Travel literature review: Hops & Glory

Hops and GloryHops and Glory by Pete Brown

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3.5 star

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Reviewed by Kirsten Rawlings

Hops and Glory: One Man's Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire is the story of India Pale Ale, the greatest beer that ever lived. It tells of ship life and colonial shenanigans during the prosperous times of the British Empire, and of the efforts of the book’s writer, English beer-loving bloke Pete Brown, to recreate that beer.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, various alcoholic beverages, with their perceived health benefits, were in demand in Britain’s colonies. India was too hot for brewing, and existing styles of imported beer, such as porter, spoiled on the voyage from Britain or didn’t suit the sweltering Indian climate. Enterprising British brewers developed a beer with the preserving effects of higher alcohol and hops levels, which would mature on the journey to the subcontinent. India Pale Ale became a raging success. Beer lovers should note that the many IPA-style brews on the market today, while delicious, bear little resemblance to the original. To recreate the mythical brew Brown must not only get the recipe right but also the process: he sets out with the beer (affectionately named Barry) on a sea journey halfway around the world.

Because Brown is a bloke and this book is presumably aimed largely at a male audience (it’s about beer, you know), there is lots of swearing. At least, there is an apology to his mum for all the swearing. But don’t let this blokey facade fool you. Brown is constantly self-deprecating (‘I was impressed that I still remembered from Scouts twenty-five years ago how to tie a bowline incorrectly’) and his anxiety actually becomes quite touching as he details his mistakes, from the minor but humiliating (falling overboard) to the catastrophic (let’s just say Barry loses weight). So, really, it’s not that blokey and there isn’t even much swearing.

For beer aficionados and home brewers such as myself there is fun to be had in the descriptions of the brewing process and the suspense about whether Barry will mature successfully and make Brown’s tears, bruises and debt worthwhile. The other half of the tale, describing the era and characters of 18th and 19th century England and India, shows impressive research.

Hops and Glory is a well-written travel book by a (to paraphrase Brown) beer writer who aspires to be a travel writer. It’s accessible not literary, but not dumb either. Brown has delivered an engaging, genial and often touching tale, so as a travel writer he is a success. He also succeeds in being a nervous Nelly, but that is part of the charm.

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