Brewing Britain

Andy Hamilton is a Bristol-based home brewer, teacher, gardener and forager. His first book, Booze for Free, was a guide to growing and foraging ingredients for making your own beer and wine. Brewing Britain, subtitled The Quest for the Perfect Pint and How to Make It has a wider scope, still covering the brewing element but adding a more general guide to beer and beer styles as well.

The format is very much that of a practical handbook for the total novice, starting with how to analyse beer: the colour, aromas and flavours and how they're achieved; glassware, serving temperature and cellaring. The second section moves us on into making our own beer, introducing the basics of sanitising, taking readings, priming and bottling, followed by concise descriptions of what's involved in kit, extract and all-grain brewing, and a guide to trouble-shoooting problems in finished beer. 

Brewing Britain

When I first received this book I thought that reviewing it would be a doddle; My wife’s uncle is a horticulturist who specialised in hop growing and processing during the 50s and 60s at the Greenmount Agricultural College. However my plan backfired because every paragraph he read sent him into reveries and he would recount in extraordinary detail the time he spent working with Ireland’s last commercial hop growers.

This was all well and good, but it wasn’t going to get the book reviewed.

The book combines the history with the chemistry of the hop. It starts by discussing the aroma of hops and an in-depth view of the odour compounds found in hop oils. It then goes on to examine the perception of aroma and how it varies from person-to-person. All the way through the information is backed up with data and examples (all easily understood by a hop novice like me).

Cover of Amber Gold and BlackAmber Gold & Black - The Story of Britain's Great Beers is a unique kind of book. Written by Martyn Cornell, author of Beer: The Story of the Pint and beer writer of the year in 2003, Amber Gold & Black is published only in electronic format. As a result it is a low cost publication at £5 for a copy. A very cheap purchase considering the years of research that must have gone into creating this 233 page work.

Cornell's aim is to explore the true history of a range of beer types, including bitter, mild, IPA, porter, golden ales, wheat beer, barley wine, heather ale; the contents list 16 families of beer all with a distinct British history. Each chapter deals with its subject in a similar manner. Reaching back to the earliest references he could find, Cornell brings the reader on a journey through time, with anecdotes, statistics, lists of breweries, from the earliest references up to the present.

There is no shortage of books on English pub life and pub culture. It is, after all, as essential a part of that nation’s self-image as the café is to Paris or the beerhall is to Bavaria. Popular works on the pub, however, have tended to take an overtly celebratory or sentimental approach, and this much is noted by Boak and Bailey at the beginning of their latest work on the subject. But 20th Century Pub: From Beer House to Booze Bunker is no tub-thumping demand for the pub to be recognised as the cornerstone of civilisation, nor a misty-eyed look back at an ornate past full of horse-brasses and handpumps. There’s a proper academic rigour to their treatment, while avoiding getting bogged down in detail.

The structure is broadly chronological, beginning at the creation of the modern pub in the 19th century from an amalgamation of the tavern, inn and beerhouse: each serving a different market need in their own ways. From the resulting Victorian pub, we follow developments through the social optimism of the early 20th century, the upheavals of two world wars and their aftermath, and into the pub diversification that we know today. The later chapters focus on specific archetypes of British pub: the theme pub and its most popular spin-off, the Irish pub; the gastropub; the superpub and the more recent developments of the community-run pub and the micropub. In each case we get illustrative examples, fastidiously researched and presented with original documentary sources, first-hand interviews and real-life visits. The authors clearly put in significant mileage when putting the book together and it really stands to them in the observations and photographs they provide.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is how many other corners of life and society it touches on. Urban planning and development is obviously a major factor in how pubs have evolved in Britain, likewise the class system, attitudes to women, and of course the temperance movement. All of them play bit parts in the drama, stepping in and out of the narrative as required.

Fans of the authors’ first book, Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer, will enjoy the similar style in this one: a big picture, sliced into easily-digestible chapters and fleshed out with colourful characters and anecdotes from behind the scenes. It’s narrower in scope, however, and speaking as a beer person more than a pub person, I found it somewhat less engaging. Your mileage may vary of course. Overall it’s an excellent look at recent British history through the lens of the pub, and certainly more substantial than any number of glossy coffee-table works.

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Book Cover Earlier this year I made my first trip to Brussels. I didn't have a guidebook, although fellow ICBers had made some great suggestions that I had fully intended following up. As it turns out, I ended up having the next best thing to a guide book: Joe Stange. Joe agreed to meet me while he was literally in the process of taking photos to finish the book he co-wrote with Belgian brewer Yvan de Baets, Around Brussels in 80 Beers. Joe took me on a whirlwind tour of some of the places the book mentions, so I thought I'd be well prepared to use these visits as a benchmark for what is described in the book.