Old School IPA

Chris Clough’s Tweet, above, prompted us to put into words something that’s been buzzing around our heads for a while: Old School IPA is, and should be, a distinct sub-style.

What Chris was actu­al­ly get­ting at, as elab­o­rat­ed upon in sub­se­quent Tweets, is that what would have seemed a prop­er, unre­mark­able amount of bit­ter­ness in an IPA c.2010 has come to be regard­ed as high bit­ter­ness in this age of soft, sweet, fruit-juice-like beers, and there­fore a bit retro.

But, as it hap­pens, we’ve used the term fre­quent­ly to dis­tin­guish a par­tic­u­lar type of IPA, of which some oth­er exam­ples are…

  1. Weak, brown, mid-20th-cen­tu­ry IPA, e.g. Greene King.
  2. Pale, cit­rusy 1990s Amer­i­can-inspired IPA, e.g. St Austell Prop­er Job.
  3. Hazy, sweet, oniony 21st cen­tu­ry IPA, e.g. this lot.

These are all legit­i­mate takes with ver­i­fi­able lin­eage to the 19th cen­tu­ry orig­i­nal, even if it’s hard to see any fam­i­ly resem­blance between GK IPA and a Cloud­wa­ter DIPA.

India Pale Ale No. 1

But Old School IPA, as we’ve thought of it, is a kind of non-iden­ti­cal twin to the 1990s Amer­i­can style in par­tic­u­lar, emerg­ing from the same round of schol­ar­ly enthu­si­asm cen­tred around Roger Protz, Mark Dor­ber and the White Horse on Par­son­’s Green. We’ve writ­ten about this a few times but here’s a brief account from Mr Protz him­self:

Dor­ber decid­ed to hold a pale ale fes­ti­val at the pub in 1993 and asked Bass, own­ers of the White Horse, if they would brew a spe­cial IPA for the event. The brew­er respond­ed by call­ing up a retired brew­er Tom Daw­son who recalled brew­ing Bass Con­ti­nen­tal for the Bel­gian mar­ket, based on Bur­ton beers from Vic­to­ri­an times. The 7.2% beer he brewed caused such inter­est when it was launched at the White Horse that Mark Dor­ber and me, with the sup­port of the British Guild of Beer Writ­ers, organ­ised a major sem­i­nar in 1994 at the Whit­bread Brew­ery in the Bar­bi­can. Brew­ers from both Britain and the Unit­ed States attend­ed with their inter­pre­ta­tions of the style. Among those from the U.S. was Gar­rett Oliv­er who went on to become a cel­e­brat­ed brew­mas­ter at Brook­lyn Brew­ery where he still pro­duces the East India IPA he brought to the sem­i­nar.

What makes an IPA Old School in our view is and empha­sis on hop bit­ter­ness as well as, and per­haps more than, aroma/flavour; a pref­er­ence for Eng­lish hop vari­eties; mel­low orange char­ac­ter rather than pine or grape­fruit; and a cer­tain sto­ical pintabil­i­ty, despite rel­a­tive­ly high ABVs by late 20th cen­tu­ry cask ale stan­dards.

Vic­to­ri­an IPA might be a good alter­na­tive descrip­tion, and that’s cer­tain­ly the iconog­ra­phy employed on many of those we’ve come across: Old Empire, Ben­gal Lancer, Bom­bay 106, and so on. We tend to enjoy beers like this and would like to see more of them, espe­cial­ly giv­en that every­thing is IPA now any­way.

We’re not the first to give a per­son­alised break­down of IPA sub-styles – check out Jeff Alworth’s here, and Mark Dredge’s here.

8 thoughts on “Old School IPA

    1. So do I; it was to me at that time intense­ly, shock­ing­ly bit­ter: the bit­ter­est beer I’d ever tast­ed and I remem­ber strug­gling to fin­ish the pint. I won­der what I’d think of it now.

  1. Indeed, back in the late 1990s, there were a few ‘his­tor­i­cal’ IPAs lead­ing the way in that direc­tion already, and using Vic­to­ri­an imagery: Freem­iner Trafal­gar, Bur­ton Bridge Empire Pale Ale… and they were a prop­er rev­e­la­tion to me at the time ! :o)

    1. BB Empire. *Swoon*.
      I’ve always been on the dark side, myself, but I do like Vic­to­ri­an IPA.

  2. My favourite of this non­sense is New Eng­land IPA which is com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent from New Eng­land IPA.

  3. This is com­pli­cat­ed by the Amer­i­can def­i­n­i­tion of “old school,” which refers to a style I think had no ana­logue in Britain. In the US, 90s IPAs were cer­tain­ly bit­ter, but they were also thick and sweet. Caramel malt was a hall­mark of those beers, which were syrup dosed with enor­mous amounts of bit­ter­ness and lit­tle or no aro­ma and fla­vor hop­ping. They were often cop­per-col­ored and rarely any­thing less than amber.

    The bit­ter­ness was nec­es­sary to bal­ance the sweet­ness. One of the changes was when brew­ers real­ized they could dial the caramel malt back in order to reduce bitterness–which allowed room for more late-addi­tion hops. The British ver­sion of the Amer­i­can IPA (Thorn­bridge, Brew­Dog) mod­eled a lat­er type of our IPAs.

    1. Maybe a bit of a nod to things like New­cas­tle Brown? Cer­tain­ly I’d sug­gest that at that stage the flow of infor­ma­tion was more east->west before we then dis­cov­ered Cas­cade.

      I don’t like “old-school” just because it’s rel­a­tive and could refer to any­thing – are beers based on Cit­ra now old-school just because it’s been superced­ed in the cool stakes by Mosa­ic and Galaxy?

      Vic­to­ri­an IPA is get­ting clos­er – but even then there’s a prob­lem, hop­ping rates in gen­er­al declined mas­sive­ly between the 1840s and the end of the cen­tu­ry. I’d sug­gest we adopt the USian ter­mi­nol­o­gy of “Eng­lish IPA” – and hope­ful­ly in return they would adopt our “Amer­i­can Pale Ale” rather than con­tort­ing them­selves with phras­es like ses­sion IPA. That then sug­gests a more-or-less stan­dard frame­work – the (option­al) demonym refers to the coun­try of ori­gin of the main flavour/aroma hops, under say 5% it’s a Ruri­tan­ian Pale Ale, 5–7.5% it’s a Ruri­tan­ian IPA, >7.5% it’s a Ruri­tan­ian DIPA.

      My favourite Eng­lish IPA used to be the old on-trade bot­tled ver­sion by Shep­herd Neame which dis­ap­peared around the turn of the cen­tu­ry – the new off-trade ver­sion isn’t near­ly as good.

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