Hops and Glory, By Pete Brown

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The Independent Culture

The British in 19th-century India, being British, wanted home comforts. But beer was difficult to brew in the hot climate, and the imported stuff tended to be undrinkable after months in the hold of a ship. India Pale Ale (IPA), a strong, hop-heavy beer brewed in Burton-on-Trent, was different; by some strange alchemy, it matured and fermented during the journey, and by the time it reached India, had assumed a taste that became famous throughout the Empire.

Intrigued by the IPA legend (and stuck for an idea for a new book), Pete Brown resolved to brew a cask to the traditional recipe and make the 18,000-mile journey by sea to the subcontinent, in an effort to recreate the beer that delighted the alcoholic Raj. He boarded an old-fashioned tall ship to cross the Atlantic to Rio, whence a container vessel took him around the Cape of Good Hope and north to Mumbai.

This account of his quixotic voyage can be a little slow-paced, but for the most part it's a lot of fun, Brown's engaging style carrying the narrative along on a wave of beery bonhomie. It's informative, too, with discursions on Britain's imperial history and the art of brewing adding some ballast.