Tag: IPA

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The last drop of Calcutta

The world through a White Shield glass – what a lovely world it is. Thanks to BLTP for the photos.
Last Thursday, above the Rake, I finally reached the end of the road with Hops & Glory. A final reading, a few last book signings (sorry to everyone who just got ‘Cheers, Pete Brown’ – the well of inspiration has truly run dry) and a few very special beers.
The event was also unique in that Steve Wellington, brewer of my Calcutta IPA as well as the incomparable Worthington White Shield, and other rarer, even more wonderful beers, left off his eternal battle with his bloody bottling line and came all the way to London to share his perspective on our adventure and on IPAs generally – carrying with him the last ever pin of Calcutta IPA.
Me, Steve Wellington, and Jo Miller of Different World Drinks – who kindly lent us Steve for the evening.

We kicked off with the White Shield and Steve told us about the ageing of it, and how it develops over the years. Hot on the heels of John Keeling talking about this at the tenth anniversary of the Fuller’s Fine Ale Club the other week, it impressed upon me that ageing – not wood ageing/whisky ageing necessarily, but just letting beers get older – is a new (or rather rediscovered) frontier in making great beer, and it’s exciting to see master brewers exploring something that’s new even to them.

We moved on to Seaforth from Thornbridge. This is an all-English ingredients version of Jaipur, the most awarded beer at British beer festivals over the past few years. Seaforth is more of an authentic IPA than the very, very nice new-world influenced Jaipur. It’s darker and slightly maltier, balanced, but still with a definite hop kick. It’s is a limited edition beer, and my link to it is that Thornbridge very kindly asked me to come up with the name for it.
After reading out a bit more of the book, we moved on to Sheffield’s Hillsborough Hotel Crown Brewery IPA. CrownBrewerStu has built his profile in the online beer world quite significantly this year, and from a base of Sheffield’s hardcore tickers his beers are acquiring a deserved wider cult following. After reading Hops & Glory Stu invited me to brew a 7% traditional IPA with him. It was a hop monster – five kilos of Crown, Target and Chinook hops in a three barrel brew. Stu then stored the beer in a garage which hits temperatures of thirty degrees through the summer. When we tasted the new brew it was almost unbearably hoppy – I said almost. The four months ageing has already taken off the bitter edge but the resiny aroma is still present. It’s a beer for IPA lovers, reminiscent of what our next beer was like when first brewed.
Purists might argue that those Chinook hops prevent us from being able to call Crown IPA authentic. But in the 1870s, when IPA was at its peak, we had to import hops from North America, so to suggest that North American IPAs are different from traditional English ones is not necessarily true.
Finally, we moved onto the Calcutta. I didn’t know what to expect – the beer is now almost two and a half years old. Beers that didn’t go on the long sea voyage would be cellar-aged before being sold, and in the book I’d already postulated that the effects of cellar ageing on the beer were similar to the sea voyage – it just takes longer. The beer I had in India tasted different from beer from the same batch drunk in London at the same time.
Well, the stay-at-home beer has now surpassed the voyage beer in terms of changes to its character. It had a funky nose, a hint of spirit. On the palate it was quite flat. The hop character has gone, replaced by something that’s almost winey – the beer is sharp, fruity and a little dusty, with an edge of Lambic sourness around the sides. As we tasted it, the Raj’s descriptions of this as a ‘wine of malt’, and the accusation from one of my audience in Calcutta that this was “wine, not beer”, made perfect sense. It doesn’t taste like beer. For a few seconds, you’re not sure whether you like it or not. And then, suddenly, you adore it.
A few days after the event, I found out that Hops & Glory had sold out. This is an adventure that began exactly three years ago, in December 2006, and now, finally, I feel like it’s over. The book won me the top gong in my field and exceeded expectations in sales terms. It cost me thousands and put me in therapy for a year. And in therapy speak, in that room above the Rake, I got closure on it. It was a great night – a perfect end to the adventure. Thanks to everyone who came.
Thanks also to Glyn at the Rake and Melissa at LoveBeerAtBorough, who organised and staged the event, to all the above brewers for kindly donating their beers, and most of all to Steve for coming all the way to join me for the party, and for brewing this amazing beer.

