The Myth of the Authentic IPA

From an advertisement for Whitbread IPA, 1935.
From an advertisement for Whitbread IPA, 1935.PA

Modern beer historians have done some wonderful work challenging myths about India Pale Ale. The one we’re interested right now is this, as expressed by Martyn Cornell in a post which then demolishes it:

North American craft brewers more closely adhere to early IPA specifications than do British brewers who, as a group, do not.

How did that belief arise? What was going on in the world of beer to convince everyone (including us) that, if a beer wasn’t strong and aromatic, it wasn’t a ‘real’ IPA? Here are four possible contributions to the development of that myth.

1. The Durden Park Beer Circle published, Old British Beers and How to Make Them, an influential collection of historic recipes, in 1976. We haven’t got our hands on an original edition but our 2003 reprint contains this on Hodgson’s India Pale Ale

…had an OG over 70, a hop rate of 2.5 oz per gallon… [and was] carefully primed and dry hopped before despatch to India. Fully matured by the tropical heat, India ale had a hop nose, full flavour and the luscious taste that only comes with an initially over-hopped ale that has fully matured.

2. Anchor Liberty, first brewed in 1975 using tons of the then new Cascade hop, was ‘inspired’ by the British practice of dry hopping, and its strength was similar to that of early nineteenth-century British IPAs. The brewery was old; their Steam Beer was a survivor of an earlier age; the beer had a faux-vintage label; and was brewed to commemorate American independence. All of that, perhaps, added up to a sense of historical authenticity it didn’t exactly deserve.

3. Though he barely mentioned IPA in his 1977 World Guide to Beer, Michael ‘Beer Hunter’ Jackson’s 1982 Pocket Guide (the one most people we’ve spoken to actually owned, because it was smaller and cheaper) describes the intensely bitter, hop-aromatic Ballantine’s IPA as a survivor of an earlier age of American brewing, descended from nineteenth-century British beers. It’s easy to see how this might have developed into the myth of the ‘more authentic American IPA’.

4. In 1993, at the request of Mark Dorber of the White Horse in West London, Bass brewed an IPA to a historic recipe. It was c.6.5% ABV with 84 units of bitterness, according to a contemporary Guardian article by Roger Protz (4/9/1993): ‘it’s like putting your head inside a sack of hops fresh from Kent. The aroma is pungent, spicy, peppery and resiny, and the hops dominate the palate and the finish as well.’

5. The excitement around the recreated Bass IPA, and the White Horse festival it was brewed for, triggered a brief historical IPA mania. Robin Young of The Times described IPAs brewed to nineteenth-century recipes as ‘the special fad’ of the 1994 Great British Beer Festival; and the 1995 Good Beer Guide reports on the preceding year’s ‘IPA fever’. The emphasis in most reports was on the authenticity and hop ‘oomph’ of these brews compared to supposedly ‘Bowdlerized’ modern IPAs.

Anyone else have any suggestions? Is there a c.1980 US home brewing text, perhaps, that makes the claim?

UPDATE: we have an answer, we think. Roger Protz’s 2001 book India Pale Ale (written with Clive Le Pensée) includes a detailed account of how IPA was ‘revived’ in the nineties, beginning with a seminar at the White Horse in 1990, followed up in 1994. There is much talk of Bowdlerizing and ‘true IPA’, and reports of a trans-Atlantic agreement on the bare minimum spec for an IPA: 5.5% ABV, 40 units of bitterness.

The Meaning of Ale

Sign for zum Uerige, Duesseldorf, Germany.

In 1977, beer writer Michael Jackson, choosing his words carefully, said this in his World Guide to Beer:

Although its palate is emphatically German, Altbier is not dissimilar in style from the British and North American ales, and it even more clearly resembles Belgian top-fermented beers like the Antwerp De Koninck brew.

Not dissimilar, resembles… what he doesn’t say is that Alt or Belgian top-fermented beers are ales — only that some top-fermentated beers share certain characteristics. He doesn’t use the word ‘ale’ at all when discussing Kölsch in the same book. It’s a way of helping people who’ve never been to Düsseldorf or tasted Alt to understand what to expect, and also perhaps to make a point about the influence of yeast.

A year later, however, Michael Dunn, in his Penguin Guide to Real Draught Beer, which lists Jackson’s book in its very short bibliography, presented this over-simplification of the same idea:

Even though we do not have real lager in Britain, excellent real draught beer is obtainable on the continent — there are, for example, the alt beers of Düsseldorf, the Belgian trappiste beers, and kölsch [sic] beers from Cologne — but these are top-fermented ales and not lagers.

