If you’re a beer geek, you probably know that the “I” in IPA stands for “India”, as in, “India Pale Ale”. Fair enough. But did you ever wonder just how it got there? Pete Brown did, and he made a book of it, a rather good one in fact. The title: “Hops and Glory: One Man’s Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire.” And while it helps to have an appreciation for fine beer while reading, it’s not a prerequisite. This is a work that spans a number of topics beyond beer, a fact that gives it a broader appeal than its title might imply.
Ask any beer geek what India Pale Ale is, and you’ll likely get more than you bargained for. A tale of a beer brewed in England in the late 18th century almost to the end of the 19th, a beer fortified with extra alcohol and lots of hops to survive the long sea voyage to India, where it would be supplied to British troops and officials. A beer that would condition during the voyage, mellowing substantially and rounding along the edges until it was ready to drink upon arrival in India, where the climate was not at all suited for brewing.
English beer writer Pete Brown wanted to know more. And so, he did something no one has done since the heyday of IPA more than a century ago: he decided to take a keg of India Pale Ale, brewed to the same recipe that would have been used for the original examples of the style, and follow the sea route to India.
Brown’s pilgrimage begins with a barge trip from Burton, simulating the river voyage IPA would have taken to get to the sea. From there, his journey takes him aboard cruise ships, sail boats, and container vessels on a three month adventure until he finally arrives in India, keg of beer in tow. Things don’t go quite as Brown expected, and there’s one major mishap that almost dooms his mission along the way. But Brown shows amazing perseverance and always keeps his eye on the prize, with amazing results.
As mentioned, Hops and Glory: One Man’s Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire is more than just a beer book, however. Beer is an important component here, to be sure, but the work is made up of equal parts travelogue and history lesson as well. That’s because the author’s attention to detail in this 451-page work is careful and true, and we truly get the feel we’re on board each vessel right along with him. The container ship leg of the journey, complete with boisterous captain and modern-day pirates, is perhaps the most intriguing of all.
Brown also weaves the history of India Pale Ale, the mighty East India Company, and British imperialism into the book as well. He alternates between chapters from the past and his own adventures, weaving them together to form a perfect tale that’s hard to put down and that entertains as much as it educates.
Brown’s affable writing style is also a credit here. Take one part Douglas Adams and another Michael Jackson (the beer hunter folks, not the gloved one), and you have an idea what Brown’s style is like. His use of humor helps the book along nicely, and is just another reason why Hops and Glory: One Man’s Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire is so much fun.
Whether you’re a seasoned beer veteran, a recent neophyte, or don’t even drink the stuff at all, there’s something for you in Hops and Glory: One Man’s Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire. The book is published in the United Kingdom is not always easy to find in the U.S., though I got a copy amazingly cheap from Amazon Canada. It came to me well recommended from a respected fellow beer enthusiast, and he was right on the money with this one.
Don’t miss it.