Whether you’re a seasoned craft beer lover or just beginning to discover and explore it, the chances are that you will have encountered the beer style designation of India Pale Ale, IPA for short. IPA is unarguably craft beer’s most famous single style, accounting for 40% of craft beer sales in the US in 2021 and receiving the highest number of 2021’s Untappd check-ins – a massive 7,219,664.
For many drinkers, IPA is almost synonymous with craft beer – its ubiquitous presence at every taproom and multiple style varietals mean there is now an IPA to suit nearly every taste palate. For all intents and purposes, an appreciation and working knowledge of IPA is hardwired into the craft beer community. But how often do we, as beer enthusiasts, stop to consider the name of the beer we are drinking, where it comes from, and what it means?
The Damaging Myths Ensue
The mythical IPA ‘origin story’ that has traditionally accompanied any discussion about the term’s history traveled across the pond with the style itself and is now as enmeshed in American understanding of the how and why of IPA as it is in its country of origin – Britain.
Once upon a time, self-styled beer experts would sidle up to newbies at the taproom bar to show off their craft beer cred by sharing the story of how nineteenth-century brewers discovered that heavily hopping their beer ensured its safe passage to the thirsty Brits governing the colonies. Therefore, creating a new potent and punchy beer style – the revered ancestor of the brew you happen to be sipping on. Hooray for the pioneer spirit of Empire!
The story has become so ingrained in beer folklore that it almost defies comment – try finding a craft beer drinker who hasn’t heard about those long sea voyages. Universal and unquestioned, the inferred praise and positivity of IPA’s colonial heritage have inspired ‘Raj Revival’-style beers from Bengal Lancer and Jaipur in the UK to Maharaja in the US.
But as we drink our beer with its culturally appropriated branding and misty-eyed backstory, we ideologically collude, albeit often unintentionally, with a positive understanding of the Empire. In contrast, we should rather acknowledge the violence, racism, and oppression those trading ships created.
In August 2021, Brown British beer writer, David Jesudason, published a groundbreaking piece in Good Beer Hunting telling the true story of the history of IPA – unpicking the pro-colonial ideology whose undercurrents are still significant features of British cultural understanding. The piece is an essential read and an eye-opening slice of carefully researched beer history. It gives us a starting point from which to reappraise what we think we know about the beer we’re drinking.
Jesudason’s article is essential because it provides education and insight while offering positive and productive solutions to the broad misunderstanding and careless appropriation often found in IPA’s branding and historical narrative. One of which is to create a ‘decolonized IPA‘ – an IPA whose identity is fully contextualized. Now, just over a year since the article’s original publication, this beer has been created.
Collaborations in Motion
In South-East London, a few miles from the docks where the East India Company once set sail from, Villages Brewery has collaborated with Jesudason and Good Beer Hunting to create the UK’s first decolonized IPA, named Empire State of Mind, after his article.
The beer was launched with much acclaim at the Villages taproom on October 22nd, with a panel discussion chaired by beer writer Jonny Garrett with Jesudason, White Rhino Brewing’s founder Ishaan Puri, and beer writer Pete Brown.
Its recipe incorporates adjuncts found in traditional South Asian cooking, including coriander (cilantro), fennel, jaggery, mango, bergamot, lime, turmeric, and anchor with a hop profile mixing Cryo Pop blend with Citra T90, Citra Cryo, and Motueka T90.
“Jonny [Villages head brewer] and I sat down with David and Claire [Bullen, Good Beer Hunting’s Editor in Chief] to discuss the aims of the project,” says Zoe Wyeth, a brewer at Villages Brewery.
“Together we decided to try to create a modern New England-style IPA using some additional ingredients from the Indian subcontinent. We wanted to make something that tastes like a lightly spiced mango lassi with hints of lime zest and bergamot. It’s come out really well, loads of mango on the nose and a subtle hint of candied fennel seeds. Unfortunately, most of the bright yellow from [the] turmeric was absorbed by the yeast!”