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Feeling privileged…

… because I was recently asked to name a new beer!  Seaforth is the latest release fromThornbridge, an ‘English’ India Pale Ale. 

This is blue and the text doesn’t look weird until I post it here.  
I’ve no idea why blogger has had a go at changing the design.

What this means is that it’s similar to Jaipur, but brewed with 100% English ingredients, making it much closer to what the early nineteenth century IPAs would have been like.  I haven’t had chance to taste it yet, but it’s dry-hopped, darker than many IPAs, and very hoppy, according to head brewer Stef.  I can’t wait to try it.

Why Seaforth?  Well, it sounds like a good name for an IPA, doesn’t it? BUt it has a very special place in IPA’s history.
Anyone who’s read J Stevenson Bushnan’s 1853 book ‘Burton and its Bitter Beer’ will know that the two ships that transported the first cargo of Samuel Allsopp’s India Ale from Liverpool to Calcutta were the Bencoolen and the Seaforth.  The Seaforth arrived a few weeks after the Bencoolen, so what makes it special?
Well, when I was in the Indian National Library in Calcutta, I found the edition of the Calcutta Gazette from 1823, around the time these ships arrived.  At that time, London brewer George Hodgson dominated the Indian market and was restricting supply to maximise his profit, refusing credit terms to everyone, and generally pissing off the most powerful corporation the world has ever known.  The cargo of Allsopp’s ale that arrived on the Bencoolen sold for about two thirds of what Hodgson’s did, such was his reputation, and on that basis Allsopp would have failed – and that would have meant no Burton IPA.  But one of the ads around the arrival of the Seaforth reveal an extraordinary stroke of luck:
REJECTED BEER
To be sold by Public Auction, by Messrs Taylor & Co, on the CUSTOM HOUSE WHARF, by permission of the Collector of Sea Customs, at eleven o’ Clock precisely, on Saturday next, the 28th Instant, 48 HOGSHEADS of Hodgson’s BEER, and 17 empty HOGSHEADS, landed from the ship Timandra, and 30 hogsheads of Hodgson’s BEER, landed from the ship Seaforth. 
Hodgson had sent out a dodgy batch of beer on the same ship as Allsopp’s second consignment, which had arrived in perfect condition.  This allowed Allsopp to get into the market, and the consignment on the Seaforth sold for double that on the Bencoolen.  People then tasted IPA brewed in Burton for the first time, realised how superior it was to London IPA, and the rest is history.  You can read that history in Hops and Glory of course.  
So what better name for an English IPA brewed just up the road from Burton? 

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Normal service about to be resumed.

