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Friday, October 25, 2013

A Better History of American IPA

Source: Ron Pattinson
It was never preordained for the United States to develop an industry of 2500 independent breweries by 2013.  It took the extraordinary work of a vanguard of pioneers to till the soil and make ready the flowering to come. Among that handful of important figures, few stand taller than Charlie Papazian, and we rightly hold him in high esteem.  But he isn't a great historian of brewing, and his current blog post about IPAs gets a ton of stuff wrong.  It's a problem precisely because he's held in such high regard by so many people.  I don't want to do a point-by-point dissection of the post (though use the opportunity to read Martyn Cornell's multi-post exegeses on IPAs if you're feeling hazy on the history). 

Instead, I'd rather tackle the heart of Charlie's argument and make an important global point about brewing history and America's role in it.  
The second reason why hoppy beers have become popular in the USA is that successful American craft brewers have learned how to use new, modern and innovative techniques to extract the complex characters of American hops...  Not until the last decade of the 20th century did American craft brewers really perfect their methods to infuse maximum and varied hop character into their beer.
This is just wrong.  Beer has brewed on this planet since before civilization (making dating its origins tricky), but probably in the neighborhood of eight thousand years.  In that long time, brewers have made exactly three watershed discoveries.  Just three!
  1. They learned to malt grain.  Again, we're pre-history here, so it's all murky, but archaeologists have found evidence of a proto-beer made from unmalted barley and wheat.  (They call it "gruel beer.")  It was very weak because humans hadn't yet figured out how to unlock the sugary potential of the grain kernel.  By the time the Sumerians and Egyptians were writing about beer, they had.
  2. They figured out how to use hops.  For seven thousand years, brewers tried to balance the sweetness of fermented grain with myriad spices.  Eventually someone--probably a monk--figured out that if you boil wort with hops in it, the resultant beer will last a great deal longer.   Because hops are very strongly flavored, it took centuries for the innovation to become a standard practice.
  3. They figured out the microbiology of yeast.  Brewers knew about yeast, but they didn't know what it was or exactly how it worked.  Pasteur taught them that it was a biological process and within a few decades, they had learned how to control souring microorganisms in a way that had eluded brewers for 7,850 years.  Some ignored the information; most did not.
That's it.  One of the things you realize if you pore through the records of old beer is that nothing is new.  If you've been brewing for a few years and an idea occurred to you while you were showering one morning, go ahead and assume that it had passed the brain of another brewer in the centuries before you picked up the mashing fork.  Not only are we not brewing unusual beers now, we're brewing stuff that looks incredibly tame by the standards of the old brewer.  Those guys brewed weird.  They made titanic beers; they made tiny beers.  They made beers with tons of hops--and beers with very few.  They made light beers, dark beers, wheat beers, sour beers, beers with beans and eggs, beers with chimney soot.  They boiled some of their beers for 18 hours and others they didn't boil at all. 

The United States, if we keep our eye on the ball for the next century, may well become an important brewing country.  If we manage the trick, it won't be because we've done something new, it will be because we've done something well enough that it has developed its own contours and lines.  It will have become distinct and identifiable.  People will taste a beer and, as when they sample a cask bitter, helles lager, or abbey ale, know the country from which it came. 

IPAs look to be a good candidate for part of that development.  They have particular characteristics (though ones that are in a state of flux) that make them a cohesive group.  They have begun to capture the attention of the population.  But let's not kid ourselves: strong, hoppy ales are hardly new.  It wasn't our cleverness or modern techniques that made them take off.  We have great hops here, vivid and varied, but great hops have been in use, in different countries, for nearly a thousand years.  It takes an equal measure of hubris and historical ignorance to think we've invented something new.  (Sort of like how Europeans "discovered" America.)  We have found a style that harnesses local ingredients and expresses our flavor preferences, and we've stuck with the style for about a decade.  All good.  But we have more work to do.

Be leery of claims about America's import in the brewing world.  Few endeavors have a longer history or have been practiced by more people over the millennia.  It is an exciting time to live, and thanks to technological advances and a shrinking world, more styles of beer are available to Americans than have ever been available to one nation before.  But we didn't invent those styles or the methods of brewing them and, even when we can maybe fool ourselves into thinking an idea is new, it's best to start with the assumption it's not. 