As a regular at the brewery, Jesudason approached Villages for the collaboration, and they were keen to get on board. “It’s important that we open up conversations about colonialism and its negative effects that are still felt in those countries invaded by the British. Doing it through beer will help engage people who might otherwise have been unaware,” says Wyeth.
(To read more on the British Empire and its colonial history in relation to beer, check out Ruvani’s other article here).
For Claire Bullen, who edited the original article, bringing the project to life has been positive and rewarding. “It feels wonderful to see the ideas voiced in David’s article really come to life. When it was published in the summer [of] 2021, the idea that a brewery would produce an IPA designed to educate drinkers about the racism and devastation of Britain’s imperial history (and within the IPA’s own origin story) felt unlikely, at best,” she says, citing the potential challenges around production, marketing, and branding for a small brewery.
“It was a joy to be wrong about that,” Bullen continues, “and to team up with Villages Brewery, who have volunteered so much generous support to the collaboration. Most importantly, none of this would have happened without David’s hard work, [vision, and story], and he deserves all the credit for seeing it through to fruition.”
Bullen worked closely with David and Villages in a planning, creative, and financial capacity, contributing to the beer name, label design, and beer recipe. Good Beer Hunting produced a printed version of David’s article to be distributed at the launch and has assisted with the event planning and promotion too.
The label – its design and content – are a crucial element in decolonizing the IPA. “The beer label was a real team effort,” says Bullen. “Initially, David worked with the London-based artist Amir Dehghan to source a range of South Asian fabrics whose designs and patterns could be used as the inspiration for a label. David and I then worked on the label text and drafted a few versions to ensure we could distill the key takeaways from his story into a relatively small space.” The GBH studio team then took the lead on creating the final label, working with great care to combine the text and design for maximum impact and a strong aesthetic appeal, as well as producing the print copy of David’s article that accompanied the event.
The act of creating a decolonized IPA, raising awareness about the ongoing misinterpretation of the style’s history, and sharing crucial beer education has been at the center of Bullen and Good Beer Hunting’s involvement in the project.
“We hope that this beer, in correcting the record, will begin to change the way that we talk about colonialism and imperialism in the context of IPA and the beer industry, and in turn, in the wider world,” she says. “In opening the collaboration to new audiences who may not have encountered David’s story when it was initially published, we’re hoping this beer and its launch event spread the word that much farther. And I hope that it’s also a chance to celebrate David’s work on the main stage, as it deserves to be!”
South Asian Resonance
The project has a strong resonance for South Asians across the beer community. Steve Sailopal, the founder of Good Karma Brewing, is optimistic about the impact on the way IPA and colonial history are understood among beer drinkers.
“Knowledge is power. As with Black history, Indian history (especially the days of the Raj) needs much clarification and the truth to be known to the wider audience,” he says, “The economic, social, and cultural struggles they faced while Robert Clive filled his ships with riches. Be it with a launch of a beer as David has, folks should know that the repercussion of the Raj is still felt within the South Asian community today.”
Interview – Q&A with David Jesudason and Ruvani de Silva
Ruvani de Silva in conversation with David Jesudason as he takes his first sip of Empire State of Mind – a decolonized IPA at Villages Brewing on the night before the launch.
(Interview edited for brevity and clarity)
RdS: How was the beer?!
DJ: Both can and keg are amazing – I was so happy when I tasted them. Villages Brewery’s Big Salad IPA is my favorite craft beer – I liked some craft beers before, but this is what really changed me to loving NE IPAs almost as much as traditional craft bitters, which is why I wanted to work with them.
This beer is based on the Big Salad recipe. When I first tried Big Salad in a pub where I didn’t fancy the cask option, I was very skeptical when I saw its hazy, almost-yellow color, but then I loved it when I tried it – it was like, wow. For me, this is the quintessential taste of craft beer – fruity, limey, zesty hops.
