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Let's talk about "IPA" for a minute (a rant)

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MrAverage

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Rant on:

First let me say that I have absolutely no problem with anyone brewing or adding anything they want to make beer that they like. Second, let me also say that I am NOT someone who believe in strict adherence to style guidelines. if you want to brew something outside of the guidelines, go right ahead.

Having gotten that out of the way, I just have to ask what the heck is up with IPA ? Here's the situation as I see it:

Americans have gotten it into their heads that "British IPA" was (and perhaps still is) a super strong, heavily hopped pale ale that sloshed around in oak barrels for months as it made its way from England to India, but that story is not supported by actual data from brewers and the accounts of people that observed and wrote about British brewing in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In other words, almost everything we "know" about British IPA is wrong.

British IPA was actually a relatively low gravity ale - lower than the breweries standard Pale Ales - with a decent but not overwhelming aamount of hop bitterness that wasn't shipped around the world (the vast majortiy of beer shipped from England to India was Porter) and wasn't aged any more than other pale ales. Don't believe me? see Shut up about Barclay Perkins for numerous contemporary accounts and articles on the subject and reproductions of actual brewing records from actual British producers of IPA.

Yet the BJCP guidelines still perpetuate the myth of British IPA as being a strong, high alcohol, heavily hopped brew. Of the 10 comemrcial examples they list, only 2 of them come from "traditional" British brewers - Fuller's and Samuel Smith's. The other British breweries listed are less than 10 years old except for Burton Bridge wich was started in 1981. It's useful to note that among all ofthe examples listed, the two traditional British brewers' versions of IPA are the weakest (about 5% ABV each).

It's very strange to think that the standard IPA's brewed by actual British brewers in the late 1800's and early 1900's would be disqualified from the IPA category in American homebrew competitions because they don't meet the BJCP guidelines for an "authentic" British IPA....

Obvioulsy American brewers have developed their own interpretation of the style - and that's competely fine with me. Just as obvious is the fact that contemporary British brewers have adopted the Americanized version - perhaps becasue they want to appeal to American consumers or berhaps it's because some of them are as ignorant of British brewing history as many Americans are. In any case, these so-called "British" IPA's are nothing more than "American" IPA's made with British ingredients.

I have to wonder why the BJCP persists in perpetuating this distorted view through it's style guidelines. I have no personal interest inthis - I do not enter my beers in competitions - but I find it to be an affront to brewing integrity, a distortion of brewing history, and misleading to homebrewers. What makes it especially egregious to me is that fact that the error is so blatantly obvious to anyone who bothers to examine actual brewing records from actual British brewers and it's so easily fixed by redefining the "British IPA" category to reflect actual historical brewing practicies and expanding the definition of "American IPA" to include the use of British ingredients.

Rant off
 

itsme6582

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That was so well said you could have told me "The moon is made of cheese!" and I might've believed you.

Even though half the fun of a rant is sputtering off into nonsense, I say cheers to you.
 

Zamial

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My ONLY question to you is... Why not sent a copy of that to the AHA and the BJCP folks so when they release the next guide it can be fixed or at least broken into a sub catagory like an a/b sort of thing?
 

gr8shandini

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I dunno. I'd trust Terry Foster over some random blog on Scottish beers. His book on pale ales has a rather exhaustive history of the British beer industry during this period and IPA in particular. He states that there were indeed highly hopped, high gravity versions of domestic pale ales that were designed for transit to India.

Amazon.com: Pale Ale, Revised: History, Brewing, Techniques, Recipes (Classic Beer Style Series, 1) (9780937381694): Terry Foster: Books

If you're at all interested in the history of pale ale, it's well worth a read. But if you want a "Cliff's Notes" version, this guy sums it up fairly well. In particular:

All About Beer Magazine » Mythbusting the IPA
[Myth] 10. IPA was a very tightly defined style. Imperial IPAs, double IPAs etc. are quite different from the original beer that inspired them.

