Jumping further into exploring beer naming conventions, we decided to research where the term export strength comes from in beer. We’ve all seen it on a variety of beer, whether it be a macro-brewed beer or even a craft beer, we see a label that either says “Beer Name Export Strength” or “Beer Name Export.”
Of course the easy answer here is that beers marked as “export” are, well, for export. For one reason or another, breweries decided to declare to everyone that that particular bottle is for export. But beers marked export or export strength are also available in their home country, so it can’t be a question of logistics.
Export strength beers are stronger
Beers marked as export strength are generally stronger than their buddies that aren’t for export. That’s generally speaking of course. There are plenty of beers that are marked as “export” (but not necessarily “export strength”) that are no different from the local varieties. This is most likely for marketing purposes of course. That, or the alternative labelling may be required for different markets.
But digressions aside, the big question is, why are export strength beers stronger? Which came first, the name or the alcohol percentage?
According to Shipyard Brewing Co, the story behind export strength beers is similar to where the name IPA comes from. Alcohol helps beers keep longer, so if they’re travelling a long journey, this helps ensure they arrive at their far away destination without going off.
Export strength beers (in Scotland at least) tend to range from 4.0-5.5%. The same is true for Dortmunder Export, which comes in at 5.5%, and is stronger than the regular lager by the same brewery.
From the looks of it, the alcohol level came first, in order to accommodate the journey, then the name evolved from there!
Other aspects of the export name
A few sources also mention that beer marked as export is marked as such as it’s higher quality than the local variety. This seems more of a marketing ploy than anything. After all, why not sell the good stuff to the locals?
Export, though, sounds exotic and interesting to people buying expensive imported beers, especially European lagers that are popular all around the world. The term “export” has become synonymous with something a little bit fancier than local beers. And we’ve all been guilty of falling for marketing!
But back to IPA
So if export strength goes back to a stronger beer being better preserved for longer journeys, why did IPA become IPA? Why wasn’t this also referred to as export strength beer?
Well, the export label seems to be isolated to Scottish and Irish beers and continental European beers. IPA was developed in England. While the the English were making stronger beers marked for export, the specific hopped up variety became more popular in English colonies and became its own style. India was one of the larger markets for this hoppy and alcoholic brew, so the name India Pale Ale stuck.
So, in a way, an IPA is also an export strength beer, it’s just that the style is different from other ales, and especially different from European Lager of course!