Last week, a reader named Bob posed a very good question in the comments about: "Did the Dutch traders ship beer as a commodity in trade for Asian goods? If yes, what years, what style? Were hops used in any manner then?". I thought it was such a good question that I posed it to Richard Unger, Professor at UBC and author of a number of books on beer history as well as the shipping trade. It may well be that there is no better person to answer Bob. And he did:
After some lengthy travelling I am now back home and can try to answer your or rather Bob's question.Very interesting and has triggered the posing of another question that I have already put to Lew Bryson about one meaning of the word "gueuze" which may be a red herring - which might in itself be a pun.
Amsterdam brewers in the first half of the 19th century produced some called East India beer which was not much different, so it was said, from beer brewed in the Bavarian style. Up to the 1860s Bavarian beer was extremely rare in the Kingdom of the Netherlands and only with the setting up of new breweries in the 1860s was the novel technology adopted, and then with enthusiasm. So such East India beer was special and different from the normal output.
It probably had a higher alcohol content though - that was the usual way to try to protect beers going to the tropics from spoilage. Dutch brewers, principally in Amsterdam, did brew beer for export to the East Indies even in the first half of the seventeenth century but it appears to have been the typical premium hopped beer, a bit better and somewhat stronger, than the beer made for consumption at home. There were many different names used for different beers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but I have never come across one that identified the beer made for export to the Indies, either East or West.
It is possible that none of that export beer was ever sold on the domestic market, the opposite with what happened with IPA which not long after it was established in the East became a popular drink at home. Incidentally the date of the first production of IPA is uncertain, or at least I am not certain. My best guess is a rather late one, that is around 1830 but I would be happy to be corrected. I am sorry to offer so little but I hope it is of some help.
Regards, Richard Unger