Indian Pale Ale: An Icon of Empire Alan Pryor

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This paper examines the interaction between metropolitan manufacture and colonial demand, by investigating the development of Indian Pale Ale. In the late eighteenth century, George Hodgson developed a new beer for India in an obscure brewery on the eastern periphery of London. Hodgson’s pale ale was a light beer with a refreshing bitter taste, which was to become a signifier of Anglo-Indian identity in numerous accounts of life in India .

In the early nineteenth century, the ending of the East India Company’s monopoly in India was influential in changing relationships in the commodity chain. Local merchants in Bengal were thereby empowered to break Hodgson’s monopoly to supply pale ale, by seeking new sources from brewers in Burton-on-Trent . Samuel Allsopp and Michael Bass led the way in gaining a tenuous foothold in the Indian market, with the development of new methods of marketing and distribution, which proved conclusive in their eventual success.

There was a constant stream of East India Company servants returning to nineteenth-century Britain with tastes for exotic foods, including mulligatawny soup, curry and pale ale. Both Hodgson and the Burton brewers sought to exploit this potential market in Britain by advertising their beer as Indian Pale Ale, hereafter IPA. The Burton brewers were more successful, using the methods developed in India . They coupled a vigorous marketing campaign with a national distribution network of agencies for the supply of bottled beer. This revolutionised the brewing trade by circumventing the traditional system of public houses, creating Britain ‘s first ‘brewing town’.

It is argued that the role of the Indian community in these developments, whilst elusive, can be found in their rejection of western cultural values. Their reluctance to buy British manufactured goods resulted in the loss of the East India Company’s monopoly, which was then reduced to governing the country as a surrogate arm of the state. The well-paid army officers and civil servants stationed in India were the principal customers for IPA. This massive bureaucracy, which was funded by taxes from Indian peasants, was superimposed on the country and never part of the Indian culture. Instead, it was the British who adapted to the Indian way of life, creating an Anglo-Indian sub-culture where IPA developed into an iconic feature that spread throughout the British Empire . In a final ironic stage, this Anglo-Indian product was introduced to the British market, where it transformed the brewing industry.

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