Empire State of Mind was brewed like that with some spices thrown in the mix, including coriander seeds [cilantro], jaggery, and amchoor powder. I thought it would be spicy, and the turmeric would make it yellow, but this is not the case – it’s much more zesty and less bitter.
I hadn’t intended to focus on brewing a really great beer – I was more concerned about how it was marketed – but that’s the end product. Anyone who likes craft beer will really like it. I’m proud of all its different flavors and aromas and look forward to sharing them.
RdS: In your GBH article, you specifically describe your plan to launch a decolonized IPA that tells the true story of the history behind the beer style – did you think then that this would ever come to fruition, and how does it feel to be bringing your idea to life?
DJ: I didn’t even think the article would get commissioned! It was the first piece I wrote for Good Beer Hunting. I knew it would have to have personal details mixed with a bit of history, so I spent a lot of time thinking of how it would work structurally – I knew I needed a really strong personal story about my parents, who tacitly accepted the colonial pecking order and incorporated a compelling history element, citing William Dalrymple’s work on Empire and resistance.
I also needed experts who had a varied experience of Empire, including Sir Geoff Palmer, Dr. Sam Goodman, and Pete Brown, whose contributions really made the piece accessible to all types of readers. I think people wanted to have this conversation but were scared to have it unless it was led by a Brown person who was willing to throw themselves into it—me coming along saying that I don’t want to cancel IPAs. I just want to change the branding was a game-changer and made this happen.
RdS: In your article, you discuss how your parents internalized the idea of British superiority despite the racism they faced daily in the UK – do you think that level of internalization is still happening among younger generations, and do you think bringing their attention to the reality of Empire through projects like this will help to work against the pull of self-hate many South Asians have absorbed as a result of the colonialist mindset?
DJ: This all comes down to the school system here and in former Empires – my parents weren’t that well-educated despite receiving British schooling in what was then the Malay peninsular and were ignorant of concepts, such as the white gaze or the male gaze and how the media is heavily biased towards the ruling classes – they voted for Margaret Thatcher in the 80s. They didn’t have the self-awareness or willingness to change, and nothing I tried ever helped.
The issue is that this type of history isn’t taught in schools – it’s all kings and queens and World War II. Empire history should be taught in schools in a way that impacts the present, and, depressingly, it’s not just a British problem – Germany is very good at explaining the horrors of the Nazis. Still, even they don’t teach kids about their own Empire. It’s tragic because the whole issue of white supremacy that fueled the Third Reich began with justifications of colonialization.
White people often think that racism is a tangible thing they can easily pin down, but that is not the case. This is a method of white-splaining racism away. For example, white liberals will explain the racism I’ve experienced by saying that ‘Someone who calls you a Paki is Brexiteer‘ or ‘You didn’t get that job because you weren’t qualified enough’ – not because the interviewer was racist.
But the thing is, the more you talk about it in these terms, you get profiled as the ‘angry brown man’ and not taken seriously. This is why this article was so important. It was considered calm, and people could relate to it, but it isn’t easy to discuss racism in this manner. Racism affects people’s health – it has huge consequences, including PTSD, alcoholism, and depression. We need to look at the causes of racism and be forensic about it because white people don’t want to accept our expression of what it is.
When I talk about whiteness, I’m talking about people who like to think they are empowered by being white. These are not allies. We are having this conversation as people of color – but white people need to have these conversations as much as we do – if I was white, I’d be ashamed if I just ignored the issue and left the heavy lifting to victims of racism.
RdS: The lack of education about the British Empire and the harm it caused remains an ongoing problem in UK schools and is undoubtedly responsible for much of the casual racism that South Asians in the UK face. How do you feel about the fact that as South Asians, not only do we have to endure the consequences of colonialism in the form of racism but that the burden to change that through education is so often pushed back onto us by cultural structures that don’t want that responsibility?
