This past month has been a bit of a shift for me in my beer interests. Never one to be too captivated by English style beers, reading Amber Gold and Black: The History of Britain’s Great Beers by Martyn Cornell has actually really fired me up about the history of the classic British beer styles. First is was a tweaked take on Irish Stout that ended up being pretty American in flavor (Blame the Amarillo hops), and now I’ve set my sights on IPA. No, not your typical citrus, pine, and alcohol American IPA, a proper British version of the style as might have been brewed in Burton Upon Trent in the late 19th century. Almost.
For the April issue of West Coaster, we decide to focus a little more on the beer itself (novel, I know) and I was tasked with writing my Into The Brew column on India Pale Ale. A rather open-ended proposition as usual, it took some brainstorming to nail down exactly what I was going to write about this famous and oft-romanticised beer style. In some brief past research on the style, it seemed to me that the popular stories that are so often quoted on six-pack holders and brewery websites are often not that accurate when it comes to the details. I figured that some thorough research was in order. I wanted to get down to the real story of IPA as best I could, and write a piece that might turn some people on to new ideas (to them) about this relatively old beer. There ended up being two beer historians that informed the majority of what I wrote: Cornell, and the Amsterdam-based British expat Ronald Pattinson. Pattinson’s blog, Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, has over 80 posts on “IPA” with over 30 more on “India Pale Ale.” I didn’t actually check to see if those are mostly, if not all redundant labels, but you get the idea. Pattinson has done a mash tun of research with historical documents, often first person brewing logs and manuals, on India Pale Ale. Cornell’s chapter on IPA in Amber Gold and Black is probably the best one-stop-shop historical rundown on the style, as brewed in Britain at least. For the modern American history, I had to pull mostly from things I’ve gathered from other sources and my own experience in brewing and drinking American IPAs over the last few years.
I’m not going to go into the history of IPA in this post. I have an alternate version of my West Coaster article the I think I’ll post here shortly. It was the history-heavy version that ended up being far to long for print and got scrapped in favor of a more concise narrative. What I will talk about, that I didn’t really go into in the article, is what it takes to brew an IPA. Not in a broad, authoritative sense, but just in my personal experience of trying to craft something that resembles a late 19th century British example more that a modern american one. But, as the hopeless American brewer that I am, it was a hopelessly flawed endeavor form the start. I just can’t help throwing a few tweaks in there to suit the modern American palate.
From the time that the term “India Pale Ale” actually came into use (around the middle of the 19th century) the style had already been brewed in its most famous (Burton) incarnation for several decades. The Burton innovation, if you can call it that, was to take the original Hodgson model of a very highly hopped, fully fermented, medium-strength pale ale brewed with all pale malt, and brew it with the very permanently hard Burton water. Permanent hardness is the measure of calcium and magnesium in the water, versus temporary hardness which is a measure of carbonates. Burton has a crap ton of calcium, which is mostly in the form of calcium sulphate, commonly referred to as gypsum. Compared to the carbonate and chloride heavy water that Hodgson, the original exporter of pale ales to India, was using, it allowed the Burton brewers to craft a better tasting, even paler beer with a crisper and more defined hop character. “Burtonizing” brewing liquor (water) by adding gypsum to it became a widespread practice by pale ale brewers in other areas of Britain by the end of the 19th century. With so many American brewers focusing on making hoppy beers these days, it is once again a very common practice on this side of the pond as well. With most brewers altering their brewing liquor, the advantages that brewers in certain areas once enjoyed due to their local water are a thing of the past.
