Tuesday, October 30, 2007

IPA, APA, ESB, WTF? (Pale Ale, Pt. I)

With so many beers out there claiming to be “pale ale,” how does one know what to expect in a brew? There are India Pale Ales, American Pale Ales, Extra Pale Ales, Bitters, the list goes on. In the next couple of installments, we’ll get to the bottom of the history and stylistic variants of the pale ale, and offer some recommendations too.

The matriarch of this family of beer can be traced back to England, where brewers were looking to develop a more consistent and paler variety of ale. Unfortunately, the wood kilns used to roast malts often produced off-flavors and very dark malts. When coke was produced from coal in the 18th century, it allowed for a high heat pale malt that could be produced consistently. These original pale ales were a notable departure from the sweet English brown ales, as well as the dark porters, and were enjoyed by drinkers as far back as the 1750’s.

An export problem created the first split in the pale ale family tree, when British brewers were trying to overcome the long shelf life and resistance to temperature fluctuations that would be needed in brew headed to their tropical colonies, especially India. Continual rocking and high temperatures were not friendly to British browns and porters, not to mention chugging a porter in the Indian heat doesn’t sound all that appealing, does it? Shipping rates to colonial India were low (thanks in part to the value of silk and spices that could be shipped back), so the brewers that came up with a solution to the sea voyage would be rewarded handsomely with profit.

The solution was found in brewing a pale ale that had a higher alcohol content and more hops, which made it inhospitable for microbes. The beer also matured during the long voyage, giving it a flavor all its own. This recipe tweak is purportedly attributable to George Hodgson, who was subsequently copied by many brewers, including the legendary pale ale brewery Bass, and the India Pale Ale, or IPA, was born.

More splits in the pale ale tree to come tomorrow. Stay tuned!

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1 comment:

kyle said...

Looking forward to more pale ale posts. Can't wait to see what the BOTB picks are for pales.