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The first known use of the term "India pale ale" is an advertisement in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser in 1829. It was also referred to as pale ale as prepared for India, India Ale, pale India ale or pale export India ale.
The term pale ale originally denoted an ale that had been brewed from pale malt. The pale ales of the early 18th century were lightly hopped and quite different from later pale ales. By the mid-18th century, pale ale was mostly manufactured with coke-fired malt, which produced less smoking and roasting of barley in the malting process, and hence produced a paler beer. One such variety of beer was October beer, a pale well-hopped brew popular among the landed classes, who brewed it domestically; once brewed it was intended to cellar two years.
Among the first brewers known to export beer to India was George Hodgson of the Bow Brewery, on the Middlesex-Essex border. Bow Brewery beers became popular among East India Company traders in the late 18th century because of the brewery's location and Hodgson's liberal credit line of 18 months. Ships transported Hodgson's beers to India, among them his October beer, which benefited exceptionally from conditions of the voyage and was apparently highly regarded among its consumers in India. Bow Brewery came into the control of Hodgson's sons in the early 19th century, but their business practices alienated their customers. During the same period, several Burton breweries lost their European export market in Russia because of new tariffs on beer, and were seeking a new export market for their beer.
At the behest of the East India Company, Allsopp brewery developed a strongly hopped pale ale in the style of Hodgson's for export to India. Other Burton brewers, including Bass and Salt, were anxious to replace their lost Russian export market and quickly followed Allsopp's lead. Perhaps as a result of the advantages of Burton water in brewing, Burton India Pale Ale was preferred by merchants and their customers in India, however, Hodgson's October beer clearly influenced the Burton brewers' India pale ales.
Early IPA, such as Burton brewer's and Hodgson's, was only slightly higher in alcohol than most beer brewed in his day and would not have been considered a strong ale; however, a greater proportion of the wort was well-fermented, leaving behind few residual sugars, and the beer was strongly hopped. The common story that early IPAs were much stronger than other beers of the time, however, is a myth. Moreover, porter shipped to India at the same time survived the voyage, and common claims that Hodgson formulated his beer to survive the trip and that other beers would not survive the trip are probably false. It is clear that by the 1860s, India pale ales were widely brewed in England and that they were much more attenuated and highly hopped than porters and many other ales.
Demand for the export style of pale ale, which had become known as India pale ale, developed in England around 1840 and India pale ale became a popular product in England. Some brewers dropped the term "India" in the late 19th century, but records indicated that these "pale ales" retained the features of earlier IPAs. American, Australian, and Canadian brewers manufactured beer with the label IPA before 1900, and records suggest that these beers were similar to English IPA of the era.
The term IPA is common in the United Kingdom for low-gravity beers, for example Greene King IPA and Charles Wells Eagle IPA. IPAs with an abv of 4% or lower have been brewed in Britain since the First World War, when taxes on beer ingredients greatly increased and brewers responded by lowering the strength of their beers.
IPAs have a long history in Canada and the USA with many breweries producing a version of the style. Contemporary American IPAs are typically brewed with distinctively American hops, such as Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Columbus, Chinook, Simcoe, Amarillo, Tomahawk, Warrior, and Nugget.
East Coast IPAs are distinguished from West Coast IPAs by a stronger malt presence which balances the intensity of the hops whereas the latter foreground the hops more, possibly because of the proximity of West Coast breweries to hop fields in the Pacific Northwest. East Coast breweries rely more on spicier European hops and specialty malts than those on the West Coast.
Double IPAs (also referred to as Imperial IPAs) are a stronger, very hoppy variant of IPAs that typically have alcohol content above 7.5% by volume. The style is claimed to have originated with Vinnie Cilurzo, currently the owner of Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa CA., in 1994 at the now-defunct Blind Pig Brewery in Temecula, California.
Several breweries have developed the so called India Pale Lager (or IPL), which tend to be vigorously hopped like their IPA counterpart, but make use of a bottom fermenting yeast. This lagering is intended to create a lighter, cleaner body in order to show off the subtleties of the hops.