If the IPA originates from England, why do we have to call it an English IPA, won’t just IPA suffice?
English IPA is a prime example of a “retronym” – a word used to describe something when its name has needed to be modified to differentiate it from something similar which was created later.
Think about the humble acoustic guitar which didn’t need the prefix “acoustic” before the electric guitar was invented (see – you don’t just learn about beer at our website but also valuable grammar lessons too!).
Anybody who has ever drunk an English IPA and an American IPA will tell you they are quite different experiences.
The American IPA may be better known worldwide, with those big, bold citrusy, and hoppy flavors and aromas, but it owes a lot to the English Style IPA, which originated in 19th Century England when ales were being exported to far-flung corners of the British Empire like India.
Hence the name India Pale Ale!
Often seen as the less vibrant cousin of some of America’s more insane American IPAs, why should you be bothered about the plain old, and in some beer geeks’ eyes, boring English IPA?
What exactly is it that sets the English IPA apart from its US counterparts? And for a nation of hop lovers, why should we even bother brewing this older style of IPA?
Don’t get me wrong – an English IPA is still a hoppy beer with a firm bittering quality but in a different and less citrusy, piney way than American beers.
The choice of ingredients for an English IPA is traditionally English, of course, from English 2-row malts, the English hops used, and even the preferred yeasts are English.
All of this results in a very different-tasting beer from our beloved American IPA and ones that normally have a lower average alcohol content.
What Defines an English IPA?
Although the Brits don’t really have any official Beer style guidelines like the BJCP Guidelines that we have here in the USA, they do have some very loose ideas as to what constitutes an English-style IPA.
Our own BJCP Guidelines also have a style definition which can be found in Category 12 – Pale Commonwealth Beer.
The BJCP differentiates between an American IPA and an English IPA by stating the English IPA will normally have less hop intensity and a more pronounced malt flavor than the American versions.
English IPAs are also known to be generally less bitter and lower in alcoholic strength than US IPAs. While this may be true nowadays, it wasn’t always the case.
The original or traditional Burton IPAs of the 19th Century were actually quite simple beers based only on a pale malt. The Original gravities of these beers would range from 1.065 to 1.075 with a Final Gravity of between 1.008 and 1.012 giving an ABV of 7 – 7.5%.
Hop rates were also pretty high at 3 – 5 lbs per barrel or 6 -9 oz per US gallon. Although the hop varietals used were not always disclosed, UK Goldings seems to be a favorite hop, but one of the largest brewers, Bass, was also known to use American hops.
Without refrigeration, however, the hops may have been lower in alpha acids when used. The IBU levels of these beers were pretty high though with educated guesses putting them anywhere between 70 to 100+ IBUs.
There is an often misquoted theory that the IPA was originally brewed for export to India, but these beers were very popular in the UK before they started shipping them to the East India Company.
Sure, the hops and alcohol may have been upped to prevent beer spoilage on the long sea voyages, but the label India Pale Ale more likely stems from the demand of returning ex-pats who wanted to enjoy these hoppy bitter beers back at home.
Nowadays, an English IPA tends to have a much lower bitterness, rarely going above 60 IBUs, and a lower ABV, normally 6% or under.
Part of this can be attributed to changes in the British taxation system where beers would be taxed on their strength rather than the ingredients, and the introduction of Crystal malts by the British brewers looking for more body to the beer.
The Crystal malts flavors also gave a more complex malt backbone to the beer with toffee-like or caramel qualities you won’t find in your average American IPA.
The hops in most English IPAs, however, remain the same with more of a floral, earthy, spicy and peppery quality than the big citrus, pine and often tropical fruit flavors of American hops such as Citra, Centennial, or Cascade.
Why Should You Brew an English IPA?
The English IPA is so much more than just a toned-down version of our modern American IPA beers.
It may have a lower IBU level and less alcohol but it also has a larger variety of flavors from the more obvious use of Crystal malts. And the other obvious difference is that the ingredients that are used are normally all English.
When brewed correctly, an English IPA offers a beer that has more body and hops character with more bitterness than other English bitters, but a better balance of malt and hops than your usual American IPA.
If you find some of the more intense American IPAs a bit too challenging on the palate then it may be time to try brewing an English IPA.
You never know – it might become an evangelical beer in your arsenal of home-brews to persuade those non-hopheads to come over to the light side of craft beers.
Tips for Brewing an English-Style IPA at Home
Traditionally, an English India Pale Ale would be brewed using English 2-row pale malts such as Maris Otter or Golden Promise that will give more biscuity flavors.
American craft brewers will tend to favor domestic 2-row malts in their IPAs as they want the hops to be the star of the show.
An English IPA will be more on the balanced side with that distinct, sometimes bready, malt character complimenting the hops, more like an American Pale Ale rather than a US IPA.
You could even use a Pilsner malt if you were wanting a very pale version of the beer, and many English brewers like to add a small amount of crystal malts (normally about 5% of the total grain bill) or low-color crystal malt (20-40 ºL).
Typically adding English crystal such as a British medium crystal (about 45 ºL0) can add more color to the finished beer and a little fullness to the palate.
The bitterness levels of an English version of India Pale Ales (IPAs) should be slightly lower than an average American IPA, falling somewhere between the 40 – 60 IBU range.
English hops should be your first choice for an English IPA of course. East Kent Goldings is a common hop used in most English IPAs.
Hopping rates will be generally much lower than a US IPA. For hopping, you should start by adding your favorite high alpha acid English hops such as Target or First Gold at the 60-minute boil point to yield an IBU of about 45.
10 minutes before flame out you will want to add some English Goldings and Fuggles for extra aroma. For the dry hopping, again, you can use those English or East Kent Goldings and Fuggles.
