Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hops and Glory - Beer Book of the Year!

On Monday, when checking one of my various email accounts I noticed a message from saying that my copy of Pete Brown's "Hops and Glory" had finally shipped, after several delays and what have you. Imagine then my joyful surprise when the DHL man rang the doorbell on Tuesday morning and handed me a package containing the long awaited book. Let me just say that I hate, literally hate, being unemployed - I hate not contributing to the household, hate not doing something vaguely useful, hate the feeling of uselessness, but when the book you have been waiting for arrives then I guess the chance to read it undisturbed is a good thing, and sure enough 22 hours later it was finished.

It was through my good friend Jay, who is coming to CVille this weekend, that I became aware of Pete Brown. Jay gave me his copy of "Three Sheets to the Wind" and I got repeated strange looks on the metro in Prague for chuckling out loud at points. So I was really looking forward to "Hops and Glory".

For those few people living in the outer reaches of the universe, "Hops and Glory" is about India Pale Ale, and Pete's journey taking a cask of a specially made beer from Burton-on-Trent to India by ship, around the Cape of Good Hope. The book thus is part travelogue, part history, part beery geekdom, and eminently readable. Pete has a talent for letting the reader in on his inner feelings, so much so that you can clearly imagine headed toward the equator on a sail boat - or perhaps it was just my seething jealousy?

In the chapters about the history of the British in India and the characters that sailed from our tiny islands to the far flung corners of the earth it is impossible not to feel a certain amount of pride - quickly followed by a healthy dash of liberal guilt for the unseemly side of Empire. In discussing though the racism that became part and parcel of the Raj in the latter years of the 19th century, I think it is important to remember that this was the era when blind nationalism became the rage throughout Europe and not just a British thing.

The chapters about the actual making of an original IPA recipe were of course fascinating for my inner beer geek, especially given that the American version is fast becoming one of my favourite styles over here, hence the picture at the bottom of this post. I find myself very much agreeing with Pete that American IPAs could use a healthier dollop of malt to balance out the hoppiness, thankfully the Northern Lights in the picture does have a nice marmeladey sweetness to back up the citrusy hops. Completely incidently I have been drinking a fair bit of Bass Pale Ale recently, a beer which I actually quite enjoy - one of the upshots of reading the book is wishing that I had enough cash to rescue Bass from the grip of A-B InBev and restore it to its former glory (even though it is a perfectly drinkable pale ale as it is).

I really don't want to give too much away about the actual contents of the book, but I would encourage you to rush out, if you haven't already, and buy it. If you are one of my American readers then visit and get it from Canada, you really won't be disappointed.

Well done Pete in writing a simply superb book.

Just a little side note, it was kind of weird at first seeing the names of people who follow, have commented on this blog and even that I have sat and drunk with being mentioned, but I guess the beer world is like that and I for one thoroughly enjoy being a small part of it.


  1. "I think it is important to remember that this was the era when blind nationalism became the rage throughout Europe and not just a British thing"

    While that's true, not everyone else in Europe felt the need to go round the world spreading the feeling on the point of a bayonet to all the folks browner than themselves. In terms of sheer scale, I think we British get the prize there.

  2. In terms of scale sure. But let's not forget that there was a race for empires which the French, Italians, Spanish, Belgians, Portuguese and Germans all happily took part in, usually in the name of civilising the barbarian hoardes. You could almost say that wherever Europeans went it was a sad day for the natives.

    Reminds me of a joke: why did the sun never set on the British Empire? Because not even God trusts the English in the dark.

    But I think we tend to forget the positives the Bitish Empire left behind - I have this vision in my mind of a group of revolutionaries asking "what did the Brits ever do for us?" a la Monty Python. Things such as a model of parliamentary democracy (and yes you can argue that is nothing uniquely British), robust legal systems, the English language (as Pete Brown points out, India has almost hundreds of millions of native English speakers driving their economy - one reason I think they may be the next superpower over China), and let's not forget cricket! ;)

  3. Berlin's Olympiastadion is a real asset to the city, and most of what we know today about the effects of very low temperatures on the human body come from German scientists of the 1940s.

    No, I don't buy the Good Effects of Bad Things argument.

    (Godwin's Law in three -- a record for beer blog comments?)

  4. I wasn't actually referring to the Nazis when I used Germany as an example of empire building, rather the years from 1871 - 1914 and Kaiser Wilhelm's efforts to establish German colonies in Africa.

  5. "A small sausage factory outside Tanganika" as Captain Blackadder put it.

    No, I just meant it's really specious to reason that terrible things, like the British Empire, are some way justifiable by their perceived positive effects. It's the "Mussolini made the trains run on time" argument, and it's bollocks (and not just because Musso did no such thing).

  6. And yet there are all these nations happy and willing to be part of the successor to Empire, the Commonwealth, and even a few never part of the Empire who joined the Commonwealth.

    Empire-building is part and parcel of humanity, it's just that these days the multi-nationals do it instead of kings and queens. Is it better to have an empire which enriches a few Harvard graduates instead of one which enriches a German housewife?

  7. It's not. Neither is acceptable, or justifiable, when they leave people poor and dead in their wake.

    You've hit on a fundamental difference between Empire and Commonwealth there: self-determination. In the old days when a nation asked to leave the Empire the response wasn't usually a pat on the head and "off you go there, Ghandi".

  8. I don't want to sound like Neil from the Young Ones but, whoah, this comments thread is heavy...

    I have nothing sensible to add -- just wanted to let you know I'm reading!

  9. Bailey,

    true, very true - shame this isn't being done in the confines of a decent pub with plenty of stout and whiskey!


    Playing devil's advocate a little here, but if Empire had been such a totally negative experience, why join up to the club intended as its replacement? It suggests to me that a lot of the nations that formed both Empire and Commonwealth kind of like being within the British sphere of, diminshed influence, but not the Empire.

    Just thoughts, feel free to take aim.

  10. I'm not saying it was a totally negative experience. I'm saying it was a mixed experience whose bad bits (all the dead people) don't make up for the good bits (jurisprudence and bilingualism). Otherwise you'd have to start asking "how many dead Sepoys is parliamentary democracy worth?" 100? 1000?

    Bottom line is: going around the world, planting your flag, inculturating the natives at gunpoint and taking all their pepper/oil/diamonds is A Bad Thing and Ought Not Be Encouraged.

    I'm out of whiskey. This debate is brought to you by BrewDog Zeirgeist.

  11. I think I will have to make a German ale and call it Sitz im Leben!

  12. Cheers for the review, I ordered the book on Amazon.


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