It began with a problem. The British of the Raj, like the British everywhere else, liked their tipples. Beer was the solace of choice for most of them but beer is not easily brewed in the subcontinent, at least not until fairly recently. Madeira was consumed by the boatload, but there is only so much Madeira you can drink, and palm sugar wine and its distilled offspring, arrack, were consumed in vast quantities to provide variety and economy. However, they were deadly brews, notoriously, on one occasion, claiming the lives of several Englishmen during a single evening bash. A less troublesome replacement was needed.
Unfortunately, beer does not travel well over such distances and certainly not at the temperatures it encounters while travelling them; it almost invariably went bad. Several solutions were suggested, such as making a concentrated wort, shipping that and adding water and yeast when it arrived – a sort of beer ‘pot noodle’. It did not work well.
The answer was simply to make a beer that kept well. Enter Mr Hodgson of Bow Brewery in East London. Two things stop beer having the shelf life of milk: alcohol and hops. Mr Hodgson’s simple solution was to increase both – a lot. His India pale ale used heroic quantities of malt and hops, with extra hops added to the finished beer just in case. He also primed the beer with a greater than usual amount of sugar so that the barrels gently fizzed all the way to India; a live beer is unlikely to go sour. Modern IPAs are, for the most part, poor imitations of Mr Hodgson’s original brew and most are really just bitters. The alcohol content is usually a paltry 4.5% and a journey to the Isle of Wight can be touch and go. However, you can pickle a dog in this 6.8% beer.
The recipe is taken from a brew made in Swanage, Dorset, at the height of British influence in India. It has a back-breaking malt bill and a wallet-threatening hop bill, but it is a truly remarkable beer. It is extremely aromatic because of the high level and varieties of alcohols and esters it produces, and thick enough to stand a spoon in upright (though only a metal spoon; plastic ones dissolve). Finally, there is the delightful bonus of my Small beer, which must be made very soon after, or even at the same time as, the IPA. You will be very busy juggling pots and buckets so try to keep focused and don’t plan to do anything else that day. Be warned, this is strong stuff and the higher alcohol content makes it almost immediately soporific. Fortunately it has never given me a hangover as I have always fallen asleep after one pint.
- Yield: 25 Litres
- 9.5 kg English pale ale malt
- 1 kg crystal malt
- 4 tsp gypsum
- 190 g East Kent Golding hops
- 2 tsp dried carragheen
- 11.5 g sachets high-alcohol yeast, such as Safbrew S-33
- 50 g sugar for priming
- Put the malts in a large fermenting bucket; you will probably need to employ your 33-litre bucket for this. Heat 21 litres water to 74°C and mix with the malts in the bucket. The mash heat should be 64°C. Cover and keep warm for 1½ hours.
- Sparge with water at 78°C until you get 25 litres wort. Now if you also wish to make the recipe here (and you really should, otherwise the leftover sugar-rich mash is wasted) you have to start it at this point!
- Pour the wort into your copper. Boil for 1¾ hours, adding the gypsum and 90 g of the hops at copper-up, another 90 g hops after 1 hour and the carragheen after 1 hour 20 minutes. Allow to stand for half an hour.
- Pour into a fermenting vessel, sieving out the used hops, then liquor down until the wort reaches a specific gravity of about 1066. Cool quickly.
- When it is at room temperature pitch both sachets of yeast – you need an extra dose because yeast can struggle to get going at high sugar concentrations. Cover and leave to ferment for about 5 days. After 2 days skim off the foam and do this again the next day.
- Once it reaches a specific gravity of 1014, rack the beer into a barrel or wide-necked fermenting vessel, adding the remaining 10 g hops tied in a muslin bag. Give the hops a month to infuse the beer, rumbling for the first 2 weeks.
- Prime with sugar as usual, depending on whether you intend to bottle or keep your beer in cask. Either way, this beer benefits enormously from being left to mature for a few months. Drink with extreme caution.