What is an English IPA: A Comprehensive Guide to the Beer Style


English IPA Beer

An English IPA, or India Pale Ale, is a type of beer characterized by a hoppy flavor, higher alcohol content, and golden to amber color. Originally developed in 19th century England, IPAs were brewed with extra hops and a higher alcohol content to help preserve the beer during long sea voyages to India and other British colonies.

The key distinguishing feature of an English IPA, as opposed to American or other IPA varieties, is the use of traditional English hops and malt. This results in a beer with a more balanced flavor profile, featuring a blend of earthy, floral, and often fruity notes. The bitterness and hoppiness of English IPAs tend to be more subtle and refined when compared to their American counterparts.

Over the years, the IPA style has evolved and diversified, with numerous substyles and regional variations emerging. However, the classic English IPA remains a beloved choice for beer enthusiasts seeking a taste of history and a satisfyingly smooth, hoppy brew.

Understanding the Term ‘IPA’

An IPA, or India Pale Ale, is a type of beer that originally gained popularity in Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries. The distinctive flavor characteristics of an IPA come from the higher hop content and alcohol by volume (ABV) compared to other pale ales. Hops contribute to the bitterness, aroma, and flavor of the beer, while also acting as a preservative.

The name “India Pale Ale” originated from the beer’s association with the British colonization of India. Brewers increased the hop content to extend the beer’s shelf life during the long sea voyages from Britain to India. This hop-forward style eventually became a favorite of both British soldiers and civilians in India.

English IPAs are different from their American counterparts in terms of hop varieties and taste profiles. Traditionally, English IPAs:

  • Use English hop varieties, which have a more earthy, herbal, and floral character
  • Have a balanced malt presence, providing a slight sweetness to counter the bitterness
  • Are generally lower in ABV and more sessionable than American IPAs

It’s important to note that the IPA style has evolved significantly over time, with various sub-styles emerging, such as New England IPAs, West Coast IPAs, and Double or Imperial IPAs. We have an article that talks about all the different types of IPAs in a broad overview so you can learn more.

History of English IPA

Origin

The English IPA is thought to have originated from a specific type of strong, hoppy pale ale brewed in the mid-18th century. Brewers began adding extra hops to their pale ales to act as a natural preservative, enhancing the beer’s ability to withstand long sea journeys from England to India. George Hodgson, a brewer from London, is credited with being the pioneer of the IPA style when he sent his hopped “October Beer” to India in the 1780s.

Evolution

Over time, the English IPA evolved as British brewers adapted their recipes to the changing tastes and preferences of consumers. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a decline in the popularity of the style in both England and India, as consumers favored lighter and less bitter beers. However, by the mid-20th century, interest in the IPA began to increase again in Britain, marked by the resurgence of smaller, craft breweries specializing in traditional ales.

Modern English IPAs are characterized by a distinct hoppy bitterness, which is typically balanced by a noticeable malt backbone. The use of native British hops, such as East Kent Goldings or Fuggles, imparts a unique character to the beer, setting it apart from the American IPA style.

Characteristics

Appearance

The English IPA  typically showcases a clear and bright appearance. The colors ranging from golden to amber hues. This color variation is determined based on which malts are used in the brewing process.  When poured, the beer usually has a moderate-to-large white head. And English IPA with a good head would indicate good retention.

Aroma

The aroma of an English IPA is predominantly characterized by the distinct smell of earthy and floral English hops. These hoppy notes are balanced by a mild-to-moderate malty fragrance, which may evoke toasted, biscuity, and nutty undertones. The aroma is not overly intense, staying true to the beer’s balanced nature.

Flavor Profile

With the ingredients below, the flavor and the finish can range from moderately dry to moderately bitter.

  • Hops: English IPAs feature earthy, floral, and sometimes fruity hop flavors derived from traditional English hop varieties. The bitterness level ranges from moderate to moderately-high, but is typically well balanced by the malt character.
  • Malt: The malt backbone of these beers is present but not overpowering. Flavors may include toasted bread, biscuit, and mild caramel notes.
  • Yeast: Although not a prominent flavor component in English IPAs, the yeast can contribute subtle fruity esters or light diacetyl (buttery) notes.
  • Balance: Overall, the flavor profile of an English IPA emphasizes balance between the hop bitterness and malt sweetness.

Mouthfeel

The mouthfeel of an English IPA is typically medium-bodied, with a moderate-to-moderate-high level of carbonation. To a casual beer drinker, the higher carbonation may feel overwelming at first. But for the experienced beer taste it would be more smooth on the palate.  The alcohol content in a typical English IPA ranges from 5% to 7.5% ABV.

