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Hops and Glory

Pete Brown

The story of India pale ale has been heard many times before. But has it? That’s more or less the premise that Pete Brown takes as he launches into a thorough exploration of the beer style.

Hops and GloryWhat he’s come up with is probably the definitive history of IPA – the beer, as the book’s subtitle has it, ‘that built the British Empire’ – and he’s done it not just by sitting in libraries and prowling around the internet, but by physically re-tracing the route that IPA followed, all the way from Burton-on-Trent to Calcutta.

What we have here is no dry, dusty tome that makes you want lose the will to live, but instead a rollicking modern travel story that makes you want to get out there and follow in the author’s footsteps.

In the fashion of Michael Palin, Bill Bryson, Tim Moore and others, Brown staggers his way from minor inconvenience to major disaster in his attempt to carry a cask of Burton IPA down through the Atlantic Ocean, around the Cape of Good Hope, past pirate-infested waters off Somalia and perilously close to the hotbeds of the Persian Gulf, all the way to India.

He writes with great enthusiasm and not a little introspection, as he wonders, on more than one occasion, whether it’s really all worth the effort. For the reader, it definitely is.

This is a funny, clever book that switches on a chapter-by-chapter basis between IPA’s glorious past and Brown’s own inglorious misadventures on the high seas. In both cases, you just can’t wait to find out what happens next.

As a history, it is light and informative; as a travelogue it is intriguing and good humoured, although justice is not served to either aspect by the rather dull title and po-faced cover.

I mentioned Palin, Bryson and Moore. Brown writes as well as any of them. There can be no better recommendation.

First published 2009

458-page hardback (Macmillan)


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