Alan said...

Americans have been brewing strong hoppy ales for almost 400 years. It is unbroken through Ballentine if not through other I discussed connections. There are records in 1835 showing brewers making careful hop selection. It is all there. If nothing else, the Albany Ale project has shown an almost intentional disregard for American brewing history.

Alan said...

I discussed = undiscussed

Chris said...

I have never taken a trip back to 1870 to taste the original IPAs of that era, but I always assume that modern day IPA is a new style of beer. The beer today has to be drunk as soon as possible after leaving the brewery, to get the full potential of the aroma hops. So it's definitely different from the beer that barrel aged for months on the trip for India, and probably also different from the IPA developed for the home market.Even if we disregard the new hop types making it different, the amount of hop aroma in the modern IPA is likely a new thing. Sure, late hopping and dry hopping aren't new techniques, but the extravagant amounts of hops used for aroma has to be new, at least in comparison to everyday beer of old times. The recipes I have found on Ron Pattinson's blog unfortunately only lists the total amount of hops used, and not each addition of hops, which would be really interesting to know...

Bailey said...

Brewed strong to survive the journey -- oh dear.

But I'm not outraged at the suggestion that the IPAs which began to emerge from the 1970s onward represent a new type of beer. (Or at least the coalescing of a handful of individual examples such as Ballantine's *into* a type.)

I certainly think it's the product of the exchange of ideas and experience between the US and UK, though, rather than a purely American invention.

In the UK, the revival of porter ran almost perfectly in parallel with attempts to bring back 'authentic' IPA up until the mid-nineties, when IPA suddenly pulled ahead. I can't help wonder if that isn't an accidental by-product of the fact that there were lots of new hop varieties to play with, and IPA happened to provide the perfect blank canvas.

Jeff Alworth said...

Alan, right on. I should have given a nod to our own heritage!

Chris, I didn't want to get too deeply into the weeds about the history of IPA (we have Cornell for that!), but while it's certain some IPAs did travel to India, it wasn't much. At its height, the Indian trade amounted to just 10,000 barrels--an eighth the amount they shipped to North America. When IPA really became a style was when in the 1840s breweries began marketing it to the home market. There's no real evidence that beer was aged, or that all of it was, or that if it was aged, it was aged very long. (The info may exist, but I don't have it.) Hoppy beers had long been in vogue by then and a lot of them were "milds"--served fresh. I can't imagine that the locally-sold IPAs weren't as vivid as modern IPAs. And even if they weren't, there were other beers that were marked by that kind of vividness.

Bailey, I guess we come down to a different, semantic argument about what constitutes a style. I'm even willing to grant that they are new by the rules of style-making. But that's not what Charlie's arguing. He's saying that never before in history have humans possessed the techniques and ingredients to make a beer as unique and sublime as the modern American IPA. That's a pretty PR story, but it's not history.

Alan said...

The beer today has to be drunk as soon as possible after leaving the brewery, to get the full potential of the aroma hops."

Kind of marketing claptrappy seeing as this idea has only popped up in last couple of years.

Jeff Alworth said...

This got picked up on Reddit and is now scoring a -1. I don't think the beer geeks want to hear it.

Alan said...

Need a new word. Geeks tend to be obsessed with facts.

Brother Logic said...

"He's saying that never before in history have humans possessed the techniques and ingredients to make a beer as unique and sublime as the modern American IPA. That's a pretty PR story, but it's not history."

Given that the ingredients that make up the modern US IPA (and DIPA if you prefer) didn't really exist until the late 70s isn't there some basis for this claim?

Also this whole notion that nothing "new" has happened in beer in the US is largely predicated on a fairly narrow view of what constitutes "new" in brewing. It follows a similar argument that the internet is not innovate since the telegraph which predates it did the same thing. This hand-waving expression that "everything has been done before" is a weighty phrase that really carries no meaning.

Jeff Alworth said...