My audience at the Borders Book Festival was marginally bigger than that shown here.
It’s been a crazy, fantastic few weeks around the book launch.  As you can tell by my lack of posting, my feet have hardly touched the ground.  There are so many stories I wanted to share, but I’ve forgotten most of them.
Billy and Declan proved to sceptical Three Sheets readers that they are indeed real, and that I did not exaggerate them in any way.  The Animal Lover With No Arms now looks at them suspiciously when they run into him in Galway, so we think they’ve been rumbled.  At first they thought they might get away with it because no-one in his family can read, but word has got out.  And Declan informed us that he has been diagnosed with scurvy.  When the doctor asked him when he had last eaten fruit, he replied, “Ah, that would be the early 1980s.”
The following week, the drunkenness moved to Burton on Trent.  I was invited to lunch at the Burton Club – an institution I didn’t even know existed when I wrote Hops & Glory, but which was founded by the men I’ve spent two years researching.  On to the Coopers Tavern for the Burton book launch.  A more intimate and less glamorous affair than Brew Wharf, but with attendees from White Shield, Thornbridge, Acorn, Burton Bridge and the Crown Brewery at Sheffield’s Hillsbrough Hotel, it was great to get a gaggle of brewers around to taste the last remaining cask of Calcutta IPA.  At nearly two years old, it was starting to resemble the beer I opened in India after the journey.  A wonderful experience… until someone knocked the cask and it fell to the floor, churned up, but still about half full.  Ah well.  Was invited to brew IPAs by both Acorn and Crown, and will be doing so in July, around the Derby Beer Festival and my reading at the Devonshire Cat on the 9th.  Me and Mrs Pete Brown’s Beer Blog will also be brewing again at Thornbridge that week.  I really am spoilt.  And getting Mrs PBBB to clean out the copper should be the spectator event of the year.
The following weekend saw me rubbing shoulders with Richard Stilgoe and John McCarthy on Excess Baggage on Radio 4, which seems to have gone down really well, and I got my sailing piece in the Guardian (before you follow this link – I’m sorry about the headline.  This was a sub-editor who simply didn’t know any better.  I would never knowingly try to appropriate the title they gave me).  Sales went berserk as a result – Amazon ran out and everything, so I was well pleased.  Spent the day at the Beers of the World Live/BBC Good Food Show on the Worthington White Shield stand, and the response was fantastic – hopefully a lot of fathers were pleased last Sunday, because I signed an awful lot of books to people who felt they’d found the perfect gift.  
White Shield are sponsoring my reading tour and couldn’t be more helpful.  If you live around the Midlands look out for Hops and Glory Ale, a special cask version of White Shield with the book cover design on the pump clip.  And soon, White Shield in Sainsburys will carry a neck collar offering a great deal on the book.  This legendary beer isn’t that easy to get hold of, but it’s having a huge renaissance and the ancient, creaking former museum brewery can’t brew enough beer to meet demand.  It’s a fantastic experience to take it round and introduce it to people who have never tasted it before – a true taste of a traditional English IPA.
And then it was off to Scotland.  Attendance at my Scottish launch event was disappointing because we’d moved the date from Thurs to Weds, only to find we’d moved it into a direct clash with an Oasis gig and, just a hundred yards away, the launch of the Edinburgh Film Festival.  But it was great to have the Caledonian Brewery to ourselves.  I had a fascinating chat with a woman from The Scotsman, and met a journalist whose girlfriend is a direct descendant of Samuel Allsopp!  I spent so long trying to find info on him, and here at the launch I was hearing that there are lots of family stories about him, few of which are complimentary.
And on Saturday, down to the tiny town of Melrose for the Borders Book Festival, which has nothing to do with the chain, but is organised by a bunch of wildly enthusiastic and kind people who live there.  It takes place in a few marquees in the grounds of a beautiful big old house.  And after I got over the shock and nervousness and feeling of being inadequate and a fraud to be in the same room and on the same bill as Ian Rankin, Vince Cable, Hardeep Singh Kohli, Jim Naughtie and David Aaronovich, I had a fantastic time.  My reading was well-attended, and the complimentary Deuchars IPA was swiftly despatched.  If you love books, do yourself a favour and go to this festival next year.  I certainly will be, even if it is as a paying punter rather than a performer.
My tour continues throughout the summer.  Please do come along if I’m near you.  There’ll be free beer and everything.
Hopefully now though, I can get back to talking about beer and pubs and the wonderful and frustrating industry I find myself stuck in. 

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The fruits of labour

Talk to any author for more than ten minutes (and if you ask them about their work, you’ll be there for at least that long) and you can be pretty sure that at some point they’ll unintentionally use language that compares writing to giving birth. No massive insight there, the creative process and all that. Someone once said that giving birth to a child is like shitting a bowling ball. Obviously writing is not as physically arduous as that, but the mental equivalent to shitting a bowling ball sounds about right. And while writing is not as painful as childbirth, do bear in mind that the labour usually lasts for around two years.

But there are of course some wonderful aspects to both. You know when the expectant couple get their first little scan of the foetus and bring it home to show everyone? The equivalent for me is when I see the first cover design. It’s the point at which the book stops being something that exists only in my head and on my laptop and starts to take on an independent life of its own. So here it is!


Another thrill is when it gets listed on Amazon for the first time, and that just happened too. I was very touched to see that someone has already pre-ordered it, and that’s not me or my wife.

This book has ruled my life for two years – I was heavily into it by the time I first started blogging. I can’t wait to get the bastard finished and unleashed on the world. I’ve finished the first draft and it’s now with my editor, but it’s far too long and we’re going to have to cut about a third of it out – expect lots of IPA-themed blog entries to appear on here as they’re slashed from the book (a process Steven King refers to as ‘killing your babies’).

