Erik bought me the book Hops and Glory as a Christmas present last year and I just recently finished it. The book is written by a man, Pete Brown, who endeavors to take India Pale Ale by boat from England to India. Not only this, but he plans to take his beer the long way around the Cape of Good Hope. He reckons the journey hasn’t been made this way since the Suez Canal opened in 1869 (I’m sure he’s right, why would you bother?). Despite only hearing good things, it took me a while to get into this book because I sincerely doubted there was enough material on the topic of IPA to fill a book. I was wrong, this book is a fascinating journey through not just the history of IPA, but also of British colonial rule in India and of the British brewing industry.
The first part of the book describes (and laments) the dilution of the IPA style from a good, strong, hoppy beer to a mere shadow of its former self in England. Having lived in England for a while now, I can confirm there is very little India Pale Ale that we West Coast hopheads would deem up to snuff. Greene King IPA is the most common IPA you’ll find around these parts and it more closely resembles Alexander Keith’s IPA (blah) than anything good. Side-note: I have seen Sierra Nevada Torpedo multiple times around town. Not to give the book away, but Pete does his research and brews his IPA as it would have been brewed in Burton for export in the early 19th century. It sounded delicious.
The book then alternates chapters between Pete’s voyage and the story of that historical voyage. Knowing nothing about international shipping, I was just as enthralled by the journey as I was with the history. I don’t want to spoil the book for you, but it’s crazy to think there is so much of this globalized world that remains so foreign to us city dwellers. As for the history, I found the details of British rule in India and the history of English brewing very illuminating in understanding aspects of modern politics and commercial brewing. I had no idea that Bass was the UK’s first registered trademark and was once the world’s largest brand. I was also taught in school to think the British were benevolent colonists, misguided in trying to help modernize their territories. I was wrong, the British were a big bunch of jerks.
This book is not as much about beer as you would think and would appeal to all those interested in interesting things. I recommend giving it a read. There was one very profound quote in the book that I particularly wanted to share with you, but now I can’t find it.