Monday, June 17, 2013

Anglo-American Relations

Reading Boak and Bailey's most recent post about the "Authentic IPA" myth and that modern American IPAs are more historically accurate to what traditional British IPAs of the 19th century were, rather than those IPAs that are being produced by British breweries today, got me thinking. B&B's post looks at the roots of the myth—how this whole idea that American IPAs are more historical than British IPAs came about and a few possible reasons behind the fallacies. To my thinking, however, there's something else going on. The whole concept of a myth is that it's not true, but it's still an explanation of how A got to B—but something is off about he whole relationship of British IPA to American IPA—it seems to be a bit of a red-herring. The way I look at it, A doesn't lead to B—A runs parallel to B.

I propose that American IPA and British IPA are two totally different animals—and always have been—each with their own separate histories and lineages. I think the problem arrises because people can't wrap their minds around the fact that two beers which share similar characteristics, might not be all that related. We wouldn't assume that two fellows both named Todd and both with blond hair, were the same person—or were even related—simply because they share a name and have similar hair color—but we do that with IPA.

The story we've all been told is that when American craft beer started to gain momentum in the late 1970s and early 80s—especially on the west coast—and as a nod to the all mighty and powerful British brewing tradition of the 19th century, plucked IPA from obscurity and revived it—with a twist—a twist of potent, citrusy American hops. There's a couple of assumptions going on here. The first is that North American IPA is a relatively new phenomenon and that those same American IPAs are some how the progeny of British IPAs.

It's not, and they aren't.

IPA has been made in the U.S. since at least the 1860s, and maybe earlier—I seem to recollect a New York newspaper ad from as early as the 1840s, selling American made India Ale. The idea that the "American" IPA came about in the early 1980s is just plain wrong. Once again the collective conscience of American beer history has replaced the old with the new.

B&B bring up a number of examples of where the myth may have come from, and they serve my purpose, as well. In their post B&B note the dry-hopping of Anchor Liberty Ale—arguably one of the "first" modern American IPAs, released way back in 1975.They assert that Anchor's technique of dry hopping was borrowed from British brewers. The only thing is, dry-hopping of American beer was common in the 19th and early 20th century, so perhaps Anchor's employment of that technique might not be as 'inspired' by British brewing as you may think.

Onto Ballantine's IPA—another example from B&B's post. The authors note that Michael Jackson had mentioned in his 1982 Pocket Guide to Beer, that Ballantine's IPA was intensely bitter and hop-aromatic, a survivor of an earlier age of American brewing, descended from nineteenth-century British beers. There's a couple of things wrong with that—and not by B&B either—by the late great MJ. First off, if IPA was being made in the U.S. during the 19th-century wouldn't it make more sense that Ballantine brewery was harkening back to those brews, rather than British beer. As I mentioned earlier, IPA, even in the 1950s would have been a known entity in the U.S. for nearly 100 years, perhaps more. Incidentally Peter Ballantine was a Scot, but learned the brewing trade in the United States—at Robert Dunlop's brewery in Albany. Secondly, from the 1940s to the 1960s Ballantine's IPA ranged from around 6.5 to 7.8% ABV. Quite a bit stronger than any British IPA of the time. Also, while hopped traditionally, Ballantine's brewers used hop oil extract to intensify its hoppy aroma (hop oil doesn't add bitterness, only aroma). Hop oil was a common ingredient in American beer of the late-19th and early 20th century. Amsdell used it quite often in their records from the turn of the century. The use of hop extract was somewhat common in German brewing (see examples here, here and here) during the 19th-century—but not so much in British brewing. At the end of the 19th century we start see German lager techniques—kräusening, cold-conditiong, as well as the use of hop extracts—applied to American Ale manufacturing. 

Speaking of Amsdell, they made an IPA in 1905 that had an OG of 1.077 and an FG of 1.029—attenuated at 62% resulting in a 6.4% ABV beer. it was hopped with 2.5 lbs of hops to the U.S. 31.5 gallon barrel and boiled for an hour. Amsdell's IPA was also dry-hopped with 4 pounds of hops. Ron compared those numbers to a Whitbread IPA from 1902. That beer was significantly weaker at 4.88% ABV, and hopped with the equivalent of about 1.75 lbs of hops per U.S. barrel (2.65 lbs/Imp bbl) of hops and boiled for 90 minutes. All said and done, American IPA of 100 years ago was a fair bit stronger than its British counterparts, but British IPA was far more bitter. Low attenuation and lower hopping rates, compared to comparable British beers of the same time, is a trend we see in American brewing, going all the way back to Matthew Vassar in the 1830s.

