India Pale Ale: the history and flavour of IPA’s

India Pale Ales (aka IPA’s) are flavour of the month at the moment in craft beer circles. And flavour is what defines the style – they’re a big, bold hop-bomb of a beer with some serious zing!

But before we get into what goes into giving them their distinctive taste, let’s delve into the history of this beer and how it came about getting its name.

History Part 1: English colonialism and IPA’s

Just like Porters and Stouts, which we wrote about on the blog recently, we can thank our colonial ancestors the English for coming up with the IPA style of beer.

Back in the 1700’s, as the British Empire expanded to the East, a solution was required for supplying beer to the burgeoning British colonies in India. It was too hot to brew in India, so the British required a solution for keeping the beer intact for the gruelling six-month journey from England by boat.

In the 1780’s, a London brewer by the name of Hodgson created a strong, heavily hopped beer especially designed to withstand the rigours of this journey. The beer, originally known as October ale, became the prototype for all future IPAs.

Back in England, brewers began refining the October Ale blueprint, working with robust hops and an increased ABV level. A brewmaster in the English Midlands, Samuel Allsop, started brewing what came to be the preferred Ale export to the British colonies. It’s name – India Pale Ale, or IPA for short.

This beer was then replicated by bigger brewers such as Bass. But over time, with improvements in the way that beer could be refrigerated and transported, original IPAs largely faded away from the public drinking consciousness.

History Part 2: the American IPA revival

IPA’s had infiltrated their way to the USA as part of the original English wave of IPA’s. But by the time of the prohibition era of the 1930’s, they had largely vanished from the American beer drinking landscape.

That is until the mid 70’s craft beer explosion in the USA, with American brewers reviving the original IPA recipe to bring it back into vogue with beer drinkers. The first of these was brewed by San Francisco’s Anchor Brewery, which released their Liberty Ale (known then as ‘Our Special Ale’) in 1975. Very soon a host of US breweries such as Sierra Nevada jumped on the bandwagon, producing a range of strong, aromatic IPA’s.

Flavour: it’s all about the hops


IPA’s are the hop-bombs of the beer world – think of them as Pale Ale on steroids! For many people Pale Ales have acted as the gateway beer into the flavour explosion that is an IPA.

The distinctive hoppy, citrusy, characteristics of Pale Ales are amplified big time with IPA’s. This largely comes down to one key ingredient – hops.

American IPA’s are renowned as having some of the biggest, boldest flavours out there. This is because the USA (particularly the Pacific Northwest region), grows a huge variety of hops, from soft and citrusy through to rough and resiny. The embryonic Liberty Ale, from 1975, was brewed with a hops called Cascade, which is floral and full of grapefruit bitterness.

As US brewers experimented with upping their hops and ABV (alcohol by volume) ratios, an even more robust IPA was born, the Double or Imperial IPA. Over the past twenty years, brewers have been further pushing the boundaries when it comes to IBUs (international bitterness units) and ABV levels, giving birth to triple and quadruple IPA’s that take flavour and strength right to the edge of drinkability.

On the flipside, IPA’s with fruitier, less bitter characteristics and lower alcohol volumes have given birth to a range of Session IPA’s. But that’s another post for another time..

In Australia, the types of hops typically used to brew local IPA’s to give them their distinctive flavour and aroma are; Galaxy, Vic Secret, Summer and Aussie Cascade. You can find out more about them here.

Hornet and beyond: Black Hops’ range of IPA’s

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In case you haven’t guessed, all of us here at Black Hops are big fans of big, bold IPA’s. So much so that we have an ongoing seasonal IPA range that we rotate every three months.

This is in addition to our year long IPA, Hornet, our 6% full flavoured IPA which packs some serious sting.

Let’s check out our seasonal range of IPA’s and find out what goes into them.

Super Hornet (8% Summer release IPA)

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In the summer months we serve Super Hornet, the amped up cousin of Hornet.
This aggressive Southern Hemisphere Double IPA (DIPA) is dry, angry and bitter and packs some serious sting. Super Hornet takes things to a whole new dimension.

Grain: American Pale 2 Row, Crystal, Carapils
Hops: Dr Rudi, Victoria Secret, Motueka, Riwaka, Cascade
Yeast: American Ale

Flash Bang (6.8% Spring release White IPA)

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With the change of season In September we made the switch to our Spring IPA, Flash Bang. It’s an American Wheat IPA with big citrus and pine hop aromas. We also use citrus peel and coriander seeds for a modern fusion of a Belgian Wit / American IPA.

We think it’s the perfect beer to put some zing into your Spring: light bodied with a smooth finish, but with that unmistakable IPA clout.

Grain: Malted wheat & flaked wheat 50%, Pale Malt, 2 Row & crystal 50%
Hops: Magnum (Bittering), Cascade & Chinook Whirlpool. Dry Hop – Citra, Amarillo, Cascade
Yeast: West Coast Ale.

Code Red (6.2% Autumn release Red IPA)


Code Red is our autumn release IPA. A classic American Red Ale with tropical passion fruit and berry characteristics, it boasts a rich toffee malt body with minimal yeast character, providing a clean finish and allowing the Simcoe, Citra and Mosaic hops to shine through. We use dark crystal and black malt to give this beer its luscious, ruby red colour.

Grain: Ale Malt, Crystal Malt, Chocolate, Oats.
Hops: Magnum, Citra, Simcoe, Mosaic.
Yeast: American Ale.

ABC Bomb (6.5% Winter release Black IPA)

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A hoppy black ale, ABC Bomb is balanced by strong citrus and pine hop aromatics and a distinct toasty dark malt character. The use of Citra, Cascade and Chinook hops give this beer a genuine American IPA backbone with a unique spice flavour through the addition of rye. We use black malt and roasted barley to darken it up for winter.

Grain: Black, Chocolate, Munich & Crystal
Hops: Citra, Cascade & Chinook
Yeast: American Ale.

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