Pub Talk

The Surprising History of the Session IPA

IPAs of varying descriptions are all the rage nowadays: Shelves sag with Double, Imperial, Black, White, and even Session IPAs. New variations are seen as innovative and exciting. But has it all been done before?

The Surprising History of the Session IPA

Far from being new and exciting, session-strength IPAs have been around for a long time—as long as IPA itself. There’s even an argument that the original IPAs were session beers because by the standards of the day, they were ordinary-strength beers.

Early Victorians had a totally different concept of what constituted a strong beer. In general, 19th century beers were stronger than they are today. For example, in the 1830s, a London X Ale, the weakest type of Mild, was around 6% ABV. A strong Stock Ale was over 10% ABV. An IPA of 6 or 7% ABV isn’t particularly strong in this context.

But many early IPAs weren’t even that strong. In The Scottish Ale Brewer and Practical Maltster by W.H. Roberts, there’s a detailed table of 42 IPAs brewed in the 1840s, presumably in Scotland. They include beers both for export and the domestic market. The weakest export example is just 5.23% ABV, the weakest domestic one 5.02% ABV. That’s about as weak as beer got back then, other than the table beer they let the kids drink.

If IPA of the early 1800s was session strength by the standards of the day, examples from later in the century would count as such today. The big London brewers all started making Pale Ales in the 1860s. With gravities around 1065º, these were a similar strength to Burton-brewed IPA. But toward the end of the century some introduced a new, lower-gravity version. They called it IPA.

 

Want to know more, keep reading this article on Beer Advocate.

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