DJ: Brown writers are not here to educate white people about racism – if you want to be educated about racism, educate yourself – many great anti-racist books have been published recently. As someone who has suffered racism to the point of having PTSD, it is not my responsibility to educate white people about what does and does not qualify as racism.
We’re told that we live in this post-racism world, and despite my living in a gentrified metropolitan area, it’s still around us. Last year, when my daughter was five, a kid came up to her in the playground and said, ‘Ha ha – I’m white. You’re not.’ That kid is not a racist – he’s too young to understand. He’s seen children’s films such as Frozen, and therefore has internalized a sense of superiority – this shows why it’s essential not to accept imagery and characterization tacitly. The school dealt with it well, and my daughter is very resilient – but the fact is that the UK is institutionally racist.
A recent example is the testimony by former England cricketer Azeem Rafiq about his racist treatment by Yorkshire Cricket Club, and the way some see this as a failure of an individual institution or that it’s an isolated incident.
It’s pointless calling out individual institutions – it’s everywhere, including in our government. Unless there’s more diversity at the top of British institutions – the people who make these decisions – we’ll always face these problems.
And in Britain, the real problem is class – just because someone is brown (hat-tip Rishi Sunak) doesn’t make them anti-racist, especially if they have gone to fee-paying exclusive schools and have married into wealth.
The only thing I have in common with Sunak is that in some regions of the country, we might both be called a ‘Paki,’ but that’s where it ends, especially because he helped create this hostile environment in the first place [as a member of the anti-immigration Conservative Party].
RdS: Among more serious craft beer consumers, beer education is becoming increasingly popular, such as Cicerone and Certified Beer Server courses. Do you think this kind of beer history should be included in these courses?
DJ: No, I don’t – I think it requires too much heavy lifting. The problem is we are forever trying to make up for the deficiencies of the British education system, and it’s too much work for something like beer. It would be good if the people making the majority of the beers would explain what an IPA is and its history, but it’s not something that should be left to beer education courses.
I’m not going to explain what an IPA is to that many people because it’s a very local project – but I’ve proven it can be done. As a brewery, you can do this – you can have a can that has words on it that will explain the true history of the IPA. However, your intentions must be genuine.
When Fourpure Brewing ran the ‘Nowhere Near India’ ad, and I contacted them, they admitted they had made a mistake and expressed an interest in a diversity grant I’ve now set up – I thought they were genuine, but then a few months later they were posting pictures with Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson [Conservative Party current and former leaders]– I felt gaslighted. Johnson is a racist who uses terrible slurs, so if that’s the association they want – good luck to them.
RdS: Educating the wider beer community can be a challenging and uphill process, as we’ve seen with the backlash against CAMRA’s equality and diversity initiatives and the considerable support for BrewDog despite the BBC Scotland documentary. How (if at all) can we get people to care about the true history of IPA and its colonial legacy?
DJ: As I said just now, ultimately, it’s not our job to educate people in the beer industry. These people can easily find the resources – they can use the internet and read these fantastic books that have been written about this – if they choose not to, then they are siding with racists.
Colleagues have told me that racism isn’t beer’s problem. It’s society’s problem. I’m fed up with this attitude. I have had so much racism put on me that there is no way of dealing with the trauma of my childhood – when I was abused in the street, in the playground, and the classroom – while I experience this dispiriting attitude.
It would be nice not to write about racism. When we, as writers of color, pitch to editors – who are nearly always white, we have to explain our personal trauma, and they go through filters like colanders sieving out the meaning, making them more palatable and [relatable] to a white audience.
How do we get to a stage where we can talk as equals? The lack of publications with people of color as editors or funding sources is highly problematic in the beer industry as it is elsewhere, often meaning we are still expected to educate white people about racism.
RdS: What can breweries, bars, industry professionals, and drinkers do to help decolonize IPAs?
