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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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What's new?
More new events added in Bristol, London and Edinburgh over April and May
I had a big piece in the Guardian this week about why publicans are unhappy
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Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Most Essential Beer Book You Can Buy (apart from any of mine of course)

The Oxford Companion to Beer is out (well, it is in the US, and it will be in the UK on 27th October).

This book has doubled the weight of my carry-on luggage home

Let's get the quibbles out of the way first: in today's world of forensic pedantry surrounding beer, some people are bound to find errors. Others will take offence at subjective entries. Others still are bound to find glaring omissions, and some bits will have been out of date by the time the book went to press.

It's impossible to capture every single fact, statistic and morsel of wisdom about beer into one book, but this is as close as anyone is going to get.

On Thursday night I attended the contributors' party at the Great American Beer Festival and managed to snaffle a copy.

Obviously, I haven't read it all - that would be silly - but I wanted to give the book a heads up, and give you an impressionistic view of what it's like just from flipping through it.  

To give you an idea of how good this book is, I don't normally like reading encyclopaedias about beer, and when I picked it up, I was in a room full of friends I hadn't seen for ages, some who I was meeting in person for the first time, and some people whom I didn't know but wanted to meet.  And it was a struggle to get my nose out of the book and say hello to them.  You open a page at random and you start reading, and you lose yourself in trivia, history, and bits of brewing science you always wanted to know but never got round to asking.  

It's about two and a half years since I was first asked to contribute to the book.  I filed my last piece about a year ago.  And I was just one of 165 contributors, my 20 just a fraction of the 1100+ entries, which span 920 pages.  This gives you an idea of the incredible scale of this project.  My own pieces stretch from meaty topics such as IPA, Great Britain (how do you 'do' a whole country and its brewing tradition in 3500 words?) and Prohibition, to shorter entries on subjects like Farson's Lacto Milk Stout, Snakebite, BYOB, Oast Houses and the Quarter (an obscure unit for measuring malt, about which I think my 250 words have probably doubled the amount written).  

Opening the book at random, pages 520-521 cover Koningshoeven Brewery, kosher beer, Kostritzer Schwarzbierbrauerei, krausening and kriek.  Flipping to pages 358-359, there are two meaty entries on Flanders and flavo(u)r.  Pages 426-427 cover heather, hectoliter, hedge hops, hefeweizen and Heineken.

Get the picture?  Just about everything any sane person could want to know about beer is in this book, and most of the entries I've dipped in to so far are surprisingly readable for such a weighty, authoritative tome.  

The Oxford Companions to wine and food are regarded as peerless and essential by many working in those fields.  I'd say the Oxford Companion to beer is the same: if you write about beer, study it or brew it, you simply cannot do without this book.  And if you're simply interested enough in beer to be reading this blog, you kinda need it too.

If you don't yet possess any of my three books you should buy them first, obviously.  But when you've got them and you're back on Amazon, you simply have to buy this.  

Your postman won't thank you, though.

18 comments:

Steve Lamond said...

I've got it on pre-order! Looking forward to it.

Rudgie73 said...

That's the Xmas list sorted then

Carsmile Steve said...

I am buying it for myself BEFORE Christmas so I can tell everyone I have it so I don't end up with three copies (or the Three Sheets To The Wind problem as I like to refer to it...)

Birkonian said...

£21.00 and free delivery on Amazon. You'd think I'd at least get a free copy from them for this plug (Chance would be a fine thing by the way).

realale said...

I have also pre-ordered this a month ago on Amazon UK. Waiting for 1st of Nov

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

Birkonian — contributors don’t get free copies, unless of course you made it to Denver and wore a big jumper (only joking Pete)

Cooking Lager said...

£21?? Do you know how much cheap lager you can buy for £21?

Gary Gillman said...

Courage's Imperial Russian Stout is back! Kudos to Wells Young and everyone associated with this for making it happen. By far one of the most important brewing events to happen in recent years IMO.

Gary

Leigh said...

(adds to xmas list...)

Tyson said...

A good read, indeed. But, judging from the questions already raised over some entries, a second, revised, edition is already needed.

dave said...

I find it interesting that you complained about Stella getting the history of Cider incorrect in a marketing compaign, but you don't seem to have any issue with this book getting the history of British brewing wrong (http://zythophile.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/the-oxford-companion-to-beer-a-dreadful-disaster/#comment-27379). A marketing compaign I hold in less regard then a book, especially a book you consider "the most essential beer book you can buy".

Niall said...

As above. I'm gonna side with Martyn Cornell on this one. He researches extensively, cites his sources and is the most rigorous writer about UK beer that I've encountered. I haven't read the Companion, but based on the snippets quoted on other sites, I'm dubious about the historical content.

Pete Brown said...

Guys,

If there are errors - there are bound to be! - help correct them by all means. But the online massacre of this book honestly makes me want to dissociate myself from beer writing. The glee and venom with which people jump on mistakes here and there, and use them to devalue the entire enterprise, is at odds with everything that attracted me to write about beer in the first place. As someone who has actually got a copy of the book, I stand by my claim that it's an essential purchase. There will be a second edition. Garrett is welcoming corrections for that - from people who can offer them in a civilised manner.

Oh, and Dave - my objection to the Stella cider ad was nothing to do with them getting the history of cider wrong - I don't think I even mentioned that - it was that the campaign patronises people.

I can see and completely understand that a book on beer may be of more interest to you personally than an advertising campaign. But the Stella cider ad will be seen by many more people, and will have a much bigger effect in society, and that's why I think it's more of a priority to write about.

Anonymous said...

I loved the section of the real ales, my favourite ones.

Real Ale Record Book by Adrian Tierney-Jones is that kind of book i suggest you guys to buy. the second one would be about Belgian beers

Niall said...

I see you've edited your original response - indeed, you've tempered it significantly, so I'll refrain from replying to it, beyond calling attention to that.

It's specious to characterize a reader's stated preference for cited research in a text that outlines the history of given beer styles - or the history of anything, for that matter - to received narratives that we all can agree on as a gleeful hatchet job from the sidelines, with no aim but the denigration of others' hard work, surely the lowest of possible motives.

I'm sure I'll buy the book sometime and eventually repay the contributors for their presumptive Labor of Love With No Commercial Benefits. But I stand by my original assertion that, based on what I've read, the historical content is dubious.

I stand by my other assertions, too - including that I haven't read it (in its entirety). But I suppose I could try to elide that one.

Niall said...

"Respect and irreverence," no less, Mr. Brown.

The Beer Wrangler said...

Although this is a much needed work with much to applaud, a work from OUP should be open to academic peer review. The historical entries should have been reviewed and academically referenced, (as Pete's excellent book on IPA was).
I hope the falling out between Garrett Oliver (a man i greatly respect) and Martyn Cornell will not mean that a second edition will not have Martyn's contribution on his areas of expertise. Alternatively, perhaps Pete would volunteer to write those entries which have come under criticism on British beer styles/history and keep to his great standard of historical research and referencing?

Thoughts?

Pete Brown said...

BW, very fair points - bout the book was peer reviewed, very carefully