Beer is the third most consumed drink after water and tea and its production can be traced back 10,000 years. This popular beverage serves as the esprit de corps for almost every human emotion. We drink beer to rejoice, to recollect, to champion ball games, to forget, to relax, or just to get rowdy.

The production of beer is relatively straightforward—some form of starch is converted into alcohol through a fermentation process using yeast. The most common variation of starch used is malted barley, which is dried germinated barley. Hops are added during the brewing process to inject flavor and bitterness to the drink while acting as a natural preservative. Hops are dried flowers from the same family of vines as cannabis so beer may have some medicinal properties as well.

Lager versus Ale

The two overarching beer categories include ales and lagers. The crucial difference between two beer categories is the quality of yeast used in the fermentation which in turn imparts a distinctive character.

Ales are produced using “top-fermenting” yeast strains, which ferment at the top of the fermentation container. Lagers are generated using “bottom-fermenting” yeasts, which ferment at the bottom of a fermentation container. Ales are traditionally fermented at warmer temperatures (55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit), while lagers are fermented at much cooler temperatures (38 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit). The dissimilar yeast types and the differential temperatures are a key reason why ales are bitter, darker and fruitier and while lagers are less fruity with a refreshingly clean and crisp taste.

The younger sibling Lager is a modern creation with a maturation age less than 300 years. Ale happens to be the older, more traditional and the distinguished sibling.

British East India Company

In the 18th century, British merchants set up East India Company to trade spices, fine cotton and silk from India. Although the British stationed in India may have preferred darker and sweeter ales, the wealthy traders of British East India Company wanted a more refined and lighter/paler version of the traditional ale to accompany their long voyages to India.

To quench the thirst of the industrial revolution, British beer-producers started a new “pale ale” assembly line with a heavy injection of hops to add a bitter counterpoint to the sweetness of the malt. The added advantage of hops was that it also served as a natural preservative, which meant that the pale ale could last the long voyages to India.

As British interests in India grew, so did the beer market in UK. More and more brewers started making “Ales for the Indian Market” or just “India Pale Ale (IPA).” As IPA conquered taste buds in India, it also spread around the world, turning up in America, Australia and South-East Asia.

IPA in the US

Today, IPAs are particularly popular in the US. Craft brewers are increasingly making IPAs as part of their medley. Bars are also happy to stock an assortment of IPAs. Not surprisingly, to satisfy the discerning palate of the consumer, beer producers and suppliers are able to charge a hefty premium for IPAs. Because of the distinct flavor, a unique bitter taste, a discrete sweetness and color, brewers are able to distinguish their products from other beer selections, which allows them to charge a hefty premium for “differentiated products.”

Get ready to recall the spirits of Jack Sparrow from the Indian Ocean and not from the Caribbean. Cheers!

Helsinki, January 15, 2017

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