Can't help but be amused that any IPA with a hint of bitterness is now being referred to as "old school"
— Chris Clough (@9SquirrelsBrew) June 28, 2017
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…
- Weak, brown, mid-20th-century IPA, e.g. Greene King.
- Pale, citrusy 1990s American-inspired IPA, e.g. St Austell Proper Job.
- 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.
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.