Dunn, elected to CAMRA’s national executive in 1976, had an axe to grind: if the best beer is ale, in the sense applied by CAMRA after 1971, then foreign beers which could be described as such were more easily accepted into the fold.

But how many others at this time misread and/or misrepresented Jackson in the same way? Are people cribbing from him, but lacking his subtlety, to blame for the irritating tendency to call anything top-fermented, from whatever culture, ‘ale’? As German beer blogger Felix vom Endt put it in a recent discussion on Twitter: ‘Altbier = Altbier and Kölsch = Kölsch .. You don’t translate it’.

Ten long articles on beer to read later

Tablet computers and smartphones have led to a growth industry in apps that take articles from the web and present them in a clean, readable, magazine-like format. We use Pocket (formerly Read it Later) which allows you to mark articles online to enjoy later in a customised publication which, as if by magic, only covers topics in which we’re interested.

Longform and Longreads are great places to find substantial articles available online, but there’s little in their curated collections which touches on beer. So, with that in mind, here are ten decent-sized articles related to our favourite topic that might get you through a long train journey.

1. The murder of US brewery millionaire Adolph Coors III in 1960 (via Longform)

Provides an interesting insight into the US brewing business in the 20th century, as well as being an enthralling ‘true crime’ story.

2. How British landowners used to age strong ale for twenty years or more (Zythophile)

We could fill this entire list with Martyn ‘Zythophile’ Cornell’s meticulous, article-length ‘blog posts’ but have limited ourselves to two.

3. The Most Notorious Brewer in History (Zythophile)

Antoine-Joseph Santerre was France’s biggest brewer in the 18th century and a revolutionary to boot.

4. New Yorker magazine’s profile of Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione (New Yorker)

Love or hate ‘extreme’ US beer, Burkhard Bilger’s interview gives a great insight into the thinking behind it.

5. How 45 million year-old yeast was recultured from a sample trapped in amber (Wired)

Like Jurassic Park only with yeast instead of dinosaurs. (The yeast doesn’t chase anyone, sadly.)

6. Binge drinking and moral panics in British history (History and Policy)

Are there lessons to be learned from how the government reacted to the ‘gin craze’ in the 18th century?

7. The story of Budweiser Budvar (Des de Moor)

The history, the controversy and the Czech brewery’s struggle to remain independent.

8. The rise of ‘craft keg’ in the UK (by Adrian Tierney Jones)

Quibbles over terminology aside, a good summary of where we’re at and how we got here.

9. The Beer Strikes of 1834 (Brewery History Society)

Tim Holt’s fascinating account of a crisis in London brewing that began with a dispute over pay for coopers.

10. Beer at the Thanksgiving Table (Michael Jackson)

A reminder that beer writers have been trying to convince people that beers goes with food for a long time. This article dates from 1983.

In several cases above, there are a treasure trove of articles behind the ones we’ve picked — the Michael Jackson, Brewery History Society and Zythophile websites are particular goldmines.

We were nudged to finish this post by this discussion: we like short blog posts, but love long articles, too.

 

The one that got away

Augsburger Plaerrer billboard from 2007

A recent discussion about Steinbier reminded us of a trip to Augsburg, Bavaria, in 2007.

We were armed with our well-worn copy of Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide which, back then, we referred to in reverent tones as “The Book”.

The Book told us that, in Augsburg, we had to try Rauchenfelser Steinbier (“Style: Stone Beer”), an amber lager darkened and given a “smoky, treacle-toffee flavour” by burning hot rocks chucked into the boil.

What The Book commanded, we did. Or tried to do, at least: there was no Steinbier to be found. The brewery, we were told, after we had undertaken much schlepping and hunting, had closed. Under the impression that this was the only Steinbier on the market, we left Germany mourning the one that got away.

Now we hear from well informed sources that other German breweries make Steinbier, so perhaps, one day, we’ll get to try one after all. There’s something a little poignant about knowing that a specific beer has passed away before you got chance to know it, but at least it beats missing out on a whole family of beers.

We remember Augsburg fondly. We hit town as the Plärrer (folk festival) was in full flow, drank too much of a delicious beer that tasted just like sausages, and Boak threw up in a flowerbed. Happy times.