Beyond the pale

Mike Buhler
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From trading ships to India to craft brewers, India Pale Ale continues to evolve

While there are many beer styles in the world, Newfoundland and Labrador currently only imports a few, but that is changing.

In the last couple of years one style in particular has hit the shelves much to the joy of many local beer drinkers — I’m sure most of you have heard the term IPA. The acronym stands for India Pale Ale and it is a style that is ever evolving.

The history of this style starts in the 17th century with England colonizing India.

The actual beers then weren’t named as such until some time after they started being shipped to the colonies, but they were there.

In the beginning, the regular beer did not keep through the long voyages to India — voyages that often took as long as six months — so importers started advertising for October and Stock ales which were brewed specifically to cellar for as long as 10 years.

These robust beers were better able to withstand the long journey to India.

As the population increased and the demand grew, more brewers entered the game.

One such person was George Hodgson who tweaked one of his pale ales with greater hop and alcohol content to create a beer that travelled well and satisfied the English living in India.

His pale ale soon became the only name in beer and by the 1830s he was selling it at home to families returning from India.

It was around this time the name East India Pale Ale first appeared in newspapers.

By the time Hodgson’s grandson was running the business, the relationship with the East Indian Trading Company soured and they were looking for a new brewer.

They found Allsopp, a brewery in Burton-on-Trent that was already famous for their pale ales.

When they replicated Hodgson’s beer they discovered the Burton hard water had wonderful effect and this beer was deemed superior.

This was the true predecessor of the IPA we are familiar with today.

Things changed by the 20th century when tastes started to change and the Temperance movement started gaining momentum, reduceing the demand for alcohol.

By the first few decades, IPAs were mere ghosts of what they had been.

Towards the end of the 20th century, the tide turned again, this time in America. In the early 1980s Bert Grant was brewing in Washington state and he put his own twist on a new IPA using American hops such as Cascade and Chinook, which were much more bitter and aromatic than traditional British ones. This new beer spread down the coast. In very short order American brewers all over were pumping out these flavour bombs full of huge hoppy bitterness and higher alcohol content.

This new style of India Pale Ale kicked off the modern craft brewing revolution like nothing else since Pilsner hit the world in 1842. Now double and Imperial IPAs have joined the ranks pumping out more bigger and badder versions than ever before.

Evolution has also added white, black and other more esoteric IPAs.

So where are we now?

Quidi Vidi started brewing its British IPA a couple of years ago as a seasonal release and it was well received by the market.

It is a mild example of a British IPA but for someone who’s grown up on Labbatt and Molson it’s definitely a step up in bitterness and flavour.

It was Quidi Vidi’s fastest grower in sales last year. Early in 2012 we saw our first American-style IPA introduced to the local market, with Muskoka Mad Tom. It is a totally different animal with a much higher bitterness level and massive fruit aromas. I have seen people go from “it’s too bitter” to “I love it” in as little as a week.

Try one today.

Mike Buhler is a certified cicerone.

Email him at, or check out for information on beer club offerings.

Organizations: East Indian Trading Company, Imperial IPAs, Molson

Geographic location: India, England, Burton-on-Trent America Washington

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