The book comes out on June 5th 2009.

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The campaign for real ale is almost two hundred years old!

Where does the term ‘real ale’ originate?

Any CAMRA member or beer historian will tell you that in the early seventies, four discontented beer drinkers founded the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale, before amending this to the snappier Campaign for Real Ale, coining a term to differentiate cask conditioned ales from what they saw as worthless, ersatz fizzy brews.

Whatever disagreements I’ve had with CAMRA in the past, I’ve always said that this was a PR masterstroke. So I was astonished to discover this loaded term being used long, long before CAMRA’s hated keg beers were even a twinkle in some demonic corporate brewer’s eye.

On April 13 1809, the Calcutta Gazette carried countless ads for beer. Most of these were for pale ale (not yet referred to as India Pale Ale), the majority promoting “HODGSON’S very best PALE ALE, Brewed for this Climate and warranted of a Superior Quality.”

But one ad was different. I couldn’t make a copy of it, as the paper would have disintegrated, but it read: REAL ALE
To be sold by Public Auction
By Williams and Hohler
At their Auction-room
On MONDAY next, the 17th April 1809,
ONE Hundred and Forty-three Dozen
of excellent REAL ALE, warranted
good, the property of an Up-Country Trader,
leaving of business. For the convenience of Purchasers, it
will be put up in lots of Three Dozen. So what was the ‘false’ ale they were seeking to differentiate from? Well, maybe keg ale, or something similar to it, is older than we thought too. W L Tizard, a Professor of Brewing, wrote the following in his account of how to brew beers for export in his 1843 book Theory and Practice of Brewing: “It is imperatively necessary that all extraneous vegetable matter which forms the yeast, lees &c. be removed; because the agitation during the voyage would otherwise produce extreme fretting, leakages and premature acidity.”
So ‘real ale’ is beer that still has yeast present in the cask, whereas other beers have the yeast removed. If IPA and other nineteenth century beers had all their yeast removed, does that mean they were not technically real ales at all, but the forerunners of the dreaded keg? And could the ad above therefore be evidence that some CAMRA hardliners have perfected time travel and gone back to protest against what might be an uncomfortable bit of trivia for anyone who thinks the only decent beer is one that is carrying on a secondary fermentation in the cask? Or is the fight for cask beer older than we thought?

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The other journey – the journey through time

I didn’t see much of Kolkata – not its present day incarnation, anyway. But during my brief time in the city, I found something much more thrilling. And I believe there may be as many as a dozen people in the world who will agree with me when I tell you what it is.

In my previous books, where I’ve dug into history I’ve relied on the same secondary sources as most other writers. Maybe I’ve read around the subject a little more than most beer writers do, trying to put beer into its proper context, but I’m no historian, and I didn’t push back any boundaries of knowledge. For that, I always direct people to Martin Cornell’s book, which had the misfortune to be released two months after my first. Martin made a point of not including anything he couldn’t check from an original source. And while this means maybe some things that were probably true were not included because they weren’t definitely true, his book remains the most factually accurate history of beer there is.

Inspired partly by Martin, and encouraged by the fact that I had a tight niche compared to the whole history of beer, I though a bit of original research using primary sources would not only be fitting , but fun. And I’m hooked – it’s like being a time-travelling detective.

I spent my last day in Kolkata in the Indian National Library, persuading them to dig out their archived, worm-eaten copies of the Calcutta Gazette, the paper of record during the days of the East India Company’s rule of Bengal. Advertising today tells you the story of a society – what its obsessions and values are – and it’s no different in history. The ads in the Gazette from the 1780s to the 1840s tell the story of the evolution of India Pale Ale in a way it has never been told before. Added to what I’ve already found in the archives of the Museum of Brewing in Burton, and in the archives of the East India Company, I’ve managed to pull together a complete rewrite of the history of this wonderful beer style. The gist of the legend is correct, but some very important details of it are wrong – based on entirely reasonable suppositions, but different when you have all the facts.

Unfortunately, my book is now not due for release until early 2009 (publishing schedules being a mystery to any writer who is not the author of a celebrity kiss and tell), so I can’t reveal the juicy details right now.

