The IPA Myth

Oh man, this is just too horrible to consider. Apparently, what we know about India Pale Ales is a crock. As you know, there's this (apparently apocryphal) legend:
In the late 1700's Hogdson was the most popular ale brewer in London. With easy access to shipping from the capital, Hogdson was in position to supply beer to homesick English colonists around the world. Of these, none felt so removed, nor thirsted more for the pleasures of English breweries, than the troops garrisoned on the sub-continent of India. Hogdson rightly believed it a huge market waiting to be tapped, but how could beer survive the trip around Africa?

Hogdson used three brewing methods to ensure his ale weathered the journey. First, he knew hops were a natural preservative. Indeed, it was this property that first motivated brewers to use hops. Hogdson reckoned an increased hopping rate would help in transit. Next, he took advantage of another natural preservative in beer, and he brewed one with an exaggerated level of alcohol. Finally, he used abundant dry hopping as an additional preservative, and he rightly thought it wouldn't harm the taste because it would mellow during the long voyage.
This is the story everyone in Beervana knows. We can repeat it with more or less all the moving parts intact, even if some of the details get lost or embellished. Ah, but the devil's in the details, and Martyn Cornell, having looked into them, says the legend can't be true. Strong ales were already in production before the India trade began, and were already used on long voyages--some far longer than the four months it took to get to India. On his Zythophile blog, he explains:
Despite some modern commentators’ declaration that India Pale Ale needed to be invented because the big-selling beer in the late 18th century in Britain, porter, would not survive the four-month journey to the East, porter was perfectly capable of lasting on board a ship much longer than that, as this passage from the journal of Joseph Banks on August 25 1769, when he was on board the Endeavour with Captain Cook in the South Pacific, shows.
The quote describes year-old porter that remained "excellently good." He continues to make a pretty strong case:
  • In 1767, George Watson details "October beer" in The Compleat English Brewer designed to last two years.
  • In 1768, a brewing book details a highly-hopped recipe for robust "malt wine" to ensure "a year's keeping."
  • Hodgson did ship to India, but mainly because his brewery happened to be near the docks where boats shipped out from.
  • Hodgson's October stock beer went through some kind of speed-maturation in the hold of the ship and arrived (unintentionally) ready ready to drink.
In a subsequent post, he sums up how the story of IPA should actually read:
IPA developed out of the strong, well-hopped stock ales, designed to last a year or two in cask before being drunk, that British brewers were already making before entrepreneurial ship’s captains decided to make a few bob taking beer out to sell in India. The stock ale went through a speeded-up maturation on the journey, and arrived out East in prime condition.
Hat tip to Tom, who no doubt spends his free time disabusing 2nd graders of their Santa Claus beliefs. Thanks a lot, man.