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.