BL, by "ingredients" I assume you mean American hops. (Two-row and crystal malt certainly did exist, and the nearly ubiquitous "Chico" yeast strain came from a bank at Seibel--and may be Ballantine's.) But these aren't different ingredients. They're different varieties.

The telegraph example is wide off the mark. A better example is saying you invented apple pie because you used a new type of apple. It's just apple pie. IPAs are just strong, hoppy ales.

KeAloha said...

Jeff, I did indeed invent the SweeTango American apple pie!

Christopher Grzan said...

To me, the "new" or "innovative" angles are the wrong ones to be pushing in the first place. Who cares if what American brewers are doing is any different from what's been done in the past or not? It seems well enough cannot be left alone when it comes to good beer. It isn't enough that American IPAs are flavorful, they have to be somehow designated as special in other regards.

Alan McLeod said...

A key problem is that it is just wrong to say highly hopped strong ales like DIPA are new. Taylor trained Ballentine. Ballentines beer lasted long enough for Terry Foster to recall. Terry Foster writes the book on Pale ales that trains the craft brewers. It starts here:

Brother Logic said...

I see your point, but saying that a US IPA is "just using different varieties" is somewhat reductive, especially in beer where *everything* is really the same at some level. And to say that an IPA is a "strong hoppy ale" again is reductive; I could equally say that a lambic is "just a sour beer". It's the truth but it hides the detail. I would argue that the American hops are a fundamental property of the modern IPA and if we are to allow the notion of innovation in brewing to include the use of new varieties of ingredients then it's a clear US innovation.

And you miss my point regarding the use of the term innovation: You are defining the nature of "innovation" - your "new" apple pie is not innovative because you have not defined innovation to mean a change in the variety of the ingredients. At some level the internet is not "innovation" since we've always had a means to communicate over long distances. The modern computer is not an innovation since we've always had a means to do calculations. My point is this: you can draw up arbitrary lines of what you consider to be innovation and it's a fairly meaningless exercise, so why bother?

Alan said...

A strong double ale with masses of distinctive American hops? So hopped the beer turned green? Yes, that, what they were making in the Hudson 200 years ago.

Velky Al said...

"Eventually someone--probably a monk--figured out that if you boil wort with hops in it, the resultant beer will last a great deal longer. Because hops are very strongly flavored, it took centuries for the innovation to become a standard practice."

If I remember rightly the first recorded use of hops was actually in a nunnery.....women, eh?! ;)

samtierney said...

I think that the most important innovations in modern brewing have been process-related. Ingredients and recipes are never really innovative. Anyone can double the hops and use more malt to make a DIPA-like beer and they have been doing that for a long time. It's process innovation like filtration, bulk CO2, clarification aids and the like that have really changed brewing in the modern era. To reduce innovation to malting, hops, and the understanding of yeast as a microorganism either willfully disregards modern brewing science and engineering, or is ignorant of it.

Jeff Alworth said...

BL, you're right that this is a semantic issue, but IPA is just a strong hoppy ale. Lambics are spontaneously-fermented ales made with unmalted wheat. I think you're trying to carve out a special status for a beer that is really distinguished only by American-grown hops.

Velky Al, I wondered if somone would challenge the monk thing. According to the sources Richard Unger found, it was a monk in France who first wrote about using them in beer. But that doesn't mean they invented the practice (which isn't mentioned again much for another 300 years), just that he wrote about it first.

Sam, I also wondered if someone would comment on that. I meant to go back and write a bit of clarification. Obviously there has been innovation along the way, but beer changed in degree with things like filtration, not type. Before people knew how to malt, they could only make crude, very low-alcohol (and probably gross) beer. Before they discovered boiling hops in wort, all beer was sourish and highly perishable. And before they discovered microbiology, most beer was infected to greater or lesser degrees. I would actually accept lagering as a fourth watershed moment, because it accomplished effectively the same thing Pasteur later did--though only, of course, with lager beer. Ales were still highly subject to spoilage and a great many were at least tinged with sourish or wild flavors. With those watershed discoveries, the nature of beer changed. All the other discoveries were useful refinements, but didn't change the nature of the thing.