Not so much a myth, more a ‘How do you know’? Beer aficionados get very passionate when discussing what constitutes a ‘proper’ IPA, what malts and hops were used, how strong it was and how it was conditioned. But the truth is, pale ale was evolved and adapted for the Indian market for at least fifty years before anyone started referring to it as India Pale Ale. No one knows what the original recipe was―or even if there was a beer that can be considered to be the original recipe. IPA, brown ale, porter and small beer were easily distinguishable from each other. Beyond that, there was enormous variety within each style, and these styles varied markedly over time.

So is there a lesson to all this, beyond the fact that too much historical research turns one into an irritating pedant? I think so. Beer is a living, organic creation that cannot be pinned to the page. It will always have a core of mystery to it―and that only adds to its allure.
 
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weirdboy

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The first thing you have to understand is that in practical terms, BJCP style guidelines are not about historical accuracy or authenticity. The same is true of the Saison style (16C) in that the guidelines do not reflect an authentic, historically accurate farmhouse ale. Also, see the historical accuracy of e.g. Scottish ales with regards to the BJCP style guidelines.

The guidelines are just a consistent set of rules for judging a beer based on particular categories. If the beer closely matches the rules, then it is given a high score. If it doesn't match the rules very well, then it gets a lower score. It has nothing to do with being authentic or historically accurate.
 

lowtones84

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Of the 10 comemrcial examples they list, only 2 of them come from "traditional" British brewers - Fuller's and Samuel Smith's. The other British breweries listed are less than 10 years old except for Burton Bridge wich was started in 1981. It's useful to note that among all ofthe examples listed, the two traditional British brewers' versions of IPA are the weakest (about 5% ABV each).
I think there's at least some truth to this part. As I understand, around 5% actually was pretty high alcohol content for the time. A lot of beer was 2.5-3% alcohol because it was "table beer" and drunk in quantities more like water. Now, this information comes from knowledge about French and Belgian beers, but I've heard similar of British beers. For some reason I doubt they were brewing 9.5%, 90+ IBU pale ales to ship to India in the colonial era.

We have to understand that beer in general then was not what it was today. But I do love me some modern IPA's! :mug:
 

weirdboy

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Also forgot to mention, the commercial examples of the style listed in the guidelines are the top commercial examples that match the style guidelines as closely as possible, NOT the top historical or top selling or top from the country of origin, or anything else.
 

unionrdr

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I did some research on the Burton ales of the 18th & 19th centuries. It was their #3 Burton ale that,sometime in the 1890's became what we know as pale ale. The #1 Burton was an English barley wine somewhere North of 1.150 OG. As time marched on,people didn't so much want heavy,sweet malty ales as much. The number three Burton started life at around 1.080OG,finishing somewhere between 1.018 & 1.026 or so. Still a little sweet malt-wise,but no longer a barley wine. Then they made it finish a little drier when the #3 Burton started dying as a style around 1890.
Here's a couple links; The mysterious Australian Ale | Zythophile
Shut up about Barclay Perkins: Burton Ale in the 1790's
You should be able to search the sites from there. But the Burton did lead to the first "pale ales". Also called Australian ale when shipped to the colonies down under.
 
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MrAverage

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I dunno. I'd trust Terry Foster over some random blog on Scottish beers. His book on pale ales has a rather exhaustive history of the British beer industry during this period and IPA in particular. He states that there were indeed highly hopped, high gravity versions of domestic pale ales that were designed for transit to India.
The problem is that apparently Terry Foster didn't examine the actual brewing records from actual British Brewers like Whitbread, Barclay Perkins, etc. etc. as Ron Patterson has done. Terry seems to have simply repeated a story about the origins of IPA and since he is considered to be an authority on the subject of British beers, his word was taken as fact and subsequently repeated by other home brew authors and authorities until it's become one of those things that "everybody knows".

btw - Ron Patterson's blog is not just some "random blog on Scottish beers". He's obsessive (truly obsessive!) about digging up primary source materials about British brewing such as the actual brewers' log books and sales records as well as first hand accounts of brewing practices. He's recently turned his attention to Scottish brewing using the same kinds of materials. He seldom deals in opinion and conjecture. Instead he relies on facts - real records and numbers. If you have any interest in actual british brewing history and practice, I suggest that you back to the site and dig in a little deeper. You'll be amazed at what you'll find.
 

