Pale Ales vs India Pale Ales

posted on March 3, 2010 at 6:20 pm by Ken Valley in Craft Beer

When I first started to learn about beer and beer styles, two styles always confused me: the Pale Ale, sometimes called American Pale Ale (abbreviated APA), and an India Pale Ale (IPA).

I shied away from these two types because I had been bitter-bitten before: beer bitterness appears to be an acquired taste, and if you step into an IPA before you’re ready, you may not try one again for a while.

First, let’s begin with a little history.  Both pale ales and IPA’s started out in Europe, mainly in England.  For pale ales, many English breweries from Burton on Trent became famous, most notably the Bass Brewery.  These breweries became famous because the city’s water supply had many dissolved salts from the surrounding mountains, and allowed a higher proportion of hops to be added.  Since hops are a natural preservative, this allowed the beer to stay fresh longer and it could be shipped further.  This, combined with a type of malted barley called “pale malt” gave the beer its name and character.

Around the 18th century, a man by the name of George Hodgson, owner of Bow Brewery (also in the Burton on Trent area) created the world’s first India Pale Ale.  The story is that the soldiers fighting in India wanted to quench their thirst with beer, but most beer couldn’t make the journey from England to India without spoiling.  To preserve the beer, the brewery increased the amount of hops and alcohol.  Because of this, there were very few spoilage organisms that could grow in such a harsh environment.  The East India Trading Company delivered the beer to India, and the troops were “hoppy”.

Until the rise of porter in England, these beers were very popular.

Fast forward a few centuries to the growth of the U.S. craft beer revolution.  In 1980, Ken Grossman founded the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California. One of his first recipes was an American Pale Ale using hops grown in the Pacific Northwest, known to have a strong citrus character.  To this day, this recipe has made Sierra Nevada world renowned, and the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale continues to be one of the most popular APA’s available.

In terms of IPA’s, imagine an APA only stronger and more hoppy.  Most IPA’s have more body, alcohol, and hop flavor and aroma than an APA.  When creating IPA’s, most brewers tend to use high-strength hops for a lot of bitterness and strong hop flavor.  One great example of an IPA is Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo IPA, but, currently, there are many IPA’s available.

Also, not to be outdone, several U.S. brewers continue to push the envelope and many have created Double IPA’s, with much more hops, body, and alcohol.

So which type is right for you?  If you are just starting, you may want to ease into a nice Pale Ale.  If you’ve tried a pale ale, and want even more hops, go ahead and try an IPA.  Before you know it, you may end up being a person who enjoys highly-hopped beer, or a “hop head”.


  1. Great history Ken. As a big pale-head…. nothing more exciting than the history of one of the sweetest nectars known to both gods and man alike.

    Comment by Chris — March 5, 2010 @ 3:08 pm

  2. Thanks! It’s always fun to share some history, especially the long, storied history of the Pale Ale and IPA. Glad you enjoyed it!

    Comment by Ken Valley — March 5, 2010 @ 7:02 pm

  3. […] the course of the year, we had several styles of beer: an Irish red, a porter, an IPA, an English bitter, and a “breakfast” stout (coffee, oatmeal, and chocolate).  […]

    Pingback by Tailgating with Homebrew | Thoughts on Beer — March 12, 2010 @ 7:12 pm

  4. […] of caramel and a bit like whiskey.  The taste has less bitterness than I would expect from a rye pale ale, but since it has been aging in whiskey barrels for a while, it’s not surprising because hop […]

    Pingback by Court Avenue Brewing Company 21st Amendment Ale | Thoughts on Beer — March 22, 2010 @ 6:24 pm

  5. To start with, reading the articles on this site is causing me to drink more beer (not sure if this is good or bad). Not knowing what pale ales were and not caring for the ones I had tried, I tended to avoid them. This article encouraged me to try again. I found Magic Hat #9 at the liquor store. On the label it is described as not quite Pale Ale. Sounded like a good place start. I then sat down one evening for a night cap. First sip was kind of fruity with a lot of flavor but as I drank it I found that I did not care for it. The spicy flavors got too over powering.
    A few days later I decided to have a beer with dinner. Since I had these #9’s I had to get rid of, that became my selection for dinner. Dinner was Italian sausage, peppers, onions and potatoes. With this meal I loved the #9’s (had to have two).
    So my question is; how do you objectively judge a beer when there are personal tastes, atmosphere, foods, delivery issues that can have a positive or negative impact on the experience?

    Comment by Cliff — March 23, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

  6. […] use in beer.  Initially, they were added mainly as a preservative, and were used in styles such as Pale Ales and India Pale Ales.  Also, at the same time, beer drinkers began to like the hop flavor and aroma, and brewers began […]

    Pingback by What is Dry-Hopping? | Thoughts on Beer — March 31, 2010 @ 11:24 pm

  7. Wow! You’ve created doubt in the area of beer tasting. To be honest, it is fairly subjective for most of us, but there are a bunch of ways to objectively judge a beer. I’ve always heard beer always tastes better with food. Here’s a good guide to beer tasting. Hopefully it will help you out the next time you evaluate a beer. And now you know why they sell beer in six packs!

    Comment by Ken Valley — April 9, 2010 @ 12:37 pm

  8. […] a week before I made the saison, I brewed an IPA.  I have been brewing for about  two years, but this was my first IPA.  Personally, I think […]

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  9. […] Pale Ale […]

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  10. […] if you are used to lagers or light lagers, it may be to your advantage to try a few wheat beers or pale ales to expand your horizons.  Eventually, if you enjoy the hop flavor enough, you should try the IPA […]

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  11. […] mango.  It is balanced, and not too bitter.  With the finish, here is enough hops to make it an IPA.  I can taste the three hops used, Cascade (adds a citrus flavor), Simcoe (adds a bit of mango), […]

    Pingback by New Belgium Ranger IPA | Thoughts on Beer — April 27, 2010 @ 10:58 pm

  12. […] was able to try Hop Wrangler 3 in the bottle. It is an IPA with Belgian, English, and American malts, and  English and American hops added at 6 different […]

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  13. […] an IPA, I was prepared for an ultra hoppy beer, but it was an excellent blend that was very smooth.  It […]

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  14. […] like Pale Ales versus India Pale Ales, when I began learning about beer, these two styles confused me.  The simple answer to the […]

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  15. […] off, it poured a bit darker than I expected.  It looked more in the range of an IPA color (more of a caramel color) than a pale ale color.  The first sniff gives a bit of citrus on […]

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  16. […] it has become much easier for the breweries in Iowa to brew these stronger beers, such as Double IPA‘s and the majority of Belgian-style beers.  This has allowed Iowa breweries to compete with […]

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  17. […] world? There are many types of beer to choose from, from mild to hard kind of beer. They have the Pale Ale, Stout, Mild, Wheat, Lager and Lambic. Whatever kind of beer is served in front of you, it is still […]

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