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Wind in its sails!

It’s the year 1820. An English matelot whose name we don’t know is standing on the afterdeck of one of the Royal Navy’s sailing ships, looking east. His journey’s destination: the British colonies in East India. Stowed beneath the deck’s wooden floorboards are around 200 oak barrels, filled to the brim with a yellow-brownish liquid. And this is what the Empire’s colonists in India are eagerly waiting for.

To be honest: even though the scene may have looked something like this, it’s not historically documented, and most probably a fictional rendering. But like so many other stories, it contains a core of truth, because our unnamed English sailor was transporting a treasure that for a long time had been almost forgotten and has only recently been rediscovered: a beer called IPA.

India Pale Ale or Imperial Pale Ale are both designations for the same beverage: a beer brewed with pale malt and top-fermenting yeast, characterised by quite a distinctive taste trio: strong, bitter, and heavily hopped. The reasons for this combination can be found in history. The higher alcohol content and intensive hopping made sure that the beer kept fresh for longer – which, as the passage to India back then took weeks, was logically enough Priority Number One.

It is said that once arrived in India, the beer was supposed to be diluted 1 : 1 with water. Even if there should actually have been instructions like this: it didn’t take the British expats long to start loving the beer’s more pronounced bitterness, its intensive hop aroma, so much so that they saw no necessity to add water. And back home on the British Isles, people also gradually came to appreciate IPA. Except for a slight reduction in alcohol content, the beer itself remained more or less the same it had always been: pale, tangy, hop-flavoured.

Over the course of centuries, however, India Pale Ale then led a rather inconspicuous existence in the UK, overshadowed as it was by porter and ale. It was not until the 20th century that the American craft beer movement rediscovered IPA for itself. The sheer joy of experimenting with different hop varieties like Cascade, Citra or Chinook swiftly led to a range of increasingly creative products, starting with Double IPA, continued with the fruity California IPA, right through to Avalanche IPA with caramel notes – in the wide world of IPAs ANYTHING GOES. And the creative brewers still keep coming up with a never-ending stream of new ideas.

It’s not least on the exponentially expanding German craft beer scene that innovative IPA creations are currently springing up like mushrooms – which leads quite a few newcomers to believe that craft beer is IPA. No doubt about it: IPA is particularly well suited to the craft brewers’ flavouring experiments. But craft beer subsumes much, much more than just this one type. What craft brewers are aiming to do is to push the conceptual envelope of beer’s hedonistic possibilities – and on the actual map, too, craft beer is achieving dynamic proliferation. When looked at this way, the creative craft brewers of the present are also standing on board their huge craft-beer vessel as pioneers, signposting the way towards beer culture’s shining future. Holding an IPA in their hand of course.

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