The popular belief about where IPA came from is that dark beer was hard to import to India in the time of England’s colonial presence, so people added more hops and alcohol to make it less likely to spoil. Recently it has come out that this isn’t true at all, and in fact England had been exporting dark beers and enjoying them even in India’s hot climate for centuries before IPA was invented. Beer did not need to be strong to survive the journey to India.
So what’s the real story? Well, the one thing “popular belief” has correct is the time frame. India Pale Ale was created in the 18th century, but it was called “Pale Ale prepared for India” which didn’t get shortened to “India Pale Ale” until the 19th century. IPA also wasn’t really invented by anyone. A common myth is that it was invented by George Hodgson in East London, but the facts show that while George Hodgson was definitely one of the first to market it, the style was slowly developed over time by several breweries as said “Pale Ale prepared for India”.
While it is true that brewers of the time were told that lots of hops had to be added to beer to survive being sent somewhere warm, this wasn’t limited to India at all and the hoppy beer was shipped to other warm climates like Africa and Indonesia.
Finally, what really led IPA to become so popular in the UK? The wives’ tale around it is that a ship wrecked in Scotland that was carrying IPA allowing for the locals to sample the brew, and while there was a shipwreck, it turns out that IPA had been popular in the area for 40 years by that point because of a railway that made it much easier for Burton brewers to transport their IPA to the UK.
If you’re fascinated by the history and want to enjoy an IPA but are abstaining from alcohol, why not try Partake Brewing’s IPA? You can buy it here if you’re in Canada, or here if you’re in the USA. It’s got a better taste and is definitely better for you than those 19th century IPAs ;).