The trajectory of American IPA over the last 150 years seems to be that of maintaining its strength—in the range of 6.5 to upwards of 8% ABV—while increasing its hopping rates; the last twenty years being the crescendo in that endeavor. British IPAs on the other hand have significantly decreased in strength—dropping from the 5.5 to 6% range, to below 4%. Their hopping rates, while still relatively high, have also decreased over time. Both beers have also employed a number of different ingredients and brewing techniques. As a side note, this also debunks the original myth—neither beer, today, accurately represents what British IPA was like in the 19th century. 

So, to sum it up, we have two beers who over time, have had consistently different strengths, and hopping rates, and significantly varied methods of production—but are supposed to be somehow closely related to each other? At best you might say British IPA and American IPA share a common ancestor, but so do chimpanzees and human beings. 

The last nail in the coffin—and I'm amazed that this is so often overlooked—and, the only real connection between American IPA and British IPA is the name "India Pale Ale". There's a problem with that as well. American IPA has no association with India. That's kind of important, too. The amount of hops, the attenuation, time spent in barrels on board ship, all helped to define what IPA was. Remove that element, and all you have is a heavily hopped pale ale.

A heavily hopped pale ale.

Did you see what just happened there?





Many thanks to Jess Kidden for the Ballantine info, and—as usual—the good Doctor Pattinson, as well.

20 comments:

  1. Interesting. I think we were groping our way towards the same conclusion. That bit about Anchor Liberty being inspired by UK dry hopping is from here.

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    1. It's interesting how the need for "histories" on corporate website alters actual history. Is that what really happened?—or does it just make for a good story.

      Plus it's kinda' wrong.

      "English brewers prepared their ales for the long voyage to colonial India by adding hops directly to the casks. They knew that hops would act as a preservative but didn’t realize just how much aroma the hops would impart to their “India pale ales” until the first ships docked and the casks were tapped. Since the hops were “dry,” that is, not boiled with the wort, they had added aroma without adding bitterness."

      Beer that sat in a cask on a boat that was subject to a wide range of temperature shifts for six to nine months, being munched on by Brettanomyces Clausenii, wasn't going to have a whole lot of hoppy character to it, no matter how many pounds of dry hops you added to the barrel.

      Not to mention, American brewers were adding hops to their casks in the mid 19th-century, as well—and not just to IPA. I think it's a stretch to say dry-hopping is a British tradition.

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    2. Ha ha, don't worry -- we're only using it as a source for Anchor's own claims as to their influences!

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    3. I don't mean to imply you wrote something wrong! It's not you—it's them!

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  2. Damn. I was hoping it was the other way around.

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  3. I am well down the path of thinking because US beer and brewing history is so little described let alone understood that there is no reason for any likelihood to pan out as the truth. Given all the evidence of taste for strong and unexpected ales as well as a far larger brewing capacity, there is no reason continuity from Gansevoort to 1800 to Taylor in the mid 1800s through Ballantine through the second third of the 1900s then into Liberty Ale with a nod to Terry Foster's book on Pale Ale and the rest is as much an influence as the UK in the 80s was.

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  4. What happened with IPA in the USA is what happens to any style when you uproot it form its native environment: it starts to change and grow apart from the orginal that inspired it. There are a multitude of factors that cause the changes: tax and legislation, technology and culture and a random stuff like fashion and taste.

    The same has happened with every style that has been brewed for a length of time in different geographical locations, for example Porter and Stout.

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  5. My quibble would be that the ale or the taste for something a lot like it preceded the name of IPA. Was India Pale Ale or at least the expectations for the effect of travel on condition derived from the earlier thing called Taunton Ale? It begs reconsideration of the usefulness of style.

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    1. But the BCJP says style is important.

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  6. So does the guy I buy socks from.

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  7. Ballantine IPA, which I drank many times, tasted far more British than new-American. Moreover, while Ballantine indeed made IPA, and Burton too, well before 1919, when it started up again, it hired a British brewmaster, presumably to recreate those recipes.

