Back in the 18th century, the Royal Navy had a problem. We had built one of the greatest navies of all time, but not without meeting several challenges. One of the biggest was beer. Our sailors wanted to drink beer, and the Admiralty wanted to let them have it, but beer did not keep well on long voyages. It could take months to sail to wherever they were heading, and in hot climates the beer went flat and sour.
The importance of beer was clear to the Admiralty: for example, ships stationed in the English Channel had a ration of one gallon of beer per man per day which was fine in our cooler climate, although it does make you wonder how you would climb to the top of the yard arm after your daily ration! Or what you would do if stuck in the crow's nest for a long period of time! Nonetheless, it was the long voyages out into the tropics that were the problem.
Then in 1772, Henry Pelham, who was Secretary to the Commissioner of Victualling, suggested that brewers should simmer away most of the water from the wort. Then at sea, the sailors could add water to it and let the beer stand in order to gain "proper spirit and briskness". The following year, Captain Cook reported that this worked quite well in cooler climates. However, in hotter areas the beer went off.
Part of the problem for troops stationed in India, and colonists there, was the long voyages and the fluctuations in temperature. Ships sailed from London between November and the beginning of February and arrived in India between March and May, avoiding the monsoon season. Hogsheads were stored in the bottom of the hull where it was coolest, and for the first few weeks the temperature of the water was around 52°. At the equator they rose to 81° then rounded the Cape of Good Hope where they were about 67°, in the southern Indian Ocean climbed to 73°, and then up to as much as 86° as the ships continued northward. That was too much for the brewery suppliers to handle.
Early shipments of beers to India were often the bottled porters which were favourites here, but arrived flat, sour, and musty. One solution that was tried was to uncork the porters and let them go flat, then re-cork them, and the rocking motion of the ship should give them a second carbonation and "briskness" by the time they arrived. However, the beers still lacked shelf life, and in the Indian heat the dark ales of London were not so acceptable.
However, brewery suppliers still kept trying to crack the Indian market. This was because of the profit margins. The shipping costs to India were the same as London to Edinburgh, and the high value of Indian spices and silks on the return journey made it worthwhile.
Then George Hodgson of the Bow Brewery in London had an idea in the 1790's. He had been producing the copper coloured pale ales for 40 years, which were called pale because, rather obviously, they were lighter than the dark brown or black porters and stouts. By increasing the alcohol content and the hop content he could give the beers a longer life because the high alcohol stopped microbes multiplying, and the increased hops inhibited the growth of lactobacillus. He took his pale ales and increased the hop content considerable, adding more grain and sugar, to produce a high alcohol beer. The high priming rate helped to keep the yeast alive during the voyage. He called it Hodgson's India Ale.
The Indian market grew rapidly. In 1750 just 1,480 barrels left England for India, and in 1775 this grew to 1,680. In 1800, 9,000 barrels were exported. Other breweries wanted a share of the market, but Hodgson could see them off by price fixing. When they tried to export, he would flood the market with beers driving the price down so that a competitor would lose money. Then the next year he would limit exports, driving the price back up again and wiping out any losses from the previous year. He also started his own import business in India, driving out the middle men there.
The story goes on, but that was how IPA began life.