Alan said...

You forgot modern employment standards and reverse osmosis water.

samtierney said...

And where is the evidence of brewers historically using modern dry-hopping techniques, pelletizing processes, refrigeration, CO2 purging/blanketing, and other techniques for maximizing hop aroma? Just because a historical brewing log says they added 10lb/BBL of hops doesn't meant the beer was anything like many beers are today. And the hops today are just so different that it's not even a comparison, though you've already written that off and I don't think it matters anyway in the face of the rest of the process differences.

Bottom line is beer today is substantially different from the past. I don't agree completely with Charlie's historical take, but your critique of him doesn't really address or refute what he wrote.

samtierney said...

OK, I get your standards for "watershed" and I won't argue that.

Just feels like you are unfairly attacking him in a slightly tangential way.

Brother Logic said...

"I think you're trying to carve out a special status for a beer that is really distinguished only by American-grown hops."

Given that you wrote a passionate argument for a beer to be given special status because of *where it was made*, I think we can both accept that beer is a strange thing: where a minor change in the type of one of the ingredients can classify it as an entirely different thing.

Ron Pattinson said...

"There's no real evidence that beer was aged, or that all of it was, or that if it was aged, it was aged very long."

There is evidence in the case of the most famous IPA, Bass. Bottled Bass for the domestic market was aged up to a year before sale:

Martyn Cornell said...

There is, AFAIK, very little if any evidence that drinkers before the rise of American IPA appreciated strongly hopped beers, and a fair bit to suggest they preferred "delicate" hop flavours. As Ron said, beers were aged much more than they are today, and much hoppiness would have been lost in a beer a year old or more. Unfortunately there's not much evidence about the flavours of 19th century pale ales at all. But even so, my suspicion is that, indeed, Charlie is actually correct in suggesting that hops tasting strongly of American hop varieties are a recent phenomenon.

Jeff Alworth said...

Ack, Pattinson and Cornell turning against me! Let's back up. Martyn, I didn't spend three hours looking through Ron's logs, but although my brain is Swiss cheese, I'm certain he's commented regularly about beers that had wads of hops. (It would take three hours because you guys deal in incomprehensible measures like quarters and because alpha acids were much lower.) It's also the case that beer was not the sole purview of the English. Germans made bitterbier and Belgians made some styles described as "bitter and astringent" while others had a "penetrating and aromatic bouquet." (Those are Lacambre.)

I don't doubt that hops tasting strongly of American varieties are recent, much as those tasting strongly of New Zealand varieties are recent. Must we now acknowledge a New Zealand IPA because it's made with Nelson Sauvin? (Which makes beers like the Widmer Brothers Nelson Imperial IPA confusing--which style would that be?)

And finally, let me repeat Charlie's quote: "...successful American craft brewers have learned how to use new, modern and innovative techniques to extract the complex characters of American hops... Not until the last decade of the 20th century did American craft brewers really perfect their methods to infuse maximum and varied hop character into their beer."

What techniques are Americans using now that were unknown or unavailable to brewers in other countries and other times? It's indefensible.

Ron: I stand corrected.

I think about beer said...

I love these "inside baseball" style debates. The detailed level we're all getting into is so deep in the weeds that only a small percentage of beer fans would even care. But where this argument is key is in influencing the influencers. Getting the people who are doing the quality beer writing to use the correct history is how it gets filtered out to the beery masses.

I come from an academic background and love proper research (degrees in history and economics). I always try to use multiple sources to try to iron out differences and to find the best, most well researched information. The work you guys are doing around IPA's is impressive to say the least.

Now that beer culture is crawling out of its infancy in the US, it's time to make sure that we get a solid base of history and details collected and properly disseminated so that future generations have an accurate picture of what happened and why. This is especially important since American's seem to intent on ignoring all history except whatever manufactured history appeals most to us at the time.

Gary Gillman said...

