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Monday, 17 December 2007

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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