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Thursday, August 15, 2013

When IPAs Didn't Exist

It's difficult to remember that there was an era BIPA (before IPAs,) but man, was there ever.  I've been doing a little research and I dug out Jack Erickson's Brewery Adventures in the Wild West from 1991.   It's a fascinating little time capsule that goes a long way to shaking my revisionist memory.  I was attempting to find out when exactly the IPA thing really got going, so I looked at his listings for the breweries and beers they made along the West Coast.  Together, the three states had 99 breweries in business by then.  Erickson listed the beers brewed by each brewery, coming up with a total of 235 of them (some breweries didn't yet have beer out, or didn't have regular lines).  Of these 235 beers, would you care to guess how many IPAs there were?


Sierra Nevada had been making Celebration for some time, and by '91, Bert Grant had had his IPA on the market for a few years, too.  The final entrant was from Rubicon in Sacramento, a brewery that has lived 26 under-the-radar years.  (Rubicon was known for IPA, winning gold at the GABF the first two years the category existed, in 1990 and '91.) That's it.  There were a ton of amber ales, porters, pales, and stouts (in roughly that order), but hops were definitely not the thing.

For what it's worth, in Jennifer Trainer Thompson's The Great American Microbrewery Beer Book from 1997, things hadn't changed that much.  Thompson cataloged only bottled beer, and listed a total of 182 from 37 breweries.  Number of IPAs?  Eight.  Grant's and SN Celebration plus Buffalo Bill's Alimony Ale, San Francisco Brewing Shanghai IPA, Full Sail India Ale, Oregon Ale (a short-lived contract brewery) Oregon Original IPA, Big Time's Bhagwan's Best IPA, and Pike IPA.

It's difficult to imagine a time when hops weren't the center of American brewing, but even the not-very-old don't to have to imagine.  We just have to remember.  Still, it doesn't seem like things were that barren just 15 years ago.


Stan Hieronymus said...

Alas, the GABF results sheets don't list number of entries back then, so I'd have to go through the programs to count IPAs listed . . . which I am crazy enough to do, but not at this moment.

However since there were enough to merit a separate category by 1990 that should tell you something.

Two more beers and dates first brewed: Bell's Two Hearted Ale 1992, Goose Island IPA 1993.

Jeff Alworth said...

Yeah, if you expand the list to include the country, you're definitely going to find a lot more. Also if you expand it to brewpubs. Then again, I think the ratio is the important thing, and I doubt that it would change much if you were somehow able to expand the database to include all the nation's beers.

The upshot is that IPAs are a relatively recent development in craft beer.

Mr. Murphy said...

Funny, I have never thought of Celebration as an IPA. Was Sierra Nevada calling it an IPA back in the early 1990s?

Bill Night said...

Ha ha, now Sierra Nevada calls Celebration "A Fresh Hop Ale".

First I ever heard of an IPA was in 1996. I wasn't as deep into beer then as I am now, but I wasn't a complete newbie either.

a non-mouse said...

FWIW, Pike Place IPA was introduced in 1990. It was the first American craft IPA I ever experienced that was actually labeled as such. Sierra Nevada Celebration has been made since 1981 but has never been labeled as an IPA although it certainly fits the style and the brewery now describes it as one.

a non-mouse said...

Of course, there was Ballantine IPA...

Darlene said...

Thanks for researching about IPA's. I'm not a hophead and I wasn't drinking beer back in the 90"s except Guinness so I didn't realize that hoppy beers are fairly recent.

Gary Gillman said...

Thom Thomlinson has written that Grant's IPA dates from 1981:

This seems possibly an error since Internet sources suggest Bert Grant's brewpub opened in Yakima, WA in 1982. So maybe it was 1982, but it would still be the first. Maybe though Thomlinson meant 1991, I can't say.

I remember the beer and it struck me as quite similar to Liberty Ale, which Thomlinson correctly notes came out in 1983 but was an evolution of Anchor's Our Special Ale which started in 1975. (Here the history gets murky because I am pretty sure the first Our Special Ale from Anchor was a dark beer. Perhaps by the late 70's, the beer, an occasional release, took the form that first appeared as a regular item in 1983 under the name Liberty Ale).

