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Posts Tagged ‘Hops and Glory’

It is interesting to see the contrast between the marketing of two different British beer books published this year.

One follows the old way of doing things, sending out review copies to some old chums writing in media wholly dependent of dead trees.

The other uses the social media, creates a buzz as the book is in the making, sets up a Facebook group, sends review copies to bloggers and tells us all about promotional activities in bookstores, in the media and at beer festivals on twitter.

Roger Protz is an old hand at beer writing. The subtitle of his book, Memoirs from a Life in Beer, is a bit misleading, I’d call it Snapshots from a Life in Beer.  It gives us glimpses from his travels over 3 decades. The book, A Life on the Hop,  is published by CAMRA, heavily promoted through CAMRA channels, but the coverage outside the ranks of the converted seems to be slim. Sure, there is a very positive review in the Westmoreland Gazette, bless them, but the google results for the title is mostly listings in online bookshops.

Pete Brown has two beer books under his belt, but he has been a very profiled beer writer for several years with articles turning up all over the place. He used his blog and his Facebook community around the project to promote his project about travelling halfway around the world with a barrel of beer.  Investing some of his time in the social media has then made it possible to use this network for promoting the book, Hops and Glory, when finished.

Both the books are well written and have a similarity in showing the clear voice of the author, giving  personal views without masquerading them as facts. I think A Life at the Hop could have benefited from an editor outside CAMRA headquarters with a little more critical distance. Some more general political remarks an asides on vegetarian menu options could, for example, have been weeded out, as they don’t add much to the tale. I expected more on the history of British beer culture over the last 30 years, too, but I suspect that is another book in the making.

But don’t think of that as a major objection. Both the books on my desk should appeal to roughly the same audience if you subtract the packaging and marketing. 

I assume both of these books will have some shelf life, and perhaps beer books are more suited for fireside reading when the nights grow longer. But the sales numbers so far are quite brutal if you look outside CAMRA at the more general market. Pete Brown is at #5 in amazon.co.uk sales ranking of beer books, while Roger Protz is at #73.

If you look at the beer blogs, you’d find a similar ranking. As printed beer magazines are few and far between those days, there are dozens of high quality beer blogs. That is the main scene today for discussing beer and anything beery.

Pete Browns publishers evidently sent out a fair number of review copies to beer bloggers around the world. And guess what – they (we) wrote about it. That’s what beer bloggers do. All with their own unique perspective.

And it’s not as if CAMRA books are not selling outside their own ranks. Ironically, the Good Beer Guide, edited by none other than Roger Protz is number two in the ranking.

I politely asked for review copies of both books. No prize for guessing which one I got. The other publisher didn’t even bother to answer my e-mail…

This is not rocket science. A similar way of building a core of online followers is done by BrewDog, beermerchants and others. They have video blogs, online competitions, twittering accounts and so on. And they, on occation, send out a box of beer to a friendly blogger. We are easy to please.

Though I never heard again from the guy who offered to send me some bottles of the new watered down version of Stella in hope of a review. Maybe he, after the initial approach, scrolled a bit further down my blog than the contact details. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen it praised on any other blogs either.

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I’ve been carefully skimming some of the other beer blogs recently, as I’ve tried not to read other reviews of this book before finishing my own. Well, I’m through, and, to jump to the conclusion, I can recommend this as an addition to your beer book shelf.

I think you know the plot already: English journalist/writer/beer blogger resurrects an original IPA in Burton, then takes it by canal and sea all the way to India in a rout similar to the one they used in the golden days of India Pale Ale.

Aesthetics first: A very nice book to receive. An old fashioned hard cover with thick creamy paper and a font that pleases the eye. It’s Macmillan that makes books the way books should be made. Much better to spend the money on high quality paper than on grainy sections of photographs.

And what kind of book is this? It appeals to a number of audiences, I’d think middle aged men like me dominate several of them:

  • It’s a beer book
  • It’s a travel book
  • It’s a humour book
  • It’s a history book

Does it succeed in all of these? Well, the travelogue would not stand on its own, but it’s the vehicle that drives the story forward. And it’s the travel that brings the anecdotes that makes you chuckle over and over again. Because parts of this is great fun. You’ll recognize Pete’s style from his previous books, he is good at describing encounters with everyone he meets – Brazilian prostitutes, Filipino crew, brewers and drinkers.

There is a dark backdrop to the fun in the story, a sadness at both ends of the journey. The brewing in Burton is just a shadow of its former self, and the future of British beer lies elsewhere.

But it’s the history of British rule in India, with an emphasis on beer and other alcoholic drinks, which is the really bleak stuff. There is no attempt to paint this in a rosy hue, and the story shows that the IPA so loved by British expats never was a drink available to the Indians. Small wonder, then, that it was forgotten there.

Hops and Glory is a personal book. While the documentation for the factual bits seem to be in proper order, there is a personal voice here that dares to speak up against cruelty and injustice. Not preaching, but it adds an extra quality to the book – the voice of Pete Brown is not just the one telling jokes and tall tales, but it is also one that shows that the British rule in India is not a pretty picture.

This is not the most important book of the year, but it never intended to be that, either. But it’s a good read. This is just the thing to pack with your sunglasses, your sandals and your iPod. It’s just the thing for holiday reading. Just make sure you have some good beer in your glass before you sit down.

And if you’re interesed in a signed copy, follow Pete’s blogwith updates of promotional activities. If you see him, say thanks for mentioning the beer bloggers in the book. We appreciate it.

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Hops and GloryPete Brown’s new book is out on 5 June, chronicling his epic journey from Burton to India.

Hops & Glory – One Man’s Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire. You can pre-order it at half price through amazon in the UK, no dates for any US edition.

More information on his blog, and in this day and age there is of course a Facebook group, too.

New books to read while you drink are always welcome!

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