What is the difference between Pale Ale and India Pale Ale?

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Answered by: Norman, An Expert in the Styles of Beer Category
Both Pale Ale and India Pale Ale (IPA) styles were born in the realm of British Brewers. Both use top fermenting yeast strains to produce the Ales. Both differentiate themselves from other European beers with the liberal use of hops. And while they are two different styles it is not so much a question of what the difference is, as what are the boundaries of the styles.

The Pale Ale was created first. As early as the 1780's Brewers in the English country side developed an off shoot of the German style "October" Ales they has been brewing. Do to it's popularity, the Pale Ale eventually became the unofficial beer of England, characterized by clean nutty malts and spicy herbal hops in both the aroma and flavor, and a clean even finish. Part of the popularity of the beer was it's ability to easily paired with a wide range of English foods and cheeses.

As the Pale Ale evolved as a style, in the late 18th century, it became necessary for an ale to be brewed that could survive the long trip from the UK to India. So a batch of Pale Ale was brewed a little but stronger with a little more gravity, and more hops. And thus the India Pale Ale or IPA was created.

If the Pale Ale is characterized by its slight hop profile, then the IPA is characterized by its aggressive hop profile. The increase in hops gives the beer a more hop forward aroma and flavor. And where the Pale Ales typically contain 3.8-6.2% alcohol by volume, the IPA clocks in at a more aggressive 4.5-7.5%.

The increased alcohol gives the ale a more stable preservative for the journey, but the other reason for the IPA's aggressive hop profile is to provide a beer that pairs better with the spices in Indian Cuisine. The increase in hops provides that counter balance to the Indian food the British sailors were needing at the time.

Today the Pale Ale and the IPA styles have flourished in both the UK and in the Untied States. However, there seems to be a more clear cut definition in the US, as to what each style is. The Pale Ale has adapted a broad range of subtle tastes and textures across the country, seemingly gaining a stronger hop profile as it moves West.

And in keeping with the main difference in the styles, the IPA has kept pace with the Pale Ales, becoming more and more hoppy as it moves west. And the West Coast IPA's such as Racer 5 IPA from Bear Republic Brewing and Stone Brewing Companies IPA represent some of the most aggressively hoppy and distinguished examples of this style. As far as bitterness goes, they clock in over 70 IBU. Which is well above its great grandfathers that clock in at about 40-60 IBUs.

As with all of the styles of beer, one style would not have been possible if it weren't for the previous. As the Pale Ale was being perfected, brewers were laying the seeds for the IPA. And without the Bass Pale Ale, we would not have some of the great beers we currently enjoy today.

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