PseudoChef

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As for the style guideline argument, I believe there's room for evolution among the styles. Whether this evolution is good or bad, well, that's definitely up for debate.
 
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MrAverage

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My ONLY question to you is... Why not sent a copy of that to the AHA and the BJCP folks so when they release the next guide it can be fixed or at least broken into a sub catagory like an a/b sort of thing?
I guess you're right but the thing is that the AHA is already fully aware of this issue. There have been some pretty public exchanges on the subject between people connected with the AHA and folks like Ron Patterson. I can only speculate as to why the AHA won't change the guidelines, but I think it probably has much to do with the natural inertia that any large organization has when faced with potential change. The AHA has also been responsible for perpetuating many beer myths for a long time so I assume that it would be an embarrassment for them to admit that they, as the authority on such things, are wrong.
 
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MrAverage

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The first thing you have to understand is that in practical terms, BJCP style guidelines are not about historical accuracy or authenticity. The same is true of the Saison style (16C) in that the guidelines do not reflect an authentic, historically accurate farmhouse ale. Also, see the historical accuracy of e.g. Scottish ales with regards to the BJCP style guidelines.

The guidelines are just a consistent set of rules for judging a beer based on particular categories. If the beer closely matches the rules, then it is given a high score. If it doesn't match the rules very well, then it gets a lower score. It has nothing to do with being authentic or historically accurate.
Of course you are right, but there's more to it. The BCJP guidelines are looked on by home brewers as authoritative descriptions of particular styles. As such, shouldn't the AHA strive for some sort of historical accuracy?

I guess it doesn't really matter. It just bothers me that the organization that sets the standards and trains the judges doesn't seem to know what a real authentic British APA was. So much for their supposed expertise....
 

weirdboy

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Of course you are right, but there's more to it. The BCJP guidelines are looked on by home brewers as authoritative descriptions of particular styles. As such, shouldn't the AHA strive for some sort of historical accuracy?

I guess it doesn't really matter. It just bothers me that the organization that sets the standards and trains the judges doesn't seem to know what a real authentic British APA was. So much for their supposed expertise....


You are confusing the AHA with the BJCP. They have been two completely independent organizations since 1995. The BJCP has never been concerned with being an authority on historical accuracy, so far as I know. Actually I don't think the AHA ever has, either.
 

thisgoestoeleven

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I love big hoppy beers, regardless of what you call them. They taste the same to me whether you call them IPAs or aggressively hopped pale ales. I don't care what anyone says about the history, the labeling, or the truth vs. myth of IPAs. I will continue to drink big, aggressively hopped ales.

 

bierhaus15

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I applaud your rant efforts.

Beer history, while often ambiguous, is important enough that it deserves to be told with some amount of genuine factuality. And as much as our 'beer experts' would like us to think they know the real history of beer, they are undoubtedly a lazy bunch. They should spend less time on the teat and more time reading brewing records... you know, because us beer nerds need to get the facts straight. ;)

Lastly, I think the whole idea of arguing over beer style is a bit foolish really. I find it hard to believe that some brewer in 1870 was ever arguing with someone about their IPA not being to style. I dunno, all I really know is that the more I learn about beer history, the more I realize the whole idea of beer styles is pretty ridiculous. Oh, and F--- the BJCP! :D
 

rockfish42

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I think there's at least some truth to this part. As I understand, around 5% actually was pretty high alcohol content for the time. A lot of beer was 2.5-3% alcohol because it was "table beer" and drunk in quantities more like water. Now, this information comes from knowledge about French and Belgian beers, but I've heard similar of British beers. For some reason I doubt they were brewing 9.5%, 90+ IBU pale ales to ship to India in the colonial era.

We have to understand that beer in general then was not what it was today. But I do love me some modern IPA's! :mug:
Just a quick correction from a longtime reader of Ron's blog, the gravities and hopping for IPA vs PA are all over the map even from the same brewery over time. The BJCP style guidelines aren't historically accurate, some of the information has been held over from the first versions for god knows what reason.
Also to address the idea that British beers were weak historically, that's completely laughable. There are plenty of 1.100 gravity beers being brewed in the pre-victorian era, the reduction in gravity occurred at various times due to taxes and the various military conflicts of the early 20th century.
 
