India Pale Ale is currently the hottest style in the Craft-brew revolution. What we call an IPA today has little or no resemblance to the beers that were shipped from England to India beginning in the late 1700s. Where did today’s “love it or hate it” tongue-numbing concoction come from?
The female Humulus lupulus, the hop bine (not vine), produces soft cone-like fruits (often mistakenly called flowers) that provide a bitterness and variety-specific aromatics to a beer. Pale ales were made possible by the use of hops. Darker beers are made from malts which have gone through the same process as searing steak or toasting bread, known as Maillard reactions. These are heat-driven oxidative reactions between reducing sugars and amino acids, and the products are acidic. This acidity inhibits the growth of many potential beer spoilage organisms. Pale malts produce an extract too basic to inhibit these organisms significantly without additional help. There is a natural preservative effect from some of the compounds in hops, particularly a class of acids called iso-alpha acids, represented by humulone.
The rigid structures of these molecules combined with the large hydrophobic and hydrophilic areas seriously disrupt the integrity of the lipid bi-layer cell membranes of Gram-positive bacteria. The measured “Bitterness Units”, called BU or IBU (“International” thrown in for no apparent reason) measure not only the quantity of these compounds present in a beer, but also the relative bitter flavor level. The minimum level for bacterial inhibition is 17 BU. This is approximately the lowest level found in English Pale Ales or Bitters or European pale lagers.
Why So Hoppy?
Pre-Prohibition there were more breweries per capita than even today. Most of these brewers had several offerings, and many varieties of beer were represented. Prohibition led to bootleg distilled products mixed with something sweet being the beverage of choice. After the repeal, when the breweries returned, an entire generation of beer drinkers had been lost, so the largest market was for “beginner beers”. They became almost the entire market and led to consolidations into the 1980s. After World War II, American servicemen were stationed overseas and fell in love with flavorful varieties of beer. Returning to the States, they began seeking out these products, but the imports were usually stale. Home-brewing became an alternative. Unfortunately, the home-brew industry of the time had ingredients of dubious quality and freshness. The only readily available fresh hops were those grown for their yield over traditional flavor profiles, most notably varieties like Cascade which had a strong, distinct flavor. The fact that these hops covered up a lot of other sins in homebrew led to more and more additions. Stronger beers keep better as well, so the trend in alcohol was upward. These home-brewers who had gotten accustomed to overt, strong, hop-dominated beers became the first microbrewers, producing uniquely American beers.
Why India Pale Ale?
The only historical style which was remotely close to these strong, hoppy beers was called an India Pale Ale. As the home-brewing community was becoming the fledgling craft brew industry, they brought their ideas along. The home brew community was at the time far more enthusiastic than scientific. Their competitions were judged by style and the beer’s adherence to that style is a significant part of the scoring. Unfortunately, the original style parameters were never well studied. No spider graphs or statistical analyses of extant style examples were used. The style guides were instead written by the “Meh” method, as in “Meh, the last beer I made that I called a ‘whatsit’ fit these parameters” and “Meh, Fred said this in his book”. When the Great American Beer Fest adopted home-brewing style guidelines as the basis for judging a category, “the scoring by fit to category” system basically required competitors to conform to the Meh guidelines to win a medal. All beers were assumed to be representative of some historic style. The actual characteristics of the historical style were never analyzed in any real scientific way. Much like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, the act of judging by Meh standards made those standards the de facto, regardless of their original accuracy.
What was India Pale Ale?
The historical India Pale Ale was, in fact, a type of stock ale, a high-gravity brew “concentrate” that was later blended or diluted for drinking. Stock ales generally weren’t consumed undiluted in England until they had aged for a couple of years to mellow the hops to a more balanced flavor through slow oxidative reactions. The stock ales destined for India were made with more hops so that it could survive the trip across the equator in a wooden cask aboard a wooden ship with SOME flavor intact after it was diluted. Luckily the same rapid oxidation effect from travel that ruined weaker beers served instead as rapid aging and improved these stronger beers. The piney hop-dominated creation that Americans call IPA is almost, but not quite, completely unlike the historic example. The name stuck anyway. Sadly it wasn’t even the first time a reference to India had been misapplied to something or someone indigenous to America.
Why the Bitter-Face?
Most human sensory interfaces like sight or hearing are pretty universal. Sound vibrates an eardrum or light strikes rods and cones, and the brain creates a model to interpret this input in very similar ways in all people. Blue is blue and the key of G is the key of G to the vast majority of humans. This is not so with smell and taste. Most of what we taste is actually smell with the exception of sweet, bitter, salty, umami, sour, etc. There are many genes coding for what we perceive as “bitter” and which aromas we are sensitive to. This is why, for instance, people have vastly different ideas of how Brussels sprouts or cilantro tastes. Our sensory thresholds for flavors we experience increases with exposure. Add to that initial difference behaviors such as smoking or vaping which significantly diminish these senses. This is where the “love it or hate it” factor comes in. The flavors and aromas are actually different to different people, the coffee-drinking hookah bar hipster with bitter genes that don’t correspond to iso-alpha acids finds the level of bitterness and aroma of an American IPA pleasant and flavorful, with a refreshing intensity of flavor. However, the non-smoking bitter-sensitive person who has white toast and Coca-Cola for breakfast finds the same beer unpleasantly overwhelming. It’s a good thing that craft beer has so much variety, if you don’t like IPA, it’s rarely the only choice. If you love a good hoppy IPA, rest easy. We American brewers will still be making lots of them for the foreseeable future.
