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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The IPA myth,and other beery fairy tales

The history of beer is often delivered wrapped in the mists of fairy tales.

The Zythophile, aka Martyn Cornell, is one blogger who has taken aim at several of these cherished shibboleths. And when he does so, Cornell lists his original source material, as opposed to Wikipedia and others, who do not.

Take for example, his recent re-examination of India Pale Ale (IPA):

  • there was NO real difficulty exporting beer to the East: contemporary evidence shows everything from small beer to porter surviving the journey.

  • the Indian market was tiny, at 9,000 barrels a year in 1800.

  • There is NO evidence George Hodgson, a small-time porter brewer, actually invented IPA

  • the East Indiamen ships did NOT travel “along the coast of Africa” on their way to India, they went via Madeira, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and St Helena to get round the Cape, and then up through the Mozambique Channel.

What is true, The Zythophile states, is that:
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 [emphasis mine] 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.

And what of those oft-repeated tales about the origin of the beer-style porter? The three-threads thread, and the Robert Harwood story? Try The Zythophile again.

More myth-busting: Benjamin Franklin's non-quote on God and beer, and the pilgrims and beer.

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