Thomlinson seems to consider IPAs as something apart from pale ale (even by the mid-90's a staple of microbrewing), stating that it was hoppier than pale ale and stronger. IMO, the distinction from pale ale was really one of degree. Many pale ales of the time were plenty bitter and aromatic, e.g. Boulder Pale Ale, and indeed Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. For practical purposes these were IPAs, just as Celebration Ale arguably was and certainly Liberty Ale although not so-called. Just as in England there was never a clear distinction between pale ale and IPA, I would say there wasn't one either in craft America. You could argue perhaps that the practice of branding a beer IPA encouraged brewers to use more hops than less and higher ABV then less (6% instead of 5, say), but still that is a question of degree: they were all making pale ale, IMO.

Celebration Ale is not really an IPA since it is too sweet for that - Grant's IPA was classically dry, as is Liberty Ale (whatever Maytag's intentions were), but again it's all a question of degree and an arbitrary element enters.

If Grant's influential beer had never existed, maybe the assertive side of the pale ale spectrum would be called Robust Pale Ale today. :)


Chris said...

Anchor Liberty Ale is only not an IPA because they don't call it that.

Besides, we've had IPA in the UK for centuries.

Jeff Alworth said...

A few notes and comments. A non mouse points to Ballantine, and Chris to UK IPAs. I think it's clear enough, but to confirm: the title and first sentence are not meant to be literal. I write hyperbolically for effect sometimes.

Gary, I could dig up the Ale Master to find out when Grant released IPA, but it was well before '91. Some quick and dirty googling and I find this nice piece from MJ:

"The definitively hoppy style India Pale Ale was an obvious favorite of Bert, but there was only one made in the U.S: the old-established Ballantine's IPA. The newer Anchor Liberty could be regarded as an example of the style, but was not identified as an IPA. Bert was the first to revive the style, initially at 60 units of bitterness. Liberty and Grant's were the basis of the American style of intensely hoppy, aromatic, IPA. Grant's brought back the historic name, and made it part of our beer vocabulary again. He helped matters along with a colorful label showing the Taj Mahal."

Liberty Ale. This is a judgment call for sure. By general acclaim, it has been grandfathered in as the first craft IPA, and that would raise the totals in the list above by one. Fair enough. Personally, I never felt the beer had the lines of an IPA and have never considered it an example. But as with all things, your mileage may vary.

a non-mouse said...

@Gary: Anchor used to mix things up a lot more with Our Special Ale than they do now. It didn't settle into its current groove as a dark spiced wassail-style ale until the mid 80s. Prior to that it was sometimes very similar to an IPA in style, and I recall one year when it was actually remarkably similar to Celebration Ale. I'm not sure that I buy that Liberty Ale evolved from Our Special Ale; according to Anchor, it was first brewed in 1975 'to Celebrate Paul Revere's historic ride' -- the same year that Our Special Ale was first brewed.

As regards Celebration Ale being 'too sweet' to be an IPA... really? I have had many that were 'sweeter'. Argue if you will, but Sierra Nevada calls it 'one of the earliest examples of an American-style IPA'.

Pete Dunlop said...

John Harris told me he developed an early IPA after he moved from Deschutes to Full Sail. I do not have a date, but my sense is it was '93-94. That must be the India Ale. So Full Sail's IPA predates Bridgeport here.

Obviously, there weren't all that many IPAs back in those days. I'm constantly amused talking to people who assume IPA has been a popular style dating back to the beginning of the craft movement. It just ain't so.

Gary Gillman said...

The above interview sheds some light. I still believe the first ('75) Liberty Ale was dark or darkish - I think Mark Carpenter has said that elsewhere - but it became pale soon after and finally was released in '83 as a regular offering. I recall Fritz Maytag saying somewhere that the Our Special Ale just before that, presumably the '82, was perfect so that was the one they chose for the regular release. This implies that the beer changed in character somewhat from '75-'83 as indeed Mark Carpenter implies. I think the Cascade hop was used from the first brew though.

I feel Celebration isn't a true IPA because pale ale/IPA was well-attenuated historically, dryish. It is more a strong ale I think. However it's true many other modern IPAs are similar, so again it's an evolution of the style in the American context.


a non-mouse said...

@Gary: Thanks for that link! Interesting reading. It's funny, just as you don't feel that Celebration Ale really 'fits' as an IPA, I've never quite felt that Liberty Ale did. But as you noted the American IPA style has become so diverse it's easy to find a place for both. And I think we can probably agree that both were milestones along the evolutionary path of the current style, although neither has ever been labeled as an IPA.

Gary Gillman said...