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MrAverage

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You are confusing the AHA with the BJCP. They have been two completely independent organizations since 1995. The BJCP has never been concerned with being an authority on historical accuracy, so far as I know. Actually I don't think the AHA ever has, either.
Thanks for setting me straight on that. I should have directed my complaints at the BJCP although it seems to me that the AHA is also at fault since they use the BJCP judges and guidelines for their competitions. If the AHA was concerned about accuracy in the guidelines, I'm pretty sure they would be able to influence the BCJP

As for the question of authority, I think the BJCP does aim to be an authority on beer styles. Consider this excerpt from the FAQ on their website:

Who gave you the right to tell me what a given beer style is like?

Actually, it's part of the BJCP's Mission Statement. One of the purposes of the BJCP is to promote beer literacy, which includes understanding more about the world's great beer styles. The BJCP has been operating since 1985 and has been publishing guidelines for much of that history.

We have spent considerable time researching world class beer examples, visiting renowned breweries, talking with noted authors, and searching key reference materials for information on beer styles. We have collected this information into our guidelines as a way to reduce the amount of time, effort and variability in learning this knowledge.


It seems to me that an organization that claims to promote beer literacy would be interested in having their information based on historical realities.

But I've flogged this dead horse long enough. As I conceded, it really doesn't matter to anyone unless they're competing in the category.
 

Zythophile

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I did some research on the Burton ales of the 18th & 19th centuries. It was their #3 Burton ale that,sometime in the 1890's became what we know as pale ale. The #1 Burton was an English barley wine somewhere North of 1.150 OG. As time marched on,people didn't so much want heavy,sweet malty ales as much. The number three Burton started life at around 1.080OG,finishing somewhere between 1.018 & 1.026 or so. Still a little sweet malt-wise,but no longer a barley wine. Then they made it finish a little drier when the #3 Burton started dying as a style around 1890..
I don't know where you got your claims from - certainly not from my or Ron's sites - but No 3 Burton definitely did NOT become "what we know as pale ale": a Burton is a Burton and a pale ale is a pale ale. And No 1 Burton wasn't "north of 1150 OG", it was always around 1110 OG.

Terry Foster: I wouldn't believe him if he told me beer was wet.
 

unionrdr

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Here's one of the links I read; The mysterious Australian Ale | Zythophile look at the 2nd & 3rd paragraph. A later paragraph also states;When Alfred Barnard visited the brewery in Sheffield (Marrian's) in 1890,he tried a sample of Australian beers four years old, which we found very delicious,but far too strong for our cockney taste." as one example. Look at the very last paragraph of the article. It talks about the last cry for the ale as a named style.
I'll have to search some more for other articles I thought I'd saved,like the one that had a pic of an old painted poster advertising the Burton. I know I read that 1.150 bit somewhere,but yours did indeed say the OG was 1.100 or more,at any rate. Must've cleared a few too many bookmarks.
But,anyway,from what I gathered the #1 grade was an English barley wine for all intents & purposes. The #3 I tried to clone fits into the Strong Ale category,as did the original. Gotta couple more tweaks for version 2. It seemed to me that when the style started dying about 1890,it was dried out more so as not to be as sweet,becoming a pale ale? It struck me that the #1 grade was "thinned out" if you will,to produce a lighter bodied ale as the described #3 grade. Info being scetchy,that's the conclusions I drew from the info available. It just appears that I'm missing some other links I had that I remember reading...
 
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Taking one blogger's interpretation of some old data really isn't any more accurate or reasonable to interpret history than taking the interpretation of a book author. It sounds like the book version is a bit mythologized but the blog version is revisionist in trying to create a different but equally monolithic version of the style's history.

A lot of primary sources, both on that blog and in other sources, reflect that British brewers were not uniform in styles, gravities, etc. There's no clear source for where the name came from. It's completely possible that the style was named IPA and given the backstory of being made for export to India to make it seem like a premium beer, to make it appeal to soliders/sailors returning to England, etc. It may have been given the name/backstory to export to continental Europe or other colonies for the same purpose. It may have actually been designed for the purposes of export to England but generally did not make its way to India.

