NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, English IPA is now Style 12C in Category 12 Pale Commonwealth Beer which contains pale, moderately-strong, hop-forward, bitter ales from countries within the former British Empire.
The information below is still valid for the style, but when studying for the current BJCP exam, use this article as reference in conjunction with the current description.
Most English IPA style beers today are really nothing more than an English Pale Ale, coming in at less than 4% ABV. There are some breweries, however, that are brewing good historical examples of the original with alcohol contents around 5.5-6% ABV. Marston’s, one of the few large breweries in Burton-on-Trent brews a beer called Old Empire at 5.7% Abv. This beer is an attempt to recreate the original Burton IPA of the 19th century. Some might argue that the latest attempts to brew original English IPA’s are actually veiled attempts at brewing the popular American style IPA. To me, if it has Cascade hops in its profile, it’s an American IPA.
So why did the English IPA style become mere shadows of the originals? The reason lies in the English beer taxation system. Before the 1880’s, tax on beer was paid based on the raw materials used. Then came the “Free Mash Tun Act” which changed the way beer was taxed. Beer began to be taxed based on the gravity of the wort used, or the beer’s “alcohol potential”. The bigger beers, such as an original English IPA, were taxed at a much higher rate than the weaker worts. Thus, English brewers began making weaker beers and the consumer tastes followed along, much the same way that American tastes followed the weak lager trend after prohibition.
Some beers, such as Bass Ale declare themselves as IPA’s in small letters on the labels. This fuels the confusion in the marketplace over what a beer will taste like based on the label’s description. Is it a bitter, an English pale ale, a weak IPA, or a decent recreation of the original English IPA. As a style though, English IPA’s feature late hop additions to highlight the aroma and flavor of English hops such as East Kent Goldings or Fuggles. Most other English beers that feature hops at all, concentrate on the bittering and sometimes hop flavor. In the English IPA style, you will find the best of all three types of hop additions, lots of bittering, lots of hop flavor as well as a big dose of hop aroma. We’re talking about the “true to style” IPA’s here. Even though these beers are hopped at a much higher level than other English beers, they have much less hop character than even an American Pale Ale.
To brew a good English India Pale Ale, the trick is in the hop character and balance with the traditional English toasty and biscuity malt background. To achieve the hop character, you must use fresh English hops, you must get the right balance of early and late hop character, and you must chill the wort as quickly as possible to maintain the late hop character in the finished beer. Use a good English pale ale malt such as Maris Otter or Optic, and show restraint on the crystal malt additions. When choosing a yeast for a good English IPA, look for one with a decent attenuation. The beer should finish dry and crisp without being out of balance in the hop bitterness or malt sweetness. If you choose not to use a yeast with a higher attenuation because you want more of the English fruity character, try to use a lower mash temp to make the wort more fermentable and maybe add some dextrin malt to maintain the body. Another option would be to substitute some table sugar for malt to attain a more fermentable wort. Don’t over do it or you will end up with a thin beer that will be out of style for body and inappropriately high in alcohol. Many homebrewers try to “Burtonize” their water but be careful when attempting this and only do so if you are familiar with your water’s profile and adding the Burton salts won’t produce a salty sulfury IPA.
English IPA Description
- Aroma: An English IPA will exhibit moderate to moderately high hop aroma with notes of floral, earthy or fruity English hops. The intensity of hop character is usually lower than American versions. A slightly grassy dry-hop aroma is acceptable, but not required. A moderate caramel or toasty malt presence is typical of the style. The beer should have a low to moderate fruitiness, either from esters or hops. Some versions may have a sulfury note, although this character is not critical.
- Appearance: The color ranges from golden amber to light copper, but most are pale to medium amber with an orange hue. The beer should be clear, although unfiltered dry-hopped versions may be a somewhat hazy as are many dry-hopped beers. You should note a good off-white head that lingers a while.
- Flavor: An English IPA’s hop flavor should be in the medium to high range, with a moderate to strong hop bitterness. The hop flavor should be similar to the aroma (floral, earthy, fruity, and/or slightly grassy). Typical English malt flavors should be medium-low to medium-high, but should be noticeable, pleasant, and support the hop character. The malt should show an English character and be somewhat bready, biscuit-like, toasty, toffee-like and/or caramelly. Despite the substantial hop character typical of these beers, sufficient malt flavor, body and complexity to support the hops will provide the best balance. Very low levels of diacetyl are acceptable, and fruitiness from the fermentation or hops adds to the overall complexity of these beers. The beer should finish medium to dry, and bitterness may linger into the aftertaste but should not be harsh. If high sulfate water is used, a distinctively minerally, dry finish, some sulfur flavor, and a lingering bitterness are usually present. Some clean alcohol flavor can be noted in stronger versions. Oak is inappropriate in this style.
- Mouthfeel: The mouthfeel should be smooth, medium-light to medium-bodied without any hop-derived astringency. Moderate to medium-high carbonation can combine with the hop character to produce an overall dry sensation in the presence of malt sweetness. Some smooth alcohol warming can and should be sensed in stronger versions.
- Overall Impression: This is a hoppy, moderately strong English pale ale that features typical English malt, yeast character and hop flavors and aroma. It will have less hop character and a more pronounced malt flavor than American versions but is still big as far as English beers go.
- Comments: This style is really an English pale ale brewed to an increased gravity and hop rate. The term “IPA” is loosely applied in many commercial English beers today, and has been (incorrectly) used in beers below 4% ABV. Generally, more late hops and less fruitiness and/or caramel are present than in other English pale ales and Bitters.
- Ingredients: Pale ale malt (well-modified and suitable for single-temperature infusion mashing); English hops; English yeast that can give a fruity or sulfury/minerally profile. Refined sugar may be used in some versions. High sulfate and low carbonate water is essential to achieving a pleasant hop bitterness in authentic Burton versions, although not all examples will exhibit the strong sulfate character.
- Vital Statistics: OG: 1.050 – 1.075 IBUs: 40 – 60 FG: 1.010 – 1.018 SRM: 8 – 14 ABV: 5 – 7.5%.
- Commercial Examples: Meantime India Pale Ale, Freeminer Trafalgar IPA, Fuller’s IPA, Ridgeway Bad Elf, Summit India Pale Ale, Samuel Smith’s India Ale, Hampshire Pride of Romsey IPA, Burton Bridge Empire IPA,Middle Ages ImPailed Ale, Goose Island IPA, Brooklyn East India Pale Ale
References: Information for this web page was adapted from the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines, and Brewing Classic Styles 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, written by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer, the beer-pages with Roger Protz and Tom Cannavan, article entitled Pale and interesting by Roger Protz written in June 2005, and from evansale.com C.H. Evans Brewing Company Albany Pump Station article entitled India Pale Ale: A brief history written by Geroge de Piro, Brewmaster of C.H. Evans Brewing Company.