I wrote on here a few months ago about the plan for my new book. Well now it’s official. From September to December this year, I’m recreating the historic journey of India Pale Ale from Burton-on-Trent to Kolkata (Calcutta).
I like IPA. It’s my favourite beer style. I love the heady, citrus and tropical fruit rush of the American new wave, and revere those few examples of English beer that are faithful to the style rather thn simply appropriating the name for an average session bitter. And when I was challenged to do a great beer journey… well. As soon as the idea emerged, I had to do it.
So on 16th August, I’m in Burton-on-Trent brewing an authentic 19th century IPA with Steve Wellington, head brewer at the White Shield Brewery. At the beginning of September, we take a pin of this beer (four and a half gallons) from Burton to London, hopefully by canal (like it went before 1839), but if not, by train (like it went in its heyday).
Then on 16th September I leave the UK… on a P&O cruise ship! This gets me as far as Tenerife, where a few days later I board the Barque Europa (top), a nineteenth century tall ship who made me cry the first time I saw her. Tenerife was often a staging post for the old East Indiamen, so while it sounds like a great holiday, it’s still a kosher historical recreation.
As part of the extended crew of the Europa, Barry and I (that’s what I’m calling my beer – it’s short for ‘barrel’) sail south and across the Atlantic, and land in Salvador, Brazil, at the end of October. From here I have to cheat slightly, getting a flight down to Rio, where I board the Carribbean (right), a modern container ship.
Sailing ships would often drift, becalmed, for weeks in the mid-Atlantic doldrums, and would sometimes end up as far off their route as Brazil, so again, this is still accurate.
The Caribbean sails without stopping down the coast of Brazil, across the South Atlantic, round the Cape of Good Hope, and up the coast of East Africa. Then we stop at various points around the Arabian peninsular (including Iran) before landing in Mumbai. From Mumbai, I’m getting the train across to Kolkata (Calcutta), which used to be the main base of the East India Company. There, we’ll taste the beer and find out of the sea voyage, with its constant pitch and roll, and its thirty degrees celcius temperature change, really does condition the beer in the way we’ve always told each other it did.
This is an enormously exciting journey personally, but I also hope it’s of interest to anyone who brews or drinks IPA. And it’s an opportunity to put Burton-on-Trent back on the map as one of the world’s great brewing centres. No-one outside beer aficionado circles is aware of Burton’s former glories, and that’s something this book hopes to change.
I’ll be posting updates on here as frequently as I can. The book is due out in Summer 2008.And if you know anyone with a narrowboat on the English canals who might be interested in doing the first bit, please let me know!