The English IPA isn’t a beer style where you should be experimenting with the bolder and more citrusy hops of the USA.
English ingredients such as Goldings Hops, Target, and Fuggles will give the beer those subtle earthy, spicy, peppery, and floral flavors that the English IPA is well known for.
The choice of yeast for an English IPA should really be English yeast, although many commercial brewers will often favor German yeasts too. The English yeasts tend to produce more esters and flavors than the classic American yeasts traditionally used in US beer recipes.
However, the line has been slightly blurred over recent years with some of the newer American IPAs using an English yeast for the extra fruitiness such as can be found in the New England, Hazy, or Juicy IPAs.
I particularly like the crisp mineral qualities you get from an English Yeast like Wyeast 1028 London Ale, the White Labs WLP013 London Ale, or White Labs WLP002 (English Ale), especially when used with higher sulfate waters.
Adding a little gypsum to the water can help achieve that authentic Burton taste of an English IPA.
Although you want a yeast that is pretty high attenuating, you don’t want a beer that is overly attenuated. Keeping the fermentation temperature around the 64ºF (18ºC) mark can help prevent an ester bomb.
After 3 – 4 days, once the initial fermentation phase is started, the yeast can warm up to 69ºF – 70ºF (20ºF – 21ºC), which should also clean up any diacetyl sometimes found with English yeasts.
Another option for the yeast is a German option like Wyeast 1007 (German Ale yeast), which produces clean, slightly estery, malt-rounded beers perfect for those English malts and the style of an English IPA.
An All Grain English Style IPA Recipe
|YIELD||5 Gallons/19 L|
- 11lbs Golden Promise Malt (88%)
- 1lb Crystal Malt (45ºL) Thomas Faucet (8%)
- 8oz Biscuit Malt (4%)
- 1 oz UK Target hops – Boil @ 60 minutes
- I Whirfloc tablet (Irish moss) – Boil @ 15 minutes (optional)
- 1 oz UK Fuggles hops – Boil @ 10 minutes
- 1 oz UK East Goldings hops – Boil @ 10 minutes
- 1 oz UK Fuggles hops – @ flame out
- 1 oz UK East Goldings hops – dry hop (4 – 5 days)
Wyeast 1099 (Whitbread Ale) or White Labs WLP007 (Dry English Ale) or Lallemand Nottingham Yeast.
- Mash the grains with hot water (1.2qts per lb) at 149 – 151ºF (65 – 66.1ºC) for 60 minutes. If you are using soft-to-slightly hard water you might want to think about adding some gypsum to up the mineral content. I find adding a 1/4 tsp at the mash stage gives a nice flinty bite to the finished beer’s bitterness.
- After 1 hour raise the temperature. to 168ºF (75.5ºC) and mash out for 10 minutes.
- Sparge to collect about 6 gallons of wort in your brew kettle.
- Bring to a boil and add your bittering hops then boil for 60 minutes adding the hops and Whirfloc tablet (if using) as detailed in the schedule above.
- At flame out quickly cool the wort to 64ºC (18ºC) and pitch with yeast, preferably using a yeast starter made with 2 packets of yeast.
- Allow to ferment for 5 – 7 days. The temperature will probably rise to about 69 – 70ºF (20 – 21ºC) in a fermentation fridge after a couple of days, which is ideal for cleaning up any unwanted diacetyl.
- Once primary fermentation is complete and the lees have settled, typically after 24 hours of reaching the finishing gravity, rack the beer off into a secondary fermentor.
- Add the dry hopping East Goldings Hops in a weighted sanitized muslin bag and leave for a further 4 – 5 days before racking off for kegging or bottling. Prime or carbonate in the usual way – you should be looking for a carbonation level of about 2 volumes.
A Modern (Small) English IPA Partial Extract recipe
In the US, we would probably refer to this IPA as a Session IPA but the British brewers, being Brits, have to use a different term and tend to call their beers with lower original gravities a “small” beer.
|YIELD||5 GALLONS/19 L|
- 4lbs (1.8kg) Maris Otter liquid malt extract
- 0.5lb (0.23kg) pale dried malt extract
- 0.75lb (0.34kg) English Baird’s Carastan malt (30 – 40ºL)
- 1 oz UK Fuggles hops (4% AAU) – at 90 minutes (start of boil)
- 1 oz UK Target hops (8% AAU) – 0 mins at flame out
- 1 oz First Gold Hops – dry hop for 1 to 2 weeks.
Wyeast 1028 (London Ale) or White Labs WLP002 (English Ale) yeast
2/3 cup corn sugar (if priming)
- Place the grains in a muslin bag and steep for approx 15 -20 minutes in 2 qts (2 liters) of hot water at a temperature of about 150ºF (65ºC).
- After 20 minutes, run the water off into the kettle and rinse the grains in a further 2 qts (2L) of hot water, although be careful not to squeeze the bag in case it splits. Carefully dissolve the extracts into this liquor.
- Bring to the boil, adding the Fuggles hops at the start, and boil for 60 minutes. Add the UK Target hops after 60 minutes and switch off the heat but allow the wort to stand for a further 30 minutes.
- Cool to 65 – 70 ºF (18 – 21ºC) before transferring to your fermenting vessel.
- Pitch with yeast, preferably made up to 1 qt (1 L) yeast starter as per the packet instructions.
- Ferment for 5 days before racking to a secondary vessel for dry hopping.
- Add the First Gold hops in a weighted, sanitized muslin bag to your beer and after 1 – 2 weeks rack off to keg or bottle, priming or carbonating to 2 volumes in your usual way.