There is a modern interpretation of the style -- housed in the BJCP guidelines -- that is what the style has become, regardless of its history.
 

Molybedenum

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The vernacular changes over time with respect to things like this, just as the natural languages change. Similar examples are the differences between stouts and porters. If stouts were just stout porters, shouldn't they have the same category?

The answer is no, however. Times change, and styles change. It's not something to get pissed about, it just is. There are a few who feel strongly about history, and they are free to write some books about it. The fact is that modern IPA is not what IPA used to be. The judging guidelines are based upon the modern understanding of what beers are accepted as being.

In 200 years, they'll call pale ale stout, IPA, they'll call Cascadian, and Bock will be what sits on shelves. Perhaps not, but the human understanding of these things is always (and will always be) amorphous.
 

ayoungrad

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I certainly wasn't aware of several facts about IPA history, so thanks for bringing this up MrAverage

But, I don't think all of the ideas you presented are completely misaligned with popular "myths". Especially with regard to beer strength. But either way, I think it's interesting.

If anyone is interested, a quick google search brings up what seems to be a credible article that is fairly detailed...

The Truth About the Origins of IPA | Beer Connoisseur Magazine
 

BrewThruYou

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The first thing you have to understand is that in practical terms, BJCP style guidelines are not about historical accuracy or authenticity.

The guidelines are just a consistent set of rules for judging a beer based on particular categories.
I agree wholeheartedly with these 2 points. The OP shouldn't get in a huff about what the BJCP says. If you don't enter comps, don't bother with the BJCP guidelines.
 

mrgstiffler

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The BCJP guidelines are looked on by home brewers as authoritative descriptions of particular styles. As such, shouldn't the AHA strive for some sort of historical accuracy?
No, absolutely not. We don't live in the past. We make and drink beer now. You don't judge a pizza based on how closely it resembles the first pizza. What people like evolves over time and so should the guidelines.
 
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MrAverage

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No, absolutely not. We don't live in the past. We make and drink beer now. You don't judge a pizza based on how closely it resembles the first pizza. What people like evolves over time and so should the guidelines.
Of course tastes evolve and that's why the BJCP program has added style categories as new beer styles have developed. Even so, the original styles don't change. They continue to exist as new ones are added.

The creation of an American IPA subcategory acknowledges the evolution of the IPA style from its original form - British IPA, BUT the guidelines for the original form do not accurately reflect the then beer as it was brewed by the majority of British breweries for the past 150 years or so. It's as if the BJCP guidelines for the Bohemian Pilsner category were based on the current specs for Budweiser...after all, isn't Bud an evolution of Bohemian Pilsner?

Just as Budweiser is not the beer that was brewed in Cezcoslovakia (sp?) and therefore should not be used as the standard against which Bohemian Pilsner is judged, the specs in the British IPA guidelines do not accurately describe
the beer that was brewed and called IPA by British brewers up until very recently.
 

mrgstiffler

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Of course tastes evolve and that's why the BJCP program has added style categories as new beer styles have developed. Even so, the original styles don't change. They continue to exist as new ones are added.

The creation of an American IPA subcategory acknowledges the evolution of the IPA style from its original form - British IPA, BUT the guidelines for the original form do not accurately reflect the then beer as it was brewed by the majority of British breweries for the past 150 years or so.
You may have a point if the BJCP was created 150 years ago. British IPA isn't the only style that has changed since its inception.
 

Piratwolf

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While I have to say that all this is mildly intriguing, my opinion (and my new signature after this post!) was put forth on page 1:

"Beer is a living, organic creation that cannot be pinned to the page. It will always have a core of mystery to it―and that only adds to its allure."

Hooray, beer!
 

weirdboy

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Thanks for setting me straight on that. I should have directed my complaints at the BJCP although it seems to me that the AHA is also at fault since they use the BJCP judges and guidelines for their competitions. If the AHA was concerned about accuracy in the guidelines, I'm pretty sure they would be able to influence the BCJP

As for the question of authority, I think the BJCP does aim to be an authority on beer styles. Consider this excerpt from the FAQ on their website:

Who gave you the right to tell me what a given beer style is like?

