squarepants or something and stop ruining books for everyone else.)
Our favourite nuggets: the story in the introduction about Anheuser-Busch’s abortive attempts to brew an IPA in the 2006; the slyly euphemistic admission that many American ‘double IPAs’ have levels of ‘hoppiness’ only possible using ‘alternative hop products'; and another excellent if unsuccessful attempt to pin down ‘black IPA’, which makes it sound like strong, hoppy dark mild.
Brewers and home brewers will be excited by the second half of the book which, thanks to Steele’s industry connections, contains recipes for a startling number of well-regarded recent IPAs, along with historical recipes from trusted sources. We were particularly fascinated to see a recipe for Thornbridge Jaipur, though a little bird at the brewery told us it had been tweaked in recent years and no longer contains Vienna malt as per Steele’s instructions. There are also some clever selections: J.W. Lees Harvest Ale is included as the best present-day equivalent of an ‘October Beer’ (the ancestor of IPA), and their Manchester Star as an example of an ‘East India Porter’, the original ‘black IPA’.
One of our favourite parts of the book is at the back: a short guide to interpreting historic brewing records. Ron Pattinson coached us through this St Austell recipe from 1912 but, from now on, IPA will act as a handy desk reference for attempts to decode the mysterious scribblings of long-dead brewers.
The obligatory last paragraph complaint before we sum up? Perhaps as a result of attempting to be diplomatic at every turn, Steele ends up lacking much in the way of a voice, and the book can be a touch dry at times, which made us wish this had been a straight-up collaboration with Pattinson and/or Cornell, both of whom can be trusted to put the boot in now and again. Overall, though, like For the Love of Hops, it is much more than a text book and well worth any beer geek adding to their library.
The book has 352 pages and was published by Brewers Publications in 2012. We bought our copy through Amazon for £10.44 but the US retail price is $24.95.