Skunk 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.