Hops and Glory: One Man's Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire by Pete Brown

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Hops and Glory: One Man's Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire by Pete Brown

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Category: Travel
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Paul Harrop
Reviewed by Paul Harrop
Summary: An ambitious and largely successful attempt to combine a history of British brewing and colonial adventures with a modern-day travel yarn.

Recommended for beer lovers and bar-room adventurers alike.

Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: June 2009
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-0230706354

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Being a beer writer can't be the easiest route to respect in journalism. But with this book Pete Brown has done much to counter the sceptical, even dismissive, attitudes which must surround his trade and its subject matter. He has attempted to combine a history of British imperialism and the brewing industry with the comic 'quest' genre of travel writing. Against all the odds, he has largely succeeded.

This is partly because his self-imposed challenge - to lug a keg of beer half way round the world by sea - is not as pointless as it might first seem. He wanted to prove that such a journey was integral to the success of one of Britain's most popular, yet unsung exports: India pale ale, or IPA.

The brew was invented in Burton on Trent and this is where Brown starts his journey. First he has to find an obliging brewer to re-create the distinctive strong ale. Then he has to organise the logistics of travel via barge, train, plane, cruise ship, sailing boat and container vessel, from the Midlands to Mumbai.

Needless to say, this is not easy and is fraught with mishap, tangles with bureaucracy and corrupt officialdom. However, thanks to his contacts in the brewing world, lots of Googling, and an often mentioned long-suffering wife, Brown does eventually wind up in India with a cask of beer. It's not the same beer that he sets out with, in more ways than one. For one thing, his point is that the journey improved IPA where other beers would have spoiled. The other thing is that he's almost tragically accident-prone.

Brown is appropriately self-deprecating about his shortcomings, and the reader sympathises with his misfortunes. So the travel elements of the book are engaging and suspense-filled. His style is chatty, and he's as likely to reference The Fast Show or Peter Kay as more academic sources, even in the lengthy chapters on the history of beer and British involvement in India.

The latter does take up a fair proportion of Hops and Glory. Arguably the Honourable East India Company deserves a full book to itself (and no doubt there are already many). However, Brown does a creditable job of summarising the existing facts about this Corrupt, perfidious and rapacious organisation, its rise and downfall. I particularly liked his sardonic asides comparing past perfidies with modern-day politics and commerce.

Brown mentions the months he spent in the British Library researching such detail. So you can understand his reluctance to leave any of it out. Nevertheless there was, for me, slightly too much history and not enough of his own story in the book. Others may disagree, and will welcome the informal and accessible presentation of his research.

He makes a fair fist of integrating the historical materials and the details of his own trip. But maybe inevitably, they do stand as separate stories, and some aspects of his modern day capers sit uneasily with colonial atrocities.

That said, I learned a great deal about British brewing, its regrettable decline and takeover by corporate giants, as well as about the massive role of beer in Britain's history and economy (a fact, Brown points out, effectively erased from the curriculum by the temperance movement). I also enjoyed Brown's easy-going style and honest personality. Despite the book's occasional over-ambition in juggling too many weighty subjects (as well as barrels of beer), I would recommend it to any fan of travel writing or of real ale.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For a little about beer and a lot about other drinks we can recommend How to Drink by Victoria Moore.

Buy Hops and Glory: One Man's Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire by Pete Brown at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Hops and Glory: One Man's Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire by Pete Brown at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Hops and Glory: One Man's Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire by Pete Brown at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Hops and Glory: One Man's Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire by Pete Brown at Amazon.com.

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