Throwback IPA: Back to the Swords

This recipe appears in Michael Dawson’s book, “Mashmaker: A Citizen-Brewer’s Guide to Making Great Beer at Home.” Learn more at

This issue’s Homebrew Recipe tries not to fetishize the IPA any further.


Is there any style of craft beer that’s more fetishized, more mandated by its audience, more commercially successful than IPA? I sometimes wonder if the acronym has become semiotic—nobody orders an India Pale Ale, they ask for an IPA. And given the existence of Black IPA (an ale that is according to its name both black and pale, but not, to my knowledge, exported to or from India), I think you could make the argument that those three letters now carry a meaning independent of the words they originally stood for.

But this month is not a month for semiotic acronyms or new-school citrus bombs. This month we’re brewing a throwback 19th century English India Pale Ale. Because it’s worth it for us craft beer lovers and homebrew tinkerers to know the roots of the style. Because to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been; or, as the GZA puts it, sometimes you gotta take that shit back to the swords.

Going By the Numbers

Thanks to an 1878 document provided by the British military to brewers, we know what specs the Raj was looking for in an India Pale Ale from jolly old England in the late 19th century: brewed between November and May, 100% malt, OG of no less than 1.060, with a hopping rate of no less than (translating to homebrew scale here) 2–2.5 oz per gallon (and that’s in the kettle–dry hops were on top of that), casked “not more than 21 days after brewing,” then kept (i.e., aged) for 9–12 months before bottling.

Given all that, we can assume the beer would have been pale in color due to that newfangled 19th century pale ale malt, extremely bitter when fresh, less so with age, and probably quite clear and attenuated after upwards of a year in cask. Contrary to what you may have heard other MCs spit, the original pale ales exported to India were not necessarily high-alcohol—beer was a more temperate option than gin for colonists and officers, and brewers relied on the antibacterial qualities of hops to prolong its shelf life instead of a strong ABV percentage.

Before we continue, a couple disclaimers:

First, these numbers won’t mean much if we don’t let go of our expectations: this historical IPA isn’t going to taste like a modern American Size 7 or Saga or Day Tripper. The quality of English ale yeast, the hop varieties used, its sheer bitterness, and the lack of emphasis on “fresh hop” character are from another aesthetic and another era. The historical record relates that at least some of these proto-IPAs were so bitter as to be undrinkable when fresh, only becoming approachable after age had mellowed the hop quality. Awesome? Awesome.

Second, we’re going to take a couple liberties with the recipe, mainly for practical reasons. The brewers who made the original India Pale Ales had no quantifiable way to measure real bitterness (IBUs) or the bittering power (alpha acid content) of their hops, so most of the written brewing records available to us give hop rates simply by weight. But modern agricultural, processing, and storage techniques in the hop industry mean that our modern hops are certainly more consistent in terms of quality from crop to crop and month to month, and probably more reliably potent in terms of bittering power as well. The prevalence of pellet hops today means we can achieve higher utilization of those alpha acids, so we’re going to let discretion be the better part of valor and dial the kettle addition ratio back a bit. Just a bit.

Related Post: Oatmeal-Cream Double Stout, a Homebrew Recipe That Everyone Can Enjoy

Besides, the sheer vegetal mass of the full amount of the historical hop rates (not to mention the 9–12 month maturation time needed to be authentic) may be more than some homebrew systems and/or our patience can deal with. But it is, after all, a homebrew—if you’re feeling ambitious and historically accurate, double the amount of boil and dry hops given in the recipe below and take a taste in 2015. Good? Good.

Pages: 1 2 3


Speak Your Mind