Malt

Typical English IPAs use a combination of malted barley, including:

  • Pale malt: This is the primary base malt and provides a light, bread like or dough flavor.
  • Crystal malt: This specialty malt adds sweetness, color, and caramel notes to the beer.
  • Other specialty malts: These can be used to enhance specific characteristics, such as body or color.

Hops

Hops are the flowers of the hop plant, which are used to impart bitterness, flavor, and aroma to beer. English IPAs feature hops that are known for their earthy, herbal, and floral qualities – a stark contrast to the more citrus and pine-forward flavors associated with American IPAs. Some common English hops include:

  • Fuggle: Known for its earthy and minty characteristics.
  • East Kent Goldings: Offers a gentle bitterness with floral and spice notes.
  • Target: Brings a robust bitterness and a blend of herbal, spice, and citrus flavors.

Yeast

Yeast is a key factor in the fermentation process, converting sugars from malt into alcohol and carbon dioxide. English IPA yeast strains typically impart fruity esters and a slight hint of diacetyl, which provides a buttery or toffee-like taste. Common yeast strains used for English IPAs include:

  • English Ale yeast: Contributes fruity esters and a slight ester profile.
  • Dry English Ale yeast: Promotes a cleaner fermentation with less ester production.

Water

Water is the foundation of any beer and can impact its flavor, mouthfeel, and clarity. For English IPAs, a water profile with moderate to high levels of calcium and sulfate is ideal as it enhances hop bitterness and provides a crisp, dry finish. Different regions in England have varying water profiles, which can lead to subtle differences in the final product.

What Types Of Food Go Best With an Enlish IPA?

English IPAs, with their distinct hoppy flavor and moderate bitterness, work well with various food pairings. The following suggestions will help you create the perfect culinary experience.

Consider trying English IPA with:

  • Cheeses: Mature cheddar, blue cheese, or goat cheese enhance the beer’s hoppy notes.
  • Meats: Roasted or grilled meats, such as pork, lamb, or beef, complement the bitterness and hearty malt flavors.
  • Seafood: Fried or blackened fish, shrimp, and oysters are a great match for the bright hop character of English IPAs.
  • Spicy foods: Dishes with a kick, like curry or jerk chicken, can be balanced by the beer’s subtle sweetness and earthy hop profile.

For a lighter pairing option, consider:

  • Salads: Mixed greens with a tangy vinaigrette or citrus-based dressing work well with English IPA’s bitterness.
  • Vegetarian dishes: Earthy mushroom or eggplant-based preparations add depth to the beer.

The versatility of English IPAs opens up numerous possibilities for food pairings, so don’t hesitate to experiment and find your own favorite combinations.

Notable English IPA Examples

English IPAs have a rich history and there are several notable examples that stand out as representations of this style. While all of them share the common characteristics of being hop-forward, moderately strong, and well balanced, each has its own unique flavor profile.

Here are a few examples of prominent English IPAs:

  • Fuller’s Bengal Lancer: This London-based brewery produces a classic English IPA that is well-balanced with a combination of citrus and piney hops. The malt backbone provides a biscuity, slightly sweet counterbalance to the hop character.
  • Samuel Smith’s India Ale: Hailing from the oldest brewery in Yorkshire, this IPA showcases the herbal and earthy English hops. The prominent maltiness in this ale results in a round, full-bodied beer experience.
  • Worthington’s White Shield: A historic IPA, Worthington’s White Shield boasts a robust hop profile with notes of orange marmalade and fruity esters. This beer is well-regarded for its perfect harmony between malt sweetness and hop bitterness.
  • Thornbridge Jaipur: Modern and increasingly popular, Thornbridge Jaipur brings a beautiful blend of tropical fruit flavors from American hops alongside the traditional earthy and floral notes of English hops. The result is a very drinkable and refreshing IPA.

While these examples showcase the diversity and quality of English IPAs, there are countless other brewers creating fantastic variations of this beloved beer style. As a beer enthusiast, it’s worth exploring the wide spectrum of English IPAs available to find your personal favorites.

Conclusion

The English IPA is a fascinating style of beer with rich history and unique characteristics, making it a popular choice for beer enthusiasts. From its distinctive hop profile to its balanced malt backbone, English IPAs offer a satisfying drinking experience for anyone interested in exploring traditional beer styles.

Understanding the differences between English and American IPAs can help beer drinkers appreciate the nuances and individualities of each style. While both styles originated from the same roots, they have evolved over time to become distinct in their flavor profiles and brewing methods.

So, the next time you find yourself at a pub or brewery, consider trying an English IPA and savor the history and traditional flavors of this iconic beer style. Cheers!

Make sure you check out our other article if you wish to learn more about the different styles of IPA beers that are out there.

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