From what I've read/double-checked, Anchor brewed two special ales in 1975. One was Liberty Ale, brewed in April and bottled in July of that year. The other was its first Christmas-New Year's release. According to Jim Robertson's 1982 edition of "The Connoisseur's Guide To Beer", the Liberty Ale, i.e., the Bi-Centennial commemorative, was "opaque coffee brown" and had a "roast malt aftertaste".

This is clearly the beer Mark Carpenter said had a sugar addition and that Maytag didn't initially like.

While this apparently used Cascade hops, it doesn't sound like the modern Liberty Ale. I believe the true antecedent of Liberty Ale is the Christmas ale brewed later that year and those brewed annually until 1983. The same book reviews Our Special Ales from '78 -'81. They all sound similar to the modern Liberty Ale, e.g. for '78, "pale cloudy yellow ... canned Lychee nut aroma ... too much bitterness for good balance". (That's 1982 writing so we have to allow).

The '75-'83 Our Special Ale Christmas releases, generally orangey-pale, very aromatic and well-hopped and with decent malt body, would seem to me to meet English pale ale specs with the important difference of having a keynote Cascade or other new American hop flavour.


a non-mouse said...

@Gary: Fascinating! I have a 1984 edition of "The Connoisseur's Guide To Beer", which hadn't seen the light of day for some time until today. It has the description you noted for the 1975 Liberty Ale, then another from 1984: 'pale orange, flowery hop aroma, extremely complex, palate of oranges, apricots and spices'. Definitely different from the 1975 version, but also different from today's! It also describes the 1983 Our Special Ale as 'bright deeply colored reddish caramel', 'very complex', with a 'faint sweetness most noticeable in the finish', although it doesn;t say much about the hop profile. Hmm; perhaps this is the version I remember as bearing a resemblance to the Celebration Ale of that year. It might well have been the first year I had both.

After all this dusty historical talk I'm tempted to head out for a pint of today's Liberty Ale. Cheers! :-)

Æsop said...

In 1983, when Trader Joe's was only in L.A. and Orange counties in California, we got Ballantine's IPA as a special purchase. It was the first time I had ever heard of the IPA style and it sucked. The story was true to the traditional English IPAs, but the product was no better than ABInbev would produce today.

I say it shouldn't count in any way.

- Æ

Erlangernick said...

I once had the pleasure of speaking with Fritz Maytag on the phone, ca. 1996, who said that he hadn't intended Liberty Ale to be an APA (no mention of IPA), but simply an "American ale" using American malts and hops. Back then, the concept of "APA" simply didn't exist.

Personally, I don't see why some don't think Liberty Ale fits the IPA mold well: it's pale, it's dry, it's fairly bitter and hoppy, and it's strong enough!

Some years ago, I read somewhere that SNCA was the first AIPA in that it is citric-hopped and features (too much!) crystal malt. I've had that in my head ever since, but the mention above of "strong ale" brings me back to how I used to think of it: the definitive American winter warmer. That's really what it is, excessively crystal-malt-laden or not.

Yeah, coming a bit too late to this...

Gary Gillman said...

I can't leave the discussion without speaking up in favour of Ballantine IPA. I thought it was wonderful. Quite possibly the final brews were indifferent in quality - apparently the beer did undergo various shortcuts as the years went by, e.g. less aging in wood, lower ABV - but in its prime it was a great beer. It needs to come back.


a non-mouse said...

I agree with Gary. It's (obviously) been a long time since I last had Ballantine IPA, but it most definitely did *not* 'suck'. I remember being very favorably impressed. Perhaps Aesop got a bad sample, or perhaps it was a different Ballantine beer?

Jeff Alworth said...

Ballantine gets full credit. Ballantine was apparently an epic beer, brewed more or less the same way in Newark, NJ in 1970 as it was in 1830. During that period, it was 7.5%, had 60 IBUs, and was aged a year in oak vats. Falstaff bought it in 1971 and the dumbing down commenced. It continued along for a decade or so before finally getting killed off. So yeah, it was a terrible beer in 1983, but a spectacular one in 1963. Weird, isn't it?

Jeff Alworth said...

Oh, and there's this, too: although Ken Grossman can't/won't confirm it, Sierra Nevada's yeast has long been rumored to have been cultivated from Ballantine.

brx0 _ said...

Oh right, amber ales used to be a thing in the 90s. I'd forgotten. I wonder if we'll ever see a retro/nostalgic amber ale revival? Maybe they're just not distinctive enough for modern consumers.

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