I agree with Jeff 100% here. The massive hop usage in 1800's beers, even in mild (unpaged) beer, shows that no matter when added to the boil - and Burton added at the beginning for maximum AA extraction - those beers had huge hop character. They dry-hopped in the 1800's (it's in numerous professional manuals). They stored beer cold, Scotland is cold, layering caves are cold. They did everything we do and more. (They even added coffee to be in the 1800's, I've seen proof of it, and every kind of herb and spice before).

There is no new technique to extract hop aroma IMO. One can perhaps argue that citric-tasting C-hops (or that type) are new, but that's a new cultivar, not a brewing technique.

Also, if you read old hop manuals, you see that there were many qualities of hops in England, some were called "rank" - I betcha some of those were quite similar to what modern craft brewers prize as "dank". And so those old rank hops died out, the market wanted only the fine flavoured Goldings and Fuggles. And even if you say the new tastes are different, I'll wager - in fact I know - that Seville orange was added to some ales in the 1800's to lend a tart (aged) note. One can easily imagine that some of this beer tasted as if you used Amarillo in the brewing or for aroma.

I take Ron's point about pale ale - some - being long aged but a heck of a lot of it bitter as wormwood! How do I know? I drank Holt's bitter in the 1980's - this at a time when no one knew or cared about what was starting in the U.S. - and that stuff almost stripped my tongue off. I recall Ron writing that some craft ales reminded him in hop intensity of Barnsley Bitter in the 70's. The English all this - super-bitter beer, craft beer, black IPA, you name it! We are working in their footsteps and our enthusiasm has helped to revivify their latter-day brewing scene, but it's not more than that, IMO.


Gary Gillman said...

Sorry for the typos, keyboard giving me trouble. By "The English all", I meant, the English are all over this. Of course other European influence and inspiration applies too, especially German (e.g. Eisbock, stone smoked beer, Berliner weisse and so on).


Alan said...

I wrote my thoughts over here because I thought a 2300 or so (I didn't count) comment would be rude. I agree with Gary that there is no reason not to believe hop or other acids were welcome flavours in the 1800s. The trouble is records are few on the tasting experience - this does not mean the tastes were not remarkable.

Alan said...

Further, I am looking at the 1808-11 Vassar Sr's sales logs from the Poughkeepsie brewery and seeing tavern owners like Ebenzer Baldwin and William Cunningham buying a barrel or a half barrel every week or so during the brewing season. Cunningham also delivers bushels of barley for credit. One guy, Richard Hayman, buys in bulk dropping over $200 for 27 barrels of ale and 16 dozen bottles of porter on 9 June 1808 but he is back on June 25th buying almost as much. I think I am seeing a brew and sell operation. To be fair, this may not be indicative of later patterns but looks to me that fresh ale and porter is moving out the door and being rapidly consumed.

Jeff Alworth said...

Sam, I never responded to your brewing innovations comment--sorry. I don't know that what you're saying really relates to what Charlie wrote. I believe some really exceptional beer was getting made in the 18th-19th century, but I suspect a ton of it was terrible, too. If Charlie had written about how innovation had improved beers and used IPAs as an example, is be on board.

But even as long as 150 years ago, the English were chilling worts with water, pitching yeast, and dry-hopping (some of) their beer. It would have been totally possible to make a modern-tasting IPA on 1863 equipment. We can't know what the beers tasted like without a time machine, but it's my opinion that modern hubris leads us to assume we do it better. I think at the least we should entertain the idea that we don't.

Ron Pattinson said...

" We can't know what the beers tasted like without a time machine, but it's my opinion that modern hubris leads us to assume we do it better. I think at the least we should entertain the idea that we don't."

Well said.

I'd like to see how well a modern beer would stand up to a 6-month trip, unrefrigerated, to Australia.

Beers like Bass Pale Ale were incredibly robust. I doubt anyone could produce half a million barrels a year of beer so sturdy today.

Gary Gillman said...

In the light of this excellent discussion, with some good points made on all sides, I looked again in Tizard (1846) about India Pale Ale.

When you absorb and interpret the quaint English, what he is saying is:

1) IPA as exported is same as the domestic but sometimes a little weaker and less attenuated (i.e., drier and not as sweet or "amylaceous" (starchy). Look to Ron Pattinson's fine work to drill down on numbers.

