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What Does IPA Stand For? – a brief history

What Does IPA Stand For? – A Brief History

You may have come here never having tried an IPA before and looking to get started on your craft beer journey, or you may have drunk thousands but always wondered where the name came from. Well, hopefully you will find out all things IPA here and feel a bit smugger next time you crack open a can. 

What is an IPA? 

What Does IPA Stand For? – a brief history

IPA is a term used for a style of beer that has established itself over the last 300 years. It is recognised worldwide and it extremely popular with consumers and breweries alike with lots of different varieties stemming from its original form, which will have been quite different from what we drink today. You will know an IPA as they are bursting with aromas and hop flavours, with hops being added at different stages of the brewing process, they tend to be higher ABV around 5-7% with some varieties even stronger.

Why Is It Called IPA? 

IPA stands for India Pale Ale and has a long history within brewing. Rather than being invented in India, it started life in England and was created to solve a problem. 

During the British colonisation of India in the 18th century, beer was popular with the East India Trading Company. The problem at the time was a lengthy sea journey and bad storing conditions, where the beer was likely to be undrinkable at the other end. 

One of the first breweries to export beer to India was George Hodgson’s Bow Brewery, as they were a couple of miles away from the East India Dock in London and would allow the buyers 18 months of credit terms to pay, very generous of them. They were producing a beer at the time called October beer, which used less roasted malts so was paler in colour than most of the beer of the time. It was also designed to the cellar, be stored, for 2 years which meant it could withstand the conditions of the journey. 

From this followed a handful of breweries from Burton-On-Trent begin to export beer to India, who were influenced by Hodgson’s October beer however at the request of the East India traders, added more hops to the barrels and these became more popular than its predecessors for their fuller flavour and fresher taste when they arrived in India. Many followed suits, adding more hops to the beer before the journey, it became know as the India Pale Ale around 1840. 

The beer style also became popular in Britain with many more breweries creating their own version of the IPA including Bass and Green King which were lower ABV than which was the style at the time. It then had a resurgence in popularity in the 1970s when the real ale movement began. 


IPA Vs. Pale Ale 

These two styles of beer have a lot more in common than you might think. Ultimately the main differences are the volume of hops that are added and the ABV. During the brewing process, hops are added at two stages, on the hot side, when the wort is brought to boil, and on the cold side once the beer has finished fermenting, also called dry hopping. When the hops are added on the hot side, they provide bitterness to the beer, and the later the hops are added, the more fruity, hoppy aromas will come out in the beer. IPAs will have larger dry hops than pale ales to intensify the flavour, so it's basically a pale ale on steroids. Also adding to this, they usually have a higher ABV but do not have to as it is now common to see session IPAs, which are lower in ABV but still packing a punch with the hops. 

The Modern IPA 

What Does IPA Stand For? – a brief history

The IPA style has developed massively since the resurgence of real ale and the beginning of the craft beer revolution. This was also due to the development in hops, particularly from the USA. Hops are a lot like wine, as in they love the sun, so hotter climates produce hops with more tropical fruit flavours which have made the IPA a lot fresher and fruiter. Once American breweries started playing around with the IPA in the 1980s, they added more and more hops and would up the strength, the result was double IPAs (DIPA) and Triple IPAs (TIPA).

As the US is rather big, we started seeing a separation in styles between the West Coast of America and the East Coast, not surprisingly this is where the terms West Coast IPA and East Coast IPA come from. The West Coast IPA is known for its bitterness, with more hops being added on the hot side. Whereas the East Coast IPA is a sweeter and more juicy and similar style to a New England IPA which is super hazy and finishes sweeter. 

The IPA has been taken up by many breweries and countries, each putting their stamp on this glorious beer, and this can only be a good thing for beer drinkers. Today there is more choice, variety, and IPAs are commonly seen in your local pub and even in grocery shops, meaning more chances to get your hands on this great beer style. 


IPA Styles

What Does IPA Stand For? – a brief history

Here are some beer terms to remember when you are ordering an IPA and what you might like best. 

West Coast IPA – From the West Coast of America, known for its bitterness hit to finish.

East Coast IPA – From the East Coast of America, sweeter and juicier with a big hop hit. 

New England IPA – Born in the Breweries of New England, America. Expect intense hop flavours and a hazy colour, these IPAs tend to be sweeter and have a creamy mouthfeel. 

Black IPA – A crossover style as such combining darker malts with fruity hops. As a result, it is black in colour but not as rich and roasty as a stout, with the fruity hoppiness of an IPA.

Session IPA – An IPA that is brewed at a lower strength to be enjoyed during a session, therefore you can drink and enjoy more instead of being floored by 2 or 3 like me. 

Double IPA – More hops, higher ABV, big flavours, also known as a DIPA, these tend to be between 7-8%.


Triple IPA – The IPA has taken to the next level with breweries now making TIPAs from 9-13%. Often using malts that have less fermentable sugars, such as Dextrin Malt, so that the beer is sweeter and tends to hide the alcohol flavour.

English IPA – An IPA using English hops which are known to have more earthy, floral characteristics. The English Style IPA tends to be more balanced between the hops and malts leading to a more balanced flavour. 

Belgian IPA – Quite new to the scene, this IPA experiments with using Belgian yeast and is like the Double in flavour, it has a dryer finish and some characteristics of Belgian beer combined with an IPA.

Milkshake / Smoothie IPA – These IPAs are based on the New England style but have added extras such as lactose, fruit purees, unfermentable sugars, or flavourings such as vanilla. This is where the style gets a little whacky! They are known to be hazy, thick, and creamy, much like a boozy milkshake. 

DDH IPA – Double Dry Hopped IPA. This is where the cold side hops are added in two stages after fermentation. If a beer takes 4 weeks in tank, hops would be added at the 2-week stage and then again at the 4-week stage. The fresher the hops the fresher, bolder the flavour along with hops that have flavoured the beer for a longer amount of time. This results in a more rounded complex flavour getting hits of different hop notes throughout the beer. You can also have a DDH pale or add the hops in even more stages 3-4 times, every brewery will have their own preferred method to reach their level of hoppiness. 

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