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By his own admission, Pete Brown is a British writer 'who specialises in making people thirsty'. The writer of a popular, incisive and insightful beer blog, he's a man who has spent most of his adult life being paid to think and write about beer, as an advertiser, a journalist and an author of four beer-related books that (again in his own words) 'have been translated into over two languages'.
Funny, irreverent, honest and occasionally caustic, Brown has been described as 'the beer drinker's Bill Bryson'. And in Hops and Glory, he proves that, like Bryson, he is a convivial companion-cum-guide on a voyage of (re) discovery.
Subtitled 'one man's search for the beer that built the British Empire, Hops and Glory is a travelogue and history lesson rolled into one. But above all, it is a book about beer. Specifically, it is a book about one style of beer: India Pale Ale, better known as IPA.
Would you risk the wrath of pirates, gun-toting border guards (and your wife) on a trip across tides and through time - all for a craft beer? That's precisely what Pete Brown did...
Many seasoned craft beer drinkers list IPA as their favourite beer style. Pete Brown is among them, calling it 'the greatest beer that ever lived'. Feisty, rich and robust, it's a beer that lives long in the palate and even longer in the memory. James Squire Stowaway IPA, for example, offers rich malt flavours, earthy floral aromas and a lingering bitter finish, while the slightly higher level of alcohol (relative to the other beers in the James Squire craft beer range) adds what the James Squire brewers call 'mouth feel' and flavour enhancement.
IPA was originally brewed in England (in Burton-on-Trent, to be precise) and shipped out to India to give the thousands of English expats there a literal taste of home. It was given a high alcohol content and high level of hops in the interest of preservation. But the most remarkable thing about the beer lies not in the fact that it survived the arduous sea voyage without going flat (or worse), but that, as Brown puts it, 'it had also gone through an amazing, unexpected conditioning process on board that left it light, bright and sparkling, perfect for the [Indian] climate.'
And so Brown had an idea (in a pub, where many of the best ideas are formed) - to brew a barrel of IPA from an original eighteenth century recipe using (more or less) traditional eighteenth century brewing methods and recreate the original journal taken by his beer's illustrious predecessors. Travelling by canal boat, cruise liner, tall ship and cargo ship from Burton-on-Trent to Calcutta via the notorious Cape of Good Hope, his goal was to experience the before-and-after transformation for himself, and recreate history into the bargain.
Hops and Glory is an exhilarating tale of high adventure - in the present as Brown encounters Brazilian pirates, gun-toting Iranian guards and, worst of all, reams of bureaucratic red tape that threaten to thwart his ambition at every turn; but also in the past, as the rollicking, raucous history of the British Raj is revealed. It's a story of rogues (both charming and not-so-charming) and rewards, triumph and disaster, and everything in between.
Engaging, entertaining and enlightening, Hops and Glory is a cracking read for craft beer fans and anyone who appreciates a good tale that's exceptionally well told. Highly recommended.
- Hops and Glory, rrp $20.95, is available through Pan Macmillan Australia.