    Early British IPAs were on the strong side by the modern standard of 5% ABV. I recall in one of the historical blogs, Ron`s I think, that reputed breweries of IPA averaged to 1068 OG before 1050 by one analysis - it was figures analysed from Roberts`Scotch Ale book IIRC. Given that IPA was well-attenuated, that would produce around 7% ABV, very much in the Ballantine IPA ballpark in its classic period (when made in Newark and Cranston, RI). Sure it wasn`t all so strong, but a lot of the good stuff was especially in the mid-1800`s when the style had latterly taken root.

    We don't know what other American brewers' IPAs tasted like in the pre-craft era, Amsdell's or others', but I doubt they tasted bright citrus like Liberty Ale or Grant's IPA (first revivalist to sport the name). They possibly were Cluster-heavy but Cascade and the new C-hops are much more citric than that. I believe the old American IPAs were rather closer in palate to British pale ale than the new craft IPAs, in a word.

    I think Jackson meant that Ballantine IPA was descended ultimately from British IPA. The fact too of a sailing ship on the Ballantine label underscored surely the attempt to duplicate a classic IPA taste as opposed, say, to the anodyne label of Labatt IPA from the 1950's until its demise.

    IMO, the use of Cascade and similar hops drew a line in the sand and created a new style of IPA exactly analogous to APA (both are both the same thing at bottom). When these beers hit British shores with their (certainly for IPA so-called) 6.5-7.0% ABV, people took them as authentic since, i) they had more alcohol than contemporary British bitter beers, ii) tasted a lot of hops - and a different taste always makes more of an impact, and iii) possibly most important, the labels said they were IPA, a designation that had fallen into erratic use in Britain. They were right in part - the ABV, lots of humulone) - but they were wrong essentially IMO since the hop signature of British export pale ale was never American hops of any kind. Once again if Ballantine IPA tasted even a bit like the craft revivals of IPA I could see more continuity to American IPA but it just didn`t.

    Gary

    P.S. I am glad you have mentioned, as B&B did, Ballantine IPA. The company that owns the brand, Pabst I believe, is still going strong and it is sincerely to be hoped it will re-create this legendary beer so beer connoisseurs can appreciate once more the rare survival it was and the complex influence it had.

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  8. Sorry, I meant, before 1850 (not 1050).

    Gary

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  9. Interesting stuff. When did you start your research on beer and your work with Allan?

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    1. Alan started his research on Monday, April 26, 2010. I started one day later on the the 27th. How's that for specific?

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  10. Note. I was first. Therefore I get the aisle seats and get to stretch my legs.

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  11. Craig, I thought (at a minimum) you would find this article of interest: "On Some Recent Advances in Brewing in the United States", Vol. 3, Issue 6, November-December 1897, Institute of Brewing Journal, 467-480, by Horace Brown. It is available online for free at the Wiley Brewer's Journal site that has been publicized on various blogs recently, but when I copy-paste the link using my new Apple browser it doesn't work and states "forbidden", not sure why. You can find it easily by accessing the Wiley site online.

    In this absorbing snapshot of American brewery methods at the turn of the century, Brown identifies three kinds of ale: lively or present use; still ale; and stock. The first was the most common, being a not-quite-bright running ale with a huge head caused by a heavy krausen. The second beer, little sold by 1897, was not krausened and had a carbonation similar to England's liveliest draught beers (so not too fizzy, clearly this was like a cask ale of today); and the third beer was aged 9-12 months in cask. Of the last, Brown said "they very much resemble some of our English stock ales". Ballantine IPA towards the end received a lengthy period of wood aging. I'd infer an IPA worthy of the name circa-1900 in America was ditto: a stock ale. By the way your point about hop oils being distilled in the U.S. and not apparently in England is well-taken, however it was just another way to get intense hop flavour into some beers, I doubt it changed their nature (e.g., IPA) as such.

    Gary

    Gary

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    1. That's seems to be in line with what Amsdell was doing a few years later. Although almost all of their beers seemed to have been krausened.

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    2. And for that part of it, clearly a distinct American form had evolved presumably by fusing a part of German lager practise (although the Irish were doing something quite similar to impart high condition to draught stout).

      Gary

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  12. Sorry, I meant re Ballantine IPA that even towards the end, it had received a lengthy period of wood storage. The last brews possibly were not wood-aged but until and including the peregrination to Indiana it was stored for months in wood vats, is my understanding. Jackson used to joke about Indiana Pale Ale.:)

    Gary

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