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India Pale Ale, a history:

The truth about the world’s most contentious beer style

IPA, India Pale Ale. The famed and ubiquitous beer style has evolved over time to mean many things to many people. A range of sub-styles have emerged alongside a riot of misconceptions and received wisdom. Through this review of the origins of India Pale Ale Pete Brown aims to cut through the conjecture, bust myths and provide you with an authoritative account of one of the most profitable and popular beer styles of all time.

Pete Brown 

Award winning author, broadcaster, consultant, journalist Pete Brown specialises in food and drink, especially beer, cider and pubs. Three times beer Writer of the Year, Pete is currently Chair of the British Guild of Beer Writers.  


India Pale Ale (IPA) is the style that launched the global craft beer movement. A traditional British Ale style with its roots in eighteenth century colonialism, it was revived and reinvented by the American craft beer movement in the last years of the twentieth century. It accounts for between a quarter a third of the American craft beer market, and is the first beer style brewed by most craft brewers around the world. In the UK, it’s gone from being a forgotten beer style that was a shadow of its former self, to being the driving force behind Britain’s beer revival.

But for such a popular beer style, there’s a great deal of confusion surrounding it. Its origins are lost in time, and its mythology makes it the most argued-about beer style in the world.

This guide will give you the facts (where known) and the context that explains them, and will shed some light on the ambiguity that surrounds the world’s most contentious beer style.

Here, we’re going to take a look at the history of IPA, examine some of the enduring myths around the style, and explore how it has evolved over the last couple of centuries to give us an ever-diversifying range of beers that all fall – or have fallen at some stage – under the broad label of “IPA”. 

“But for such a popular beer style, there’s a great deal of confusion surrounding it. Its origins are lost in time, and its mythology makes it the most argued-about beer style in the world”.


— Pete Brown

Historical context around the emergence of India Pale Ale

IPA was the world’s first global beer style, made famous by the world’s first multi-national corporation. It was the product of necessity, luck, and the global trade that would lead to the rise of the British Empire.

The British in India

In the sixteenth century, advances in navigation made it possible to traverse oceans safely. European powers such as the Portuguese, Dutch and British competed to find sea routes to the ‘spice islands’ of South-East Asia – a trade so lucrative it was worth going to war for. The British East India Company lost that war to the Dutch, so instead of spices they began trading fabrics with India. In order to get the best prices for these fabrics, the British left behind permanent stations known as ‘factories’ from the early 1600s onwards.

Gradually, through trade, treaty and, eventually, military conquest, the British East India Company acquired most of the sub-continent. Having a private corporation in charge of a country, with its own army, navy and tax raising powers, resulted in brutal rule with famine and millions of Indians dead. In 1857, the Indians rose up against the Company. Although the revolt was eventually quashed, the British government took over direct rule of India from the East India Company, and established the Raj, which would rule until Indian independence in 1947.