The other Burton ingredient that I think needs to be emulated is the yeast. In the US we have a product from White Labs called “Burton Ale” but I’m not sure if it’s actually from a Burton brewery. The Mr. Malty yeast strain guide (done by Kristin England, who I tend to trust) says that it is the Brakspear Bitter yeast strain from Henley on Thames. Well, Henley on Thames is not anywhere close to Burton. It’s in Oxfordshire, which is just west of London, considerably to the south of Burton. The guide also says that Wyeast sells an equivalent yeast strain labeled “Thames Valley” so I’m just not sure what to think. Upon some further research into Brakspear, it appears to be currently brewed at Wychwood in Witney, Oxfordshire, the Brakspear brewery having closed in 2002. Despite all of this, there is still a Burton connection to be found. The Brakspear brand is actually now owned by the Burton brewer Marstons. I can imagine that White labs got the strain from Marstons and thus named it “Burton” regardless of whether the strain is actually a Marstons strain that they started using on Brakspear, or whether it is actually the original Brakspear strain from Oxfordshire. Either way, there’s no telling where it was form originally, and England being the relatively small place that it is, it might not really matter all that much. I’d have loved to get an authentic strain from a Burton brewer, but the only one that looks to be ever available is the Marstons strain and it is only a seasonal product and not currently available. So I decided that it was worth giving the White Labs Burton Ale strain a go. I’ve read some good reviews of it and it appears to be nicely attenuative while still having a good fruity ester profile.
Malt for a 19th century throwback IPA is about as simple as you can get; just go with a nice British pale ale malt and you are set. Meantime out of London makes a throwback IPA in which they use 9% English munich malt and 1% light caramel malt for color, as well as 6% sugar on top of a blended pale ale malt that is a mix of maris otter barley and other British cultivars. I think what they are getting at is that the pale ale malt today is a little paler than what would have been available back then, so they add a couple darker grains to try to get closer to what an all-pale ale malt grist might have produced 150 or so years ago. Sugar is a good addition to help get a dry finish and increase esters and alcohol. It was certainly in widespread use by the 20th century but I think it was illegal to use before the Free Mash Tun Act was passed in 1880. I like dry IPAs and think that a small amount of sugar is a good addition to get the right balance. Since I actually want a very pale beer, Crisp pale ale malt on its own seemed like a good choice for grain.
Hops would have typically been English, though I’ve now seen that Continental and even American hops sometimes found their way into 19th century British beers. Goldings or Fuggles would be the most obvious choices. Meantime uses roughly a 50/50 blend of the two in their IPA. I’ve been getting more interested in American derivatives of Noble and English hop varietals lately. I like the idea of using all American hops in my beers but still getting distinctively different characters from them. Willamette is supposed to be a descendent of Fuggles and I happened to have an unopened pound in the freezer. We’ll have to see how “English” tasting an all-Willamette beer is. I’m going a little higher on late additions than would have been typical 150 years ago. Actually probably a lot higher. For dry hops I’m scaling a little back from the large end of boil addition, which I usually wouldn’t do for an American IPA. I just like the idea of an English IPA relying more on boil hops for flavor and aroma and less on dry hops like good American versions do.
For starting gravity I’ve been captivated by 1.054 because it is the lower limit that brewers would make their IPAs to because they lost a tax break when they went any lower. That seems a little low based on our modern understanding of the style, but was common back in the day. 1.060 seems more like the current lower limit, and it was certainly right in the range, historically. I wanted the beer to taste like one would expect in an IPA but be on the less-alcoholic side, so 1.062 seemed reasonable. The final recipe ended up looking like this for 5 gallons with a 75% mash efficiency:
White Wizard IPA
10# Crisp pale ale malt
0.5# Turbinado sugar
Mash at 149F for 1 hour with 1.5 quarts/pound of grain
90 minute boil
1oz CTZ @ 90
1oz Willamette @ 30
2oz Willamette @ 15
3oz Willamette @ KO
2oz Willamette Dry Hop
1.5L starter of WLP023 Burton Ale yeast, chilled and decanted, and then another 0.5L of wort added to reactivate on brewday. Chilled wort to 67F, oxygenated with a stone for 1.5 minutes and pitched yeast.
After abut 40 hours, gravity had already dropped to 1.018 from 1.062 and the krausen had already blown out of the carboy a couple times. This is quite the active strain, but it already smells and tastes great, minus a touch of sulfur that I’ve read will clear with a few more days. I’m note sure how long I’ll dry hops this, but probably at least a week to get some more earthy character out of the hops. For a name, I’m taking my friend Adam’s suggestion, who after seeing a picture of the fermenting beer, said that “it looks like the seeing stones that the wizards used in Lord of the Rings.” Good call. I hope Gandalf would approve.