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IPA and coaching inns: fine Xmas gifts

Added: Sunday, December 17th 2017

IPA cover

If you’re looking for a good read about beer or pubs or wish to give a last-minute gift to a like-minded friend, I would recommend the two books I have published this year.

IPA – A Legend in Our Time (Pavilion Books) is a major, 300-page analysis of the origins of India Pale Ale in the 19th century and its astonishing revival in recent years. IPA is now brewed in most countries in the world, including Italy, China and Japan. It’s the most popular beer style among 5,000 craft brewers in the United States and it was the biggest category at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival.

The book traces the origins of IPA in East London in the early 19th century, when a handful of brewers, placed close to the East India Docks, met a demand from the British in India for a more refreshing beer than the dark mild, porters and stouts sent to them. The brewers, notably Hodgson at Bow Bridge, took an ale called October Beer, that was aged for a year before drinking, and sent it in casks on the long sea journey to India.

They thought that a voyage lasting up to five months would replicate the ageing process at home. They were correct, for there was soon a clamour for consignments of October Beer, dubbed India beer or India Pale Ale.

The East India Company, which controlled trade in the sub-continent, encouraged brewers in Burton-on-Trent to brew beer for India. The Burton brewers were keen to take up the suggestion as they had lost the export of Burton Ale to Russia and the Baltic as a result of the wars with Napoleon’s France. They found that the mineral-rich waters of the Trent Valley were better suited to making a strong pale ale than London’s water, heavy with calcium carbonate, that created darker and sweeter beer.

Burton became not only the brewing capital of Britain but for a period was the most important brewing centre in the world.

But IPA’s heyday was brief. It was driven from the colonies by the arrival of lager beer from Europe and the U.S., and in Britain it became a pale shadow of its former self due to massive increases in beer duty imposed by the government during World War One.

The book traces the renaissance of IPA from the 1990s. A small discussion at the White Horse pub in South London, attended by Burton brewers, barley and hop farmers, and a few beer writers, including the late Michael Jackson, led to a major event at the old Whitbread brewery in the Barbican. Brewers from both the UK and the U.S., including Garrett Oliver, brought their interpretations of IPA and kick-started the revival here.

At the same time, the Harpoon Brewery in Boston, Massachusetts, launched an IPA, the first since Prohibition, and created such interest that brewers throughout the country rushed to produce their own versions.

The main section of the book is devoted to modern IPAs brewed throughout the world, with detailed tasting notes and descriptions. As well as beers based on the original model, there are now Double, Imperial and even Black IPAs, and some with the addition of fruit.

I also describe in detail how I brewed an IPA, using a Victorian recipe, with UBREW in South London, and the fascinating results of ageing the beer in wood for three months.

Angel & Royal

Historic Coaching Inns of the Great North Road (CAMRA Books) tells the fascinating story of Britain’s major route that ran from London to Edinburgh. The modern A1 follows the road but there are some major deviations: the Great North Road, before it was extended to Scotland, ended in York, but York is now some miles off the modern highway.

The book details the history of the road and its Roman origins. It was improved and extended by Henry VIII in order to develop a modern postal service. People followed the post and soon bigger coaches were designed to take travellers – in varying degrees of comfort – from London to the north.

coaching inns

The journeys were lengthy – four days from London to York and a further four days to Edinburgh. As a result, inns were extended to provide stabling for horses, and food, drink and accommodation for travellers. Coach travel was abruptly ended with the arrival of the railway in the 19th century but some 40 coaching inns have survived and it was my pleasure to visit them and tease out their fascinating histories and architecture.

It’s a rich treasure trove. Amazingly, the small village of Welwyn in Hertfordshire, which once stood proud on the Great North Road but is some distance from the A1, still has three superb old coaching inns.

Travelling north, you find the magnificent Angel & Royal in Grantham (pictured), where Richard III signed the death warrant for the Duke of Buckingham, and the stunning George in Stamford, with its famous “gallows” inn sign straddling the road. The George has York and London rooms with signs saying “40 up and 40 down”, signalling the number of coaches it handled every day.

York and Edinburgh have many fine old inns – one in York marking the spot where Dick Turpin’s body was held prior to burial. The notorious highwayman was hanged in York.

One inn not to be missed is the imposing Bell in Stilton, with its long association with England’s most famous cheese.

The book has a section devoted to a museum near Luton with a collection of old coaching inns. The book also has many literary extracts from the works of such inveterate coach travellers as Charles Dickens, Dr Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Samuel Pepys and Sir Walter Scott.

Dickens’ descriptions of some of the hardships endured will make you pleased the railway arrived and put an end to such discomforts. But pub lovers will be delighted that so many historic hostelries have survived.