British beer writer Pete Brown penned this entry in the Companion and spends three and half pages discussing the gradual evolution of the India Pale Ale style, [1] its popularisation by Hodgson’s Brewery, [2] the long hegemony of Bass, [3] the decline of IPA under a tide of lager and its eventual revival which ironically started in America. [4] He contends “of all beer styles, IPA is the most romanticised, mythologised and misunderstood. It inspires the fiercest debate, the greatest reverence and the wildest conjecture in the world of beer.”

Pete Brown should know – he wrote an entire book about IPA called Hops and Glory: One Man’s Search for the Beer that Built the British Empire. It charts his efforts to take a barrel of IPA from Burton-on-Trent to India onboard ships travelling as close as possible to the original sea route, something not done in nearly a century and a half. 

“All I’d had to do,” he wrote, “was put an awful lot of people to an awful lot of inconvenience, damage my marriage, my body and my mind, break several international laws, turn my friend into a beer smuggler, pay a few hundred dollars in bribes to corrupt customs officials and enlist the help of the Deputy British High Commissioner.” Mr Brown was therefore eminently, even uniquely, qualified to write the IPA entry in the Oxford Companion. 

IPA is considered the most popular craft beer style in the world. Sales at the Malthouse would tend support that hypothesis with plenty of pale ale heading across the counter. The Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge – an event where craft brewers are challenged to make the best American-inspired IPA – is in its fifth year and is easily one of the biggest nights of the year.

It is now time to add a new event to the beer calendar – The First Annual Malthouse Old World IPA Challenge – which takes place on 9 November 2012. Seven breweries have accepted the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor Colin’s challenge to make a traditional English IPA, “before it was all big hops from the USA.” [5] These seven breweries will present their interpretations to a panel of judges before the public can purchase them from noon on the day. The confirmed entrants are Townshend, Epic, a Liberty/ South Star Brewery collaboration, Good George, Moa, Twisted Hop and Garage Project. 

The only requirement is that they brew an IPA best described as traditional and English.  Everything else in the judging will be based on taste. That might not satisfy the purists. 

Pete Brown acknowledges “the debate about what constitutes an authentic IPA will continue.  If one were perfectly strict about it, one could argue that only a beer that has survived the sea journey from Europe around the Cape of Good Hope to India is a true IPA.” However, he notes that journey is no longer possible as all shipping from Europe to India now goes through the Suez Canal. 

Townshend Brewery could have an early advantage as the brewer is English, he already makes a JCIPA “traditional India Pale Ale” and his Blitzgreig IPA – his entry in the Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge – is always described as being “too English”. This competition should suit. Similarly, the Twisted Hop was literally founded by two Englishmen united in their disdain for New World beers and their love of traditional real ale, including IPA. These breweries are likely to be serving ales from the handpump or straight from the cask, and several other contestants will likely be joining them. 

Luke Nicholas, the Impish Brewer from Epic, is world famous for his infatuation with American hops [6] so it will be interesting to see how he handles the more old-school varietals. On the other hand, he is the only contestant to have brewed an IPA, put it in two oak barrels and sent them out to sea for six weeks. One of the barrels was even named after Pete Brown [7] and it spent over a month on the Interislander ferry before being tapped right on the Malthouse bar (against the Proprietor’s wishes as Colin half expected it to explode as one of the barrels in Hops and Glory had).

The Liberty/ South Star collaboration is produced by Liberty’s Joseph Wood and Regional Wines beer specialist Kieran Haslett-Moore. Joe is one of the country’s best brewers and a dab hand with hops. Kieran is an expert on English beer styles and, with his love of bitters, milds, cloth caps and whippet racing, could be described as an Englishman who was simply born in the wrong country.  Heck, his (very good) blog is even called Beer from the Motherland. 

I have joked that during their relatively brief existence Garage Project have made eighty different beers.  That, of course, is an exaggeration as the real number can’t be more than fifty. They have already attempted to make virtually every beer style ever invented and created several new ones so I expect them to be able to easily cope with something as relatively straight forward as a good old IPA.  

Moa is taking a break from their somewhat controversial IPO to produce their take on an English IPA. I’ve long considered the Five Hop – which they call a Winter Ale – to be best of their current range. It is not a long way from an IPA so Moa can be expected to produce something interesting. 

Also entering is Good George, a brewpub in Hamilton (“City of the Future”) which was set up recently by Kelly Ryan.  In addition to his acclaimed work at Epic and less acclaimed spell at DB, Kelly brewed for Thornbridge in the UK. They make one of the best traditional IPAs I have ever tasted, the magnificent Jaipur. If he can recapture half the class of that beer, Good George will be a front runner.

Given how often I have quoted Pete Brown today it is appropriate he has the last rather poignant words: [8] “IPA has always evolved… versions of IPA thread the world together and will continue to evolve to suit our tastes.”

[1] Brown notes the style was not even called India Pale Ale until it had been in existence for at least 50 years.

[2] Hodgson’s is often erroneously credited with inventing the style but they did make the most popular version in India for many years. 

[3] Bass is generally considered to be the first globally recognised brand and the distinctive red triangle was the first trademark registered in the United Kingdom. 

[4] You can see why IPA’s storied history was considered worthy of a long entry in the book.

[5] Just to be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with lots of big hops from the United States.

[6] It makes my obsession with Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing song look like a passing interest. 

[7] The other being called Melissa, in honour of Melissa Cole, and inspired the blog “Does my bum look big in this barrel?”

[8] Apart from all these footnotes which were – funnily enough – inspired by his book A Man Walks Into A Pub. 


Beer Writer
Beer and Brewer Magazine


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