Jerry the Jeroboam didn’t quite do the whole journey from the UK, having joined me in Rio, but he did do 10,000 miles by sea, braving storms and pirates, and did go round the Cape and through the Indian Ocean.
We opened him at IFE, a trade show where food and drink producers form around the world come to sell their wares to India. I did a presentation about my trip to an audience of press and curious delegates, and then we opened the bottle.
I was extremely nervous as I chipped away the wax seal, sending black shards and dust across the room, disturbing the pigeons in the roof of the conference centre. The cork didn’t explode out of the bottle. That was a good sign. I had a short corkscrew on my Swiss Army Knife (Chris insisted I would need one and he was right). I pulled out the cork… and it broke half way. Gently now, I eased out the bottom half, hoping I wasn’t going to get shrapnel in my beer, and it emerge with a satisfying pop and a whiff of vapour. As soon as I saw this silver tendril creeping up like cigarette smoke, I knew we were going to be OK – the beer was lively, but not too lively.
It poured a rich, deep copper colour, slightly hazy. It reminded me of American IPAs – you could almost see the weighty alcohol content. The nose was an absolute delight – an initial sharp citrus tang, followed by a deeper range of tropical fruit – I was reminded of mango and papaya. Later, after it had breathed for a while, it went a bit sherberty. On the tongue it simply exploded with rich, ripe fruit, a little bit of pepper, and a wonderfully clean bitter finish that left my tongue buzzing.
I’m a bit biased because before this, Brahma lager is by some measure the best beer I’d had in the last two and a half months – that’s how bad it’s been – so my palate was starved and desperate. But I’d say the journey has definitely matured it from what I can remember of when we sampled it in Burton. It was smoother and more rounded, the different elements blending into each other a lot more. Comparing this to Melissa’s tasting notes when she sampled the same beer back in the UK, I’d say the journey has done what we all believed it was supposed to do. I’ve found large elements of the IPA story to be myth, but this central fact – it wasn’t just the brewer but also the journey that created this beer – holds up.
And my God, it was drinkable for 7%. It’s damn hoppy, and proves you can get a really big hop character on a par with the American IPAs without necessarily using West Coast American hops. But it was much more balanced than American IPAs. To my mind it’s the best of both sides of the Atlantic – as punchy as the best American IPAs; as balanced as the best British ones. I can firmly believe that this was what IPA used to taste like in India 150-200 years ago. It just makes perfect sense for the climate – not to mention the food.
Opening the keg tonight. The bottled beer was bright; the keg still has residual yeast, so we’re expecting something different again. And then flying home! I’ll fill in the results – plus many of the gaps from the last three months – once I’m over my jet lag.