Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The New Hop Crop Has Arrived!

And I couldn't be happier. We were able to score 60kg. of Simcoe hops. This is particularly pleasing for me because Simcoe is one of my favourite hops. It has a lovely piney flavor and less natural cohumulone than any other hop variety. The 2011 Simcoe crop has also been sold out in the US for quite a while now, which makes our score even sweeter. Just don't ask me where I got it, I've been sworn to secrecy. Many brewers that had been using it have been left short this year and are making substitutions unless they pre-purchased "contract" hops. I feel very lucky that I'm not in that boat. We also have Centennial, Cascade & Nugget (all from the US), Czech Saaz, East Kent Goldings from England and German Saphir. Pretty much all the hops I need to make a good variety of beer. Now all I need to do is get the brewery up and running to use them...

I like to use Simcoe in my India Pale Ale, in both late kettle and dry-hop additions. Because it has such high alpha acid content, it's also great for bittering. I am very much looking forward to brewing with it at Windmills. The result will probably be the hoppiest beer made in India and quite possibly the only IPA brewed in India! I'd love to send some to London for the Great British Beer Festival (IMO, the worlds best beer festival). It would surely be the first IPA to make the journey in reverse!

For those that don't know, India Pale Ale is a beer style with a very interesting history. Some of it true, some of it myth. Some think it was first brewed in 1790 at the George Hodgson Brewery in Bow, a few miles East of London for export to India. But pale ale without the India designation along with porter had already been shipping to India for decades. It's likely that other brewers shipped smaller quantities of "robust" pale ale before "Hodgson's India Ale" and that his was just one of the first to be designated as such. Other brewers used the phrase "Pale Ale as Prepared for India". By the 1760's many brewers knew that adding more hops offered extra protection against some of the bad things that can happen to a good beer. Extra dosing or "preparing" was also recommend by brewing texts of the day for ales that would be exported to distant warm weather countries. And distant India was, the long journey by clipper ship usually took about four months. If Hodgson's wasn't the first, it was certainly one of the most popular. For a time it completely dominated the market. Like most beers of the day it was quite strong, however it was said to be more attenuated (fermented) than most. This lack of residual sugar and extra alcohol helped keep the beer from going off in an age before refrigeration and pasteurization prolonged drinkability. When the beer arrived in India it had to be approved by tasters who could accept or reject any shipment. Beer that was found lacking in quality would command significantly less in the marketplace. If it was rejected outright the production and shipping cost would be a total loss, so brewers of that era had a big incentive to do everything in their power to get their beer to India in the best condition possible. This was no easy task. The temperature fluctuated greatly during the long journey and was usually too hot. The rough ride also excessively agitated the beer and increased oxidation. With an extra-dry, extra-hoppy strong ale, these early brewers stood the best chance of getting a drinkable beer to India.

After completing the long voyage, the wooden hogshead casks of ale (about 65 US gallons) would be placed on stillage to settle and the contents bottled. Once bottled the beer might last a few short months but this depended on how good the beer was, how much damage was done in transit and how much was already on hand when the ship landed. One thing is for sure, it wouldn't be stored at the optimum temperature when it arrived (gee, this is starting to starting to sound like my last post)!


Rumor has it that the IPA's from these early British brewers like Abbott, Allsopp, Barclay, Bass and Hodgson were export-only products until 1827, when a ship heading to India was wrecked in the Irish Sea. It's cargo of India Pale Ale recovered, auctioned and an ever increasing popularity followed suit. But more likely it was the the arrival of the railway in Burton upon Trent - where much of the beer was being made - and easy transport to the masses in London, that really saw popularity rise. One thing is for sure, many liked this new, extra-dry pale ale whose bitterness and refreshing character set it apart from the older dark ales from Burton and the milds and porters of London. And with popularity came an increasing number of breweries that produced the beer.

However, over time the beer changed in Britain. It became lighter in alcohol, body and hop character. Much less malt and hops were used in it's production - largely do to the fact that tax is paid on alcohol content in the UK and not on a given volume of beer produced, as it is in the US and India. In other words, brewers have an incentive to keep gravities and hence alcohol down by using less malt or else pay more excise tax to her majesties government. I feel this scheme is the main reason that no one makes lighter (low gravity) beers with as much flavor as the Brits today. 

I remember only one IPA by the time I was of drinking age in the US - Ballantine. Probably brewed by Pabst in Ft. Wayne, Indiana by then. I say probably because Ballantine was one of many brands and breweries that changed hands multiple times over the years and just like the English IPA's, time was not kind to the overall character and strength of the beer. By the time I tasted the beer it was a "pale" version of what it once was but certainly more interesting than the industrial lagers of the day. The beer probably had it's zenith when it was brewed in Newark, New Jersey in the 1950's. Back then it was a strong 7.5% alcohol by vol. amber ale with great hop bitterness (60 International Bittering Units) and flavor. In it's day Ballantine IPA was one of the hoppiest beers available in the US. It purportedly once got it's great hop flavor from hop oil added to the conditioning / maturation tanks. Later this would be changed to dry-hopping with pulverized hops. It even spent several months aging in oak barrels! The barrels would have been coated with pitch or wax on the inside though, making them easier to clean and offer the beer some protection from souring microorganisms that would easily take up residence in the surface of the wood. The coating however would also prevent the beer from acquiring any interesting "wood" character (despite what the label led one to believe). While Ballantine IPA may be gone, it's not forgotten. It inspired many craft brewers that would come later. It was also by no means the first IPA to be made in the US. Prior to prohibition many breweries gave it a go. Only back then the beer often went by the name "Stock Ale".

Things got a lot better in the US in 1980's with a change in the brewery laws that allowed many new small breweries to open. Just like they are starting to now in India. These new upstart craft brewers revived nearly lost beer styles like IPA and sought to make their mark with bold, impressive interpretations of other traditional beer styles. A thirsty public, tired of the same old uninspired industrial lagers welcomed the explosion in variety and quality. The rest is history...

Windmills IPA will be the more robust US type and not it's milder contemporary English counterpart. It's brewed with three different varieties of hops (Nugget, Simcoe & Centennial) and dry hopped in the fermenter with the latter two. It's a very hoppy beer but it's also a malty beer. We use four different kinds, most of it being pale ale malt. The original gravity is 15.5º plato and the alcohol content is 6% by v/v. If I had to guess how Windmills IPA would compare to George Hodgson's India Ale of 1790, I would say it's has more body, more carbonation, a little less alcohol, similar color, a more intense floral/resiny hop finish and no oxidation - which I suspect would be evident in his. But all this is mere speculation...

Brewery Update: Unfortunately not much to report from last week. Glass installation is scheduled to start this week. Stay tuned...


  1. Great blog! I am a beer lover and seriously pursuing an idea of a microbrewery in southern India. Your blog gave me so much information and a kick off to my project! Please write more...

  2. The reverse journey sounds so good. Bring on the IPA.

    I have had a constant love/hate relationship with IPAs. Pliny the Elder got me onto the love side of it finally. The Elder also gives me hope that the Indian limit of 8% ABV will still make a great beer. I am so looking forward to your brewpub.

    Keep it coming.


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