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Pledges for my new beer book - Miracle Brew - are now closed. Book is out 1st June and available for pre-order here.
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Monday, 6 August 2007

Pete's Big Adventure, or, Can You Take Obsession With a Beer Style Too Far?

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!


Jack Mockford said...

This could possibly be the best book ever written about beer! Best of luck with it Pete!

Knut Albert said...

A beer writer's wet dream! Be careful the Iranians don't confiscate the beer, though!

BLTP said...

pete have you talked to the inland waterways re a narrow boat maybe you could do a couple of days on section just for the taste of it and then get the train sort of mix and match, there are thame sbarges that do trips do the thames if that's of use

Anonymous said...

Good luck with this Pete. I look forward to reading the outcome. I agree with bltp, British Waterways must be interested in a little publicity from recreating a journey from their heyday.
You'll need a Captain on your ships... will he be going?

Bryce Eddings said...

Wow Pete! Great idea and I'm sure it'll be a great book! (No pressure) Sounds like a marvelous trip but you'd better take some reserve beer so you're not tempted to tap Barry in the South Atlantic heat.

Gavin said...

Wow, what an incredible trip. I can't wait for the book--I've always been a huge nerd about the Golden Age of sail as well as a beer geek, so you've combined two of my favorite things. Best of luck, hope it turns out well.

Melissa Cole said...

I think this is genius and I'm just gutted I didn't think of it first! x

Art Chavez said...


Embarking on such an epic adventure has thrusted you upon the throne as King of the Hop Heads! Best of luck to you on your journey. May you truly have fair winds and following seas. And please, save a drop for me! I look forward to reading the book.

Smooth sailing,

Art Chavez

Gregg Wiggins said...

As a U.S. beerwriter who grew up aboard sailboats (my father built them) I am enormously envious and am awaiting the chance to read about the trip. One question, however: is "Barry" a 19th-Century-style wooden cask or a modern metal pin?

Pete said...

Greg, Barry is a traditional wooden pin - almost. He's solid wood body, but has glass ends, so I can see how his insides are faring on the trip! This is a wonderful idea that's been used at the White Shield brewery, and probably loads of others, when making experimental brews.

Ann said...

I agree with this completely, thanks for the post.

terrycollmann said...

The East Indiamen regularly used to call in at Rio de Janeiro on their way down through the Atlantic to restock with food and so on, Pete, so going via Brazil is entirely authentic ...

Mike (Pint of Ale) said...

Good luck with the adventure, Pete. I', looking forward to the book already!


Anonymous said...

Aw man, nigga you is trippin. What the fuck homie, yall niggas just need to drink ya muhfuckin brews and quit being such bitches. Buy some OE and take it ta da head!

Jealousy said...

Godspeed sir! This truly is an adventure all of us beer fans would love to read about. You lucky bastard!

Anonymous said...

From the headline, I thought perhaps you were going to bring a cask of IPA all that way, unrefrigerated for months in a ship's hold, and then try to drink it, however skunked it might be.