A funny thing happened on the way to the bar the other night – without much fan fare Bass ale changed from an IPA (“India Pale Ale”) to just a “Pale Ale”. Yes, the venerable British ale that used to be the only flavorful ale alternative to plain US lagers in most bars before craft beer came around has been renamed and remarketed as a “Pale Ale”. Where’s India?
By now most beer appreciators know the story of how Bass ale was sent to India to support the British colonial troop stationed there many years ago – and how the brewers had to significantly increase the hops and alcohol in the recipe to ensure that the beer would make the journey to India from Britain without spoiling. When the “chaps” returned to their northern homeland, they demanded more of the more bitter stronger flavorful ale they had come accustomed to overseas. As with most common beer styles, this famous local brew style was eventually imitated by brewers around the world (especially in America during the craft beer boom) and called simply and “IPA”.
So, did Bass change its recipe? No – but if you go to the brewery’s web site (www.bass.com) you’ll see the tag line “The original pale ale” and there is no discussion or even mention of the dropping of “I” or “India” from the label.
What has happened is that thanks to the American craft beer explosion (the craft beer segment grew another 9% in beer volume 2005) hoppiness has been taken to whole new level. Based on IBU’s (international bitterness units – the common way beer bitterness is measured) Bass checks in at a hearty 75 IBU vs. the 11 IBU of Budweiser or 9 IBU of Coors Light. At 75 IBU Bass was considered to be a very hoppy beer, and paired with the high mineral content of the water used in brewing Bass, it created a notably bitter beer style which came to be associated with an IPA beer.
Now brewers are creating monstrously powerful “Double” or “Imperial IPA’s” like Stone’s “Ruination IPA” @ 100 IBU, Stoudts of Adamstown’s “Double IPA” @ 90 IBU and Delaware’s own Dogfish Head Brewery’s very extreme “120 Minute IPA” at 200 IBU. It now takes 90 IBU’s to make the beer appreciating hop head happy – and at 75 IBU Bass has become, well, “pale”. Try a Stone’s Ruination in comparison with a Bass Ale and the difference is obvious.
So, you can still enjoy your Bass Pale Ale (“not that’s there’s anything wrong with that”) and understand that this historic beer’s recipe and taste didn’t change, but the growing league of American beer appreciators taste for more flavor has changed the style.