Hops in BeerSkunk Beer. If you’ve never been unfortunate enough to have had skunk beer, count yourself lucky. If you have, then you know what the British were dealing with in the early 1700’s trying to get beer south around the west of Africa, across the equator, around the Cape of Good Hope, and then back north across the Indian Ocean to the British soldiers and citizens there demanding beer in Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras. Extreme temperature changes, and long, hot storage conditions cause beer to go bad- real bad. So, in the face of such pre-refrigeration conditions, the British brewers set to work with what tools they had- namely more alcohol and more hops. Alcohol is obvious, but hops are extremely astringent and are added as an antibiotic and stabilizing agent.

George Hodgson from the Bow Brewery in East London finally came to a solution by taking his Pale Ale recipe and considerably increasing the hop and alcohol content. The result was a bitter, very alcoholic Ale that survived the trip to India and was actually drinkable at the end of the trip. Hodgson became a legend.

At about the same time, similar conditions afflicted the trade of Beer to Russia, and a similar solution was found, only this IPA stood for “Imperial Pale Ale”. Soon enough, political conditions ceased trade with Russia, and most “Imperial” brewers simply switched markets to India, making the “IPA” acronym synonymous for either brew.

Eventually, breweries opened up in Asia, and ultimately refrigeration and modern storage removed the need for the extra kick and hops, but the brew still has a following, because some people simply like the taste! Even in its heyday IPA’s rarely went above 8% ABV, and today’s popular IPA’s are less than that, usually between 5-7% ABV.

34 comments

  1. and to this day…I still loathe IPAs…..now I realize there’s a legitimate reason behind my tastes!

  2. This is a myth. IPAs were not developed to “last the journey”, there were porters and even small beers that were making equally long if not longer trips to India and even Australia, long before IPA gained its popularity. Also, the IPAs of the time were 6.5-7.5% ABV, which was no stronger than the porters of the time.

  3. IPA is an acquired taste. I call this man beer. It is “superhoppy” and has a high alcohol content. Drink this bitter brew in moderation. It will sneak up on you. I love the stuff!

  4. I would like to point out that if you let an IPA age on oak for 6 months to 2.5 years, It will come out tasting smooth as silk, with that high alcohol kick that you expect from IPA. It really is ALOT better.

  5. Brewmoo is spot on with the myth busting. The pale ale being shipped to India was only unique in it’s high attenuation compared to other beers of the day. Also, hops are far more renowned for their bitterness than astringency. I’ve never heard that IPA was shipped to Russia, though of course everyone knows of Imperial stout. Proof?

  6. Oh right, and don’t confuse skunking with spoilage. Skunking is a reaction between light and riboflavin which causes hop compounds to degrade into nasty smelling chemical, one of several skunks use in defense. Spoilage can be caused by bacterial or fungal contamination, or oxidation.

  7. This is fascinating if true, what is your source for this information? Anybody know of a good book on the history of beer?

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  9. I would never buy from someone who writes something in public like “…even more bigger.' Damn man, show some professionalism.

  10. Having a Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA and liking it. It tastes a bit “sweet” but hey 7.2% has to taste a bit sweet lol 🙂 Cheers!!!

  11. I like the helpful info you provide inside your articles. I’ll save your weblog and check again here regularly. I am quite certain I will learn plenty of new stuff right here! Looking forward for more post from you!
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  12. Yes yes, Extra IPA… taste speaks for itself with a slight sweet citrus flavor. Worth the 11 dollars i'd say…….Cheers!!!!

  13. Calling an ipa a skunk beer just shows your own stupidity, and how little you truly know about beer.

  14. Shock top wheat ipa in one hand and a joint in the other. They complement each other like cheese & wine

  15. Dogfish Head Beer- 60 minute IPA, 6% Abv. Delicious!! Highly recommend. Also the 90 and 120 minute. 9% and 12%

  16. skunk beer???? unfortunate to drink it??? IPA beers are some of the finest tasting beers I have ever tated….and beleive me, Imhave tasted a few in the last 45 years. Yes, it may be an aquired taste to those used to drinking swill like Bud or Schlitz or Coors….I will take a special micro brewed IPA like Sierra, Schooner, Red Hook over the swill anyday.

  17. Skunk Beer? Really, who is writing this article? India Pale Ales are among the most complex-tasting alcoholic beverages on the planet. For a brewed beverage with only four ingredients, the vast array of taste experiences to be had is exquisite and impressive. Though I am far from an expert on IPAs, I have already sampled some varieties with as many as half a distinct flavors and aromas in a single drink. Remarkable!

    “Cliff…”  whoever you are, stick to Bud Light. For the rest of us, I heartily recommend Checking out an IPA on your next trip to the grocery store, and – should you be fortunate to have one such in your city – check out the Flying Saucer eateries. They typically have 50 beers on tap, with dozens (to hundreds!) more in the bottle, on any given day. All of their employees are highly knowledgeable about the beers they sell and you'll never see a Bud Light or a Coors. They sell far more select and interesting products, typically from local and regional microbreweries, from all over North America and Europe.

    Cheers, Mate!

  18. To all the people attacking the writer, did you stop to think even once that he wasn’t calling IPA ‘skunk beer’? Because I did, and I had the reasoning ability to decipher what he said. Have you ever had a skunky beer, or one that went bad? That’s what he said except in not as many words. People love to get on the internet and nitpick at the littlest of bullshit to make themselves feel better. To the people touting the wonders of IPA’s, the story is true. The beer style wasn’t brewed to taste good, it was made because higher alcohol and hop content was the only ‘preservatives’ they could use. Sure it’s drinkable, but some people don’t like hop bombs. A beer can be complex without having 16 pounds of hops in it. Bite your tongue and show people some respect even if it’s difficult and if you think they’re wrong, tell them politely and EXPLAIN why and try to help them, OR keep your mouth shut. Don’t just mindlessly talk shit about people and make blanket statements because you think a drink is better than the drink they like. Taste is subjective, but stupidity runs rampant in these comments.

  19. Someone (who thinks he’s so very smart) failed the “reading comprehension” section on the ACTs. The writer was not calling IPA a “skunk beer” – he was prefacing the article with the backstory as to WHY the IPA came into existence – because the beer that was being shipped to the British soldiers GOT SKUNKY. The IPA became the SOLUTION to the problem.

    Reading an article is one thing. Voicing an opinion about said article is another. But the real test of a man’s intelligence is in the validity of his opinion in the face of proof he spouted off while being full of shit.

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