DJ: I think the idea of the drinker being educated is difficult because it might ask too much of people while drinking – they should know this before drinking. But I want people to know the history of segregated pubs, the stories of people of color having lunchtime pints in segregated pubs between factory shifts in places like Smethwick.
What I object to is people who get the impression that Indians don’t drink – if you’ve ever met a Punjabi, you’ll know they drink.
There’s a lack of value when it comes to Asian culture – white people – especially middle-class urbanites – don’t understand or engage with it. A majority British-Indian town like Smethwick in the West Midlands is my Wakanda – every pub there is a desi pub! The idea that white people know about and celebrate desi pubs in Birmingham and the Black Country are shocking to white Londoners – it comes from an arrogance and denial of local history – an unwillingness to join with communities different from theirs.
When it comes down to it, they are scared of people who aren’t white, which is deeply depressing – but they might have the occasional friend (like me!) who has an accent like theirs.
In summary, educating yourself as a drinker and actively overcoming internalized prejudice is the strongest anti-racist contribution beer lovers can make.
RdS: How did you go about pulling this project together and getting everyone on board?
DJ: I wanted to work with Villages because they make my favorite beer. At Good Beer Hunting, Claire Bullen and Michael Kiser worked hard to bring the project together. I first connected with brothers Louis and Archie Village at Villages, who were fundamentally interested in the project. After they left Zoe Wyeth, Jonny Park, and Greg McCarron-Shipman took over as driving forces. To be involved with Villages is amazing.
RdS: Do you see the project expanding further, including other breweries or beer recipes?
DJ: No, I don’t want it to – I take on too much stuff already. Unless someone else were to take on the template, which would be great – please take it on and run with it!
The problem is that we are expected to talk about and make stories about marginalized communities – but these require so much more legwork than writing simpler stories. Writers from marginalized groups should be recognized for the extra work they have to put in to tell difficult stories. [Finding stories and sources] in marginalized communities is much more challenging and [take much more] time and effort.
RdS: How did you design the can art and decide what the text would say?
DJ: This was hard and involved a lot of collaborative work, which Claire Bullen is good at. She took the lead and was very precise and diplomatic. She managed to bring her own voice to the table while helping other people best express theirs, and she doesn’t get enough credit – she’s both a great editor and a great human being.
The artwork was by Amir Dehghan – his father was a political prisoner in Iran, which comes through in his work. A few months ago, I took him to a desi pub, and he was overcome with emotion as he’s so used to inhabiting white spaces in the art world and in beer – he’s a craft fan.
I was shocked, as I assumed that he had a network of friends of color, but there are plenty of people like us [that don’t have access to these spaces]. That’s why it’s important to find support groups of color, especially when you’ve led lives marked by racism.
RdS: This is the first project of its kind and something to be immensely proud of – what would you say have been the most challenging and rewarding elements of creating a decolonized IPA?
DJ: First of all, it’s pretty amazing to be the first person to have done this. People said it couldn’t be done. They said, ‘You can’t call it an IPA’ because there is so much marketing and white noise about IPAs. They thought, ‘How can you possibly do it?’ But I have done it – subtly, tactfully, and tastefully.
Villages fully understood my and everyone’s concerns – the British-Indian concerns rather than Indian ones.
Desis wanted to hang onto our cultural heritage, which we don’t have that much of. We have very little to hang onto when it comes to our heritage, so we see something that looks Indian, like Jaipur IPA by Thornbridge. We don’t want to pull it down, but now we can view this through a specifically desi perspective – our own perspective. All of this is a desi thing – it’s a British-Indian thing. It’s up to us to do this – we are British – there’s no other way of looking at it. We are who we are. We can’t change – British culture is part of us.
It’s also been interesting to see how brewing works – like looking under the hood of the car, and working with Villages has been super cool.
Empire State of Mind: A Decolonized IPA, created by David Jesudason, Villages Brewery, and Good Beer Hunting is available at the Villages taproom and select locations across London.