Barrel of laughs

2009-11-11 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Hops and Glory: One Man’s Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire

Pete Brown

MacMillan

UNQUESTIONABLY the greatest beer of them all (or so its devotees would have us believe), the original India Pale Ale (IPA), was created­ ­specifically for the British Raj, to meet the needs of the large expatriate ­community homesick for their daily pint.

In India, a century before refrigeration was invented, brewing beer was out of the question so some way had to be found of transporting it from England. By a process of trial and error British brewers eventually discovered that the best way to ­ensure the beer not only survived the 15 000 sea mile journey around the Cape of Good Hope but arrived in good shape the other end was to pump up both the hops levels and the alcoholic content.

In his wildly funny history-cum-travelogue, the award-winning ­writer of Man Walks into a Pub and Three Sheets to the Wind describes his attempt to re-enact the famous journey that gave birth to a beer — 140 years after the last cask was despatched to India.

As one would expect in such an ­eccentric quest, nothing goes quite to plan, Brown’s journey getting off to a somewhat inauspicious start when, a few miles outside Burton-on-Trent, he falls off the longboat carrying his especially brewed ­barrel of beer (nicknamed “Barry”) and lands in the canal, injuring himself in the process.

On the island of Tenerife he finds himself faced with a worst case ­scenario when “Barry” explodes, saturating his hotel bedroom.

For the Atlantic leg of his journey, Brown was lucky enough to hitch a ride on a century-old tallship and was able to experience, first hand, what sea conditions must have been like in the age of sail.

Brown is a natural storyteller with a good satirical eye and a nice line in sardonic observation. In a rollicking style that manages to be both tongue-in-cheek and buttonholing at the same time, he shows how the history of IPA beer was very much linked to that of that avaricious ­prototype of the modern global ­corporation — the English East India Company.

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