Actually, it's part of the BJCP's Mission Statement. One of the purposes of the BJCP is to promote beer literacy, which includes understanding more about the world's great beer styles. The BJCP has been operating since 1985 and has been publishing guidelines for much of that history.

We have spent considerable time researching world class beer examples, visiting renowned breweries, talking with noted authors, and searching key reference materials for information on beer styles. We have collected this information into our guidelines as a way to reduce the amount of time, effort and variability in learning this knowledge.


It seems to me that an organization that claims to promote beer literacy would be interested in having their information based on historical realities.

But I've flogged this dead horse long enough. As I conceded, it really doesn't matter to anyone unless they're competing in the category.
I think you keep missing the point. The BJCP style guidelines are not meant to be historically accurate. There isn't a "historical" IPA category, it's called "English IPA". They reference MODERN versions of the style, not something made a couple hundred years ago.

The only reasonable quibble you MIGHT have here is the little two-sentence blurb in the guidelines about the history:
Brewed to survive the voyage from England to India. The temperature extremes and rolling of the seas resulted in a highly attenuated beer upon arrival. English pale ales were derived from India Pale Ales.
Let's take a look at a historical quote from the blog:
"ALE, PALE OR BITTER; brewed chiefly for the Indian market and for other
tropical countries.—It is a light beverage, with much aroma, and, in consequence of the regulations regarding the malt duty, is commonly brewed from a wort of specific gravity 1055 or upwards; for no drawback is allowed by the Excise on the exportation of beer brewed from worts of a lower gravity than 1054. This impolitic interference with the operations of trade compels the manufacturer of bitter beer to employ wort of a much greater density than he otherwise would do; for beer made from wort of the specific gravity 1042 is not only better calculated to resist secondary fermentation and the other effects of a hot climate, but is also more pleasant and salubrious to the consumer. Under present circumstances the law expects the brewer of bitter beer to obtain four barrels of marketable beer from every quarter of malt he uses, which is just barely possible when the best malt of a good barley year is employed. . With every quarter of such malt 16lbs. of the best hops are used ; so that, if we assume the cost of malt at 60s. per quarter, and the best hops at 2s. per lb., we shall have, for the prime cost of each barrel of bitter beer—in malt, 15s.; in hops, 8s. ; together, 23s ; from which, on exportation, we must deduct the drawback of 5s. per barrel allowed by the Excise, which brings the prime cost down to 18s. per barrel, exclusive of the expense of manufacture, wear and tear of apparatus, capital invested in barrels, cooperage, &c., which constitute altogether a very formidable outlay. As, however, (his ale is sold as high as from 50s. to 65s. per barrel, there can be no doubt that the bitter ale trade has long been, and still continues, an exceedingly profitable speculation, though somewhat hazardous, from the liability of the article to undergo decomposition ere it finds a market."
"Ures' Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures and Mines" by Andrew Ure & Robert Hunt, 1867, Page 306
So according to this the beer is brewed 1.055+, and the blog says 1.060 or higher. What do the style guidelines say? 1.050-1.075 This range seems reasonable, and roughly matches the historical account even though, as stated many times, the guidelines were written based on modern versions of the style.

Again, the only reasonable complaint you have is that maybe the beer was brewed higher gravity for different reasons than surviving the journey, but instead due to excise taxes forcing the minimum gravity to 1.055.
 

LandoLincoln

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So your problem is that it shouldn't be called a British IPA because it doesn't match the history of what an actual British IPA was.

Well. That certainly is something to rant about.
 

ayoungrad

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I personally don't think it's worth a rant. But I think it's interesting.

And FWIW, BJCP does mention a little history in the guidelines for each category. And I believe they expect you to know the history if you sit for their exam.
 

BrewMU

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I love IPA, and can understand interest in it's history and I probably drink more IPA than anything, but I think it gets an unwarranted amount of shelf space. In Missouri you can get more than a dozen IPAs in any given supermarket, but not one Altbier. That just ain't right.
 
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:ban:
I love big hoppy beers, regardless of what you call them. They taste the same to me whether you call them IPAs or aggressively hopped pale ales. I don't care what anyone says about the history, the labeling, or the truth vs. myth of IPAs. I will continue to drink big, aggressively hopped ales.

 
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