2) IPA is as if a "cordial" or medicine, i.e., very bitter in aroma and taste.

3) Good pale ale reminds him in hop taste of 'coriander'. This is an orangey herbal taste. We know some porter had additions of real coriander although not lawful in England at the time. Sounds like some hops then were orangey, as numerous modern hops are.

Period recipes, well-explained in brewing books and explicated in his blog and books by Ron Pattinson, show usage of 4-7 lbs leaf hops for a 36 barrel of beer. This is enormous IBUs even if you rate the hops at not >5% AA and even if you discount for usage of unrefrigerated hops.

Many other contemporary accounts are similar and speak of significant hop flavour and aroma in pale ale, the beer leaving a "clean taste" on the tongue (because dry), a "pungent" or "ethereal" quality in stocked pale ale (which I'm almost sure was brett and/or winy esters), and the importance of using the best hops to make India Pale (i.e., old hops were not always used).

On the brewing side, even Briggs & Young in their 1982 text Malting & Brewing Science, see pg. 516, talk about some brewers placing fresh hops in the hop back "in the hope this will impart happiness to the final beers". This book was about industrial brewing, the cottage brewery scene was tiny at the time and the authors had no notice of that clearly. I I have read similar things in much earlier texts extending to ideas like suspending a gauze bag of fresh hops in fermented beer or placing something like it in a trough of moving beer. This seems close to the idea of the torpedo and similar devices.

I'll never forget the first bottles of Liberty Ale (one of the IPA avatars), thinking how novel the taste was. Yet, Tizard's comments apply to it almost to the T.

Can we know for certain what beer tasted like in 1850? No, but I believe we can get pretty close and make useful comparisons to today.


Gary Gillman said...

Briggs & Young said "hoppiness" of course not happiness, although many would agree hops makes them happy!

Also, when I said "36 barrel", I meant "36 gallon barrel" (standard English barrel then).

The Tizard book, as the Briggs & Young, are on Google Books. I wasn't able to link the Tizard page here but just google "Tizard brewing India Pale Ale" and the page I was referencing comes up immediately, it is in the chapter on Export Pale Ale.


Gary Gillman said...

Ach, I never learned how to type properly! For my point one in the 5:57 a.m. post above, I meant to say, Tizard stated that domestic pale ales were often somewhat weaker in alcohol, and less attenuated (sweeter with more body), than export pale ale.

Apologies for multiple posts.


Jeff Alworth said...

Great conversation--thanks to everyone who participated, and especially Alan and Gary who went into the archives. I don't know about anyone else, but I feel much more informed.

Bailey said...

Gary -- re: hops and coriander -- I got excited when I read your comment because we (Boak and I) have been trying to find examples of 'tasting' language (i.e. this beer tastes like X, or smells like Y) from before Michael Jackson.

Having had a look at that passage in Tizard, even though he says 'all the properties of', I don't think he is saying that the hops smelled or tasted *like* coriander, but that they are similarly powerful in their 'herbiness'.

But that's just my reading of it.

Gary Gillman said...

Thanks first to Jeff for his comment above, the finely written main posting, and for stimulating a fascinating discussion. On page 452 Tizard wrote, "...the bitter of the hop appears to have all the properties of the coriander in its pungency and flavour". On the next page, he advises for pale ale to use Goldings, Farnhams and the best East Kents. Great British hops are still grown under some of these names and English bitter can indeed taste orangey (or lemony, not so far a connection). Add to this, period recipes often called for addition of coriander or "orange powder" (see Thomson & Stewart's well known brewing and distilling text but there are many others) and some commercial brewers, not just home brewers, used these too albeit under the table. From all this I get that people wanted and expected an orangey/citric taste in some pale ale and some other beer. It doesn't make sense to me that hop was analogized to coriander in everything but flavour when it was common practice for non-commercial brewers, and some commercial brewers, to add the spice to their beer. We can never know for sure of course, but neither IMO can it be said for certain that the contrary is true.


Doug Sottoway said...

Now that was an excellent discussion among the experts. Thanks for the awesome read!

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