India Pale Ale is a type of ale. It is pale in colour, as the name indicates, and has an alcohol content of 5% or higher.
It is very hoppy, and therefore more bitter than other beers, particularly when new, however, it mellows as it ages.
IPA on bottles stands for “India Pale Ale.”
India Pale Ale was the first English beer designed for export. The high alcohol and hop content helped preserve it during long transport.
The first India Pale Ale was Hodgson’s India Ale, made by George Hodgson who set up a brewery in east end London (by Old Bridge, Bow) in 1752.
His competition would come from brewers in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire. There, brewers had specialized in export to the Baltic area from the mid 1700s onwards, but various war disruptions (Napoleon, etc) had destroyed the market there, and in 1822 Russia gave Russian brewers monopolistic rights, killing the market there for them for good.
By that time, the East India company had become unhappy with Hodgson’s tactics of flooding the Indian market with cheap beer one year to drive out other trade, and then the next year cranking prices sky high. The company signalled the brewers in Burton-on-Trent that they would support competition in the beer trade to India, and they took the hint.
By 1832-3, Burton-on-Trent brewers were outselling Hodgson in India.
India Pale Ale was perhaps at its peak of popularity from the 1840s to the 1880s, until eventually brewers in India figured out how to brew beer in the hot climate there.
The market for India Pale Ale then gradually switched to being a local one in England, as people there acquired a taste for it as well.