I’ve started work on a third book. It’ll be my best one yet, if I can make it work – but that is a very big if.
It started when Three Sheets to to the Wind won the British Guild of Beer Writers Travel Bursary Award just before Christmas. I got a nice cheque inside a rather wonderful tankard, and everyone simply assumed I’d be spending it on a new adventure rather than a quiet weekend away with Liz, my wife, detoxing at some retreat somewhere.
Chris then suggested that Three Sheets was more a list of great beer locations than a travel book per se – what about writing about a great beer journey? But beer doesn’t travel well. There aren’t really any great beer journeys unless… oh, there is one. Not just a big one; an epic one.
India Pale Ale was developed as a beer style in the heyday of the East India Company, when this private corporation ruled half a continent. Before refrigeration it was too hot to brew in India, and it took about six months for beer exports to get there. The beer was often flat, sour and undrinkable when it arrived. India Pale Ale (IPA) was an attempt to get beer there in decent condition. It was brewed with loads of hops – which act as a natural preservative, high alcohol content – again, alcohol has grat preservative qualities – and was dry-hopped for good measure (fresh hops added to the cask before it is sealed).
It was then sent on a journey through the Atlantic, round the Cape of Good Hope, and across the Indian Ocean to Calcutta. The constant rolling motion and the temperature fluctuations of up to 30 degrees C didn’t ruin IPA like other beers – these conditions matured it in a unique way, so it arrived not just drinkable, but bright and sparkling – perfect for the climate. If you’re familiar with this story, you’ll know a few more of the details, but not much more. IPA is currently enjoying a bit of a resurgence and people are doing all sorts with it – making it with new styles of hop, pushing up the alcohol content… but no-one has recreated the journey that made the beer what it is.
So I’m having a Burton-on-Trent brewer recreate a beer to the old-style recipe, and we’re going to take it by barge from Burton, then by ship, on the old IPA route. Not so much ‘Round Ireland with a Fridge’ as ‘Round the Cape with a Cask.’
It’s going to take about three or four months. We might get attacked by pirates. But it’s one of those ideas that, once you’ve had it, you simply have to follow through.
I’ll be posting regular updates here thoiughout the journey, and we have some speculative interest from TV, press and radio people.
So it’s very exciting. The only problem is finding a boat.
Since the Suez Canal opened in 1869, people don’t go this way any more. That’s what makes it interesting – but interesting is often just another word for difficult. If you know anyone with a ship who might be interested…