How to brew an India Pale Ale…

India Pale Ales are arguably one of the most popular styles among homebrewers. To understand the style, we must go back to the roots of the industrial revolution in seventeenth century England. With the introduction of coke for use as a fuel source around 1642 , maltsters were able to produce malts with considerably less colour and smokiness than malts dried from wood fires. Porters and milds would have been common at the time due to the darker malts, and it wasn’t until 1703 that the term “Pale Ale’ actually came into use. The darker beers would have continued to dominate the market, partly because the newer pale malts were more expensive. As a result of Henry Thrale’s use of a hydrometer at Anchor Brewery in 1770, brewers were able to tell that the yield of fermentables from the paler malts was actually greater, thus offsetting the difference in cost. When the tax on glass was lifted in 1845, it irreversibly paved the way for a much wider appreciation of the golden-copper coloured ales. By this time, The Bow Brewery had been taking advantage at the low cargo rates on the ships returning to India for 40+ years, calling the new beer “India Ale”. I’m sure the first shipments must have been met with complaints and even refusals due to what must have been very skunky beer. The long ocean voyage through the tropics would have been the perfect conditions to ruin any beer that was in production at the time. A brewer at the Bow Brewery, George Hodgson, by adjusting his recipe, discovered that higher hopping rates, along with higher attenuation, resulted in a beer that was able to withstand the arduous 3 month voyage. (Hops are antibacterial by nature and higher attenuation would leave less residual sugars for any microorganisms to feast on, also resulting in a higher alcohol content) With these changes, the world was introduced to India Pale Ale.

[If you’re interested in learning more of the history, take the time and follow Thom Tomlinson from Brewing Techniques on the complete journey of one of the world’s great beer styles: India Pale Ale Part 1: IPA and Empire & Part 2: The Sun Never Sets.]

Obviously, the distinguishing characteristics of an India Pale Ale are it’s high hopping level and elevated alcohol content. When designing your recipe, start by using these guidelines:

  • Use a quality English or American 2 row malt for your base. If using extract, use the pale or light DME
  • Use 5-8% crystal malt with a rating of about 40L
  • Up to 5% of the grist may be a specialty malt such as carapils, vienna, munich, aromatic, biscuit, victory etc.
  • Your original gravity should be between 1.050 – 1.070
  • Use hops according to style: East Kent Goldings, Fuggles or Challenger for English IPA’s and Cascade, Centennial or Chinook for American IPA’s
  • Your bitterness ratio should be a minimum of 0.800 (40-60 IBU’s, but can be higher)
  • Dry hopping is, of course, appropriate for IPA’s. Plus experiment with the timing of your additions, @15mins,@10mins, @5mins, during the whirlpool, just prior to running through your chiller etc.
  • Use a water to grain ratio of about 1 quart per pound to make a thick mash with a temperature between 149°F – 154°F.
  • Colour is generally be between 4-14 SRM.

  • Use a high attenuating yeast strain such as a “London” type ale for English IPA’s or an “American” ale type strain for American IPA’s.

Some of my personal favourites are Sgt. Major IPA (LCBO#610733 ) & Beau’s Beaver River IPeh? (LCBO#242701 )

Of course, you’re free to do whatever you want, but to target the basic foundation of the style, this is a good starting point.

Happy brewing!


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