It seems like everyone today has heard of ales and lagers, styles of beer that are becoming more popular lately due to a recent surge in craft beers and microbreweries. But another common type of beer that is frequently microbrewed is called an IPA, or an "India Pale Ale". These beers are packed with flavor because they use an extensive amount of hops when brewing their beer. But what many do not know is that this variety of beer came out of necessity and invention.
In the 1700s, there was a lot of trade going on between Great Britian and its colonies, notably India. The problem with shipping beer is that it needs to be cold or the microbes in it need to be killed, or it will go flat and sour. The long journey from Great Britian to India would result in all of the beer being ruined before it got to its intended destination.
Brewers experimented with ways to decrease the beer's chances of spoling on the journey. Since refridgeration and pasturization were not invented yet, their only weapons in the fight were the ingredients that they brewed beer with; specifically hops and alcohol.
High amounts of hops lead to greater fermentation which increases the alcohol content of a beer. Most IPAs are slightly higher in alcohol than their regular counterpoarts. Alcohol makes an environment that is hostile to bacteria that causes the beer to sour. A brewer took a normal pale ale recipe and added a lot more hops to it which raised the alcohol content. So, by adding more hops than normal, they were able to keep the microbes at bay long enough to reach India. They named it "Inda Pale Ale" because it was made specifically for voyages to India.
The hops add considerable flavor, bitterness and punch (alcoholically speaking) to a beer, and most IPAs are very strong. When trying an IPA be prepared for flavor! If the only beer you have ever consumed has been lightly-flavored, IPAs may not be a good "entry level" beer.