At 217 Brew Works, we ensure that our interns learn everything about running a brewery from crafting the beer itself to engaging with customers.
Tanya Garcia and Giselle Dominguez have been working with the brewery since November of 2016, shortly after our grand opening. The two of them are studying biology at Barton College.
Tanya and Giselle first learned about the internship from a table talk in our taproom hosted by founder, Tom Curran. At the event, they discovered their biology majors have applications for the crafting of beer. This information opened the door to career possibilities for the two senior students to consider when they graduate.
After working with the brewery for the past few months, Tanya has expressed interest in becoming a master brewer like John Kater. Giselle, however, will more likely continue with her major as she planned, working to become a forensic scientist. Even so, she enjoys working at the brewery. She feels this experience has greatly broadened her understanding of what a biology major can do.
In the back room of 217 Brew Works where the beer is made, John ensures that Tanya and Giselle understand the science of crafting beer. This knowledge comes in handy if any inquisitive customers have questions about the beer itself. And while they’re at the bar, the interns practice the business side of taproom management, selling beer to customers.
While Tanya and Giselle’s education complements their internship, we at 217 Brew Works will take applicants with other skills into the internship. We are working on an FAQ and application form for our Internship program. In the meantime, we welcome anyone with an interest in joining our family to use our Contact Form to let us know.
It has been a very hectic but fun time at 217 Brew Works. We are in our 6th Month of Operation and we’ve found success in both the Taproom (aka: The Stable) and in the Brewery proper. We will be extending our ours starting May 1st.
John and his team, Sam, Tanya, and Gisselle, have us full up with kegs of our beers brewed in house. He is also having success with outside sales.
We've had a great response from our local and out of town customers, and have hosted quite a few private events including several very successful fundraisers.
Friends Giving drew over 100 new and old friends. The event was designed to be a gathering of new and old friends before the Thanksgiving Holiday so we could be sure to get together before folks left town or celebrated the holiday with Family. Folks came to listen to the Bake Lite Boys (Rick and Ron Ellis) who did two ‘sets’. One of 1940 hits (Sinatra Style) and another ‘Country Hits.’ This was a treat as they were ‘in character’ for both sets. Some of those attending took the challenge and came dressed in their coolest ‘40’s attire. Everyone brought a covered dish to share and also nonperishable food items that were donated to the local food bank.
We also hosted ‘Pints for Paws’ on New Year’s Day, to support our local Wilson County Humane Society. We had over 20 dogs and 60 owners. Once again, our local residents showed their ‘giving’ side by raising over $1400.00 in cash and one full pallet of items to support the shelter.
We are very proud to be a part of this community and dedicated to supporting these types of local not for profit organizations.
Open Mic Night!
Due to its popularity with our regular patrons, and a slow but steady increase in ‘new faces’ we decided to make room in a corner of the taproom for new sound (PA) equipment. Now, when we have musicians who come to play all they need is their instrument. All cables and ‘amplification’ are provided.
We have begun to have food trucks at the brewery on Friday, and Saturday nights on a regular basis. We continue to encourage our customers to bring or order in food from one of the many local restaurants in Wilson (especially in Historic Downtown).
Another project moved forward was our outside seating area and beer garden. We have already installed benches and planters on the patio area directly in front of the building. It was designed to also be a path to the beer garden so folks can enjoy our beers both inside and outside. In the taproom, on the patio, or the beer garden. The beer garden will be surrounded by a fence with gates that will accommodate both foot and vehicle traffic.
The beer garden will be the location for 3 or 4 “Beats and Eats” events every other Saturday in September and October. We hosted this is 2016 even before we were open. The event this coming year will feature two live bands.
Our Irishman’s Ball for Saint Patrick’s Day was a remarkable success. The seasonal brew created by John for the occasion was well received; Éirinn Go Brách: A Wry Irish Rye has a 4.13-star rating on Untappd with almost thirty reviews. Brewed as an homage to Erin Flora, Brewmaster of the former Sweet Taters in Rocky Mount, John added a four-leaf clover just as the boil began to make it extra lucky.
Our next event will be Cinco de Gringo on May 5th, 2017 with a Jamerican food truck and live bands.
As I said, lots have been going on and will be going on here at 217 Brew Works. We want to thank all of those who have supported our efforts to bring this vision of a Community Brewery to reality. Our whole Team: Tom W (Tap Room Manager), Sam (Assistant Brewer), Tonya and Gisselle (Barton College Interns - Brewing and Beer Tender), Jillian (Beer Tender), Susanne (Graphic Artist, Newsletter Editor, Webmaster) and Tony Tilley and his staff (Food Service at Barton College) who do all our local ingredients processing.
And last, but not least, thanks to everyone who has supported us by coming to the brewery. We can’t be a Community Brewery without Community Support.
“Live Local” and “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” aren’t just a catchphrases to us but a part of our business model. One of the first steps we have taken toward that commitment is to arrange for all of our spent grain to be picked up by local livestock farmer Ossie Kerney and his family.
Do his cows like this special treat? We really enjoyed the video below of the cows themselves weighing in with their opinion.
We at 217 Brew Works are proud to truly support the concept of live local. We are currently partnering with Ossie Kerney, Vick Family Farms (Sweet Potatoes), Dean’s Farm (Honey), and Barton College (Science interns and Tony Tilley’s staff at the cafeteria processing the sweet potatoes). It makes our vision of creating a Community Brewery and Supporting the restoration efforts in Historic Downtown Wilson a reality.