But the man thing that stays with me is nothing to do with beer itself, and may impart some of the thrill I felt – as I was looking for the notice of auctions for the ale and porter that had arrived in 1790, I noticed the front page headline of the paper I was holding. It talked about updating the Gazette’s readers on “The Commotions in France.” No, not an early tour by Lloyd Cole’s criminally underrated band. I was holding the newspaper that was informing the British in India of the unfolding French Revolution.

I think that was the point where I fell in love with primary historical research.

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The Beer Part Two

We had an explosive end to my quest to take IPA on its traditional journey for the first time in 150 years – but it all worked out OK in the end.

Thanks to an enormous stroke of good fortune, I was in India at the same time as the British Beer and Pub Association were attending a trade show. Janet Witheridge, whose job it is to promote exports of British beer, and her husband Robin, very kindly stayed on after the show – instead of going home, they came to Kolkata with me, roped in the British High Commission and organised a press reception for the opening of Kevin the Keg.

After yet another last minute hitch – the hotel where the reception was organised turned round at the last minute and demanded complicated things like papers proving I’d paid excise duties and stuff, whereas in fact I had paid $275 bribes for which, funnily enough, I hadn’t been able to get a receipt – the reception happened at the Deputy British High Commission in India, and I was introduced by the Deputy High Commissioner himself.

Sadly the brewer of our beer, Steve Wellington, couldn’t make it because sales of Worthington White Shield are up by an incredible 67% this year and he’s brewing round the clock. So it was up to me to tap the keg. As the journos started to arrive, I attached the custom-built keg coupler and pushed down…

At this point I should probably mention that the function suite at the Deputy High Commission had just been extensively redecorated. The smell of fresh paint still filled the room. The suite wasn’t officially reopened yet, and was open early especially as a huge favour to us. As the beer shot ten feet through the air, taking out the back row of seats and giving a comprehensive sticky sheen to the shining new marble floor, few people seemed interested in my explanation of live beer. residual yeast and the effects of the journey. The staff looked on in uncomprehending horror, and the Deputy High Commissioner had to call on every ounce of the incredible fund of tact and diplomacy needed to do a job like his.

The beer in the keg was different again to that in the jeroboam. Unlike the bottle it was dry-hopped, and that wonderful fresh hop aroma was the first thing that hit. The tropical fruit aroma behind it was similar to what I’ve already described. The taste was much more mellow and complex, with the malt reasserting itself now against the hop attack. As well as the rich summer fruit, there was a thin stream of caramel, not thick and obvious, but the golden, gloopy kind you get in Cadbury’s Caramel bars, light and not too cloying. The elements of the beer ran into each other, finishing smooth and dry.

And when the catering staff finished mopping up spilt beer and started bring round the tandoori canapes, it cut through the heat and harmonised beautifully with the spices. In India, drinking a beer specially brewed for the climate, with food like that the boys of the Raj would have eaten while drinking the beer, I finally realised that, after a very wonky and jittery journey, I’d finally done it – here was a real IPA, back in its home for the first time in modern India. Words cannot describe the feeling.

It’s a bloody wonderful beer. I hope we haven’t seen the last of it – watch this space for news of any potential future brews.

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Jerry the Jeroboam

A few days ago in Delhi, I opened the first bottle of IPA to travel around the Cape of Good Hope to India for at least 140 years.

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.

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We made it!

Well, as far as India anyway.

12 weeks after leaving Burton, I find myself in Mumbai. After five weeks of monastic isolation on the container ship, going stir crazy and risking scurvy from the dire food, Mumbai has stunned me into a numb daze. I can’t cope with all the people!

The beer survived. We find out how it tastes on Friday 7th December, at a trade show in Delhi.

So many tales to tell. If you ever decide to arrive in India by sea port, make sure you have plenty of US dollars with you. Cost me $275 to get off the ship and out of the port, and that’s without them knowing about the beer. Of course, iot was all high;y illegal, but the alternative was staying on the ship unhtil Durban ands missing India altogether. Apart from missing the point of the whole exercise, I couldn’t stand another portion of the cook’s charred liver and soggy mash.

More updates soon. I am dying for a decent beer…