My review of Iorwerth Griffiths's small 2007 volume, The Complete Guide to Beer and Cider in Ireland, expressed the hope that growth in Ireland's craft beer scene would mean the next edition would be more of a coffee table size. A successor has finally been published and while it's not a large-format work it does share much in common with the glossy, image-rich, lifestyle publishing genre.
That's not to say it's all fluff, however. Far from it. Caroline Hennessy and Kristen Jensen have meticulously researched the current state of the Irish beer and cider scene and drawn upon a wealth of sources, historical, zythological and gastronomical to create this compact and accessible guide.
The title of this book is ambitious, and the author’s credentials are certainly impressive enough to back up the book's claim to completeness. George Hummel is a home brewer and writer from Philadelphia. His shop, Homebrew Sweet Homebrew, has been located in the city since 1986 and both his beers and writing have won numerous awards. Don’t be fooled by the title though, this book is not a complete guide to the art of brewing aimed at the established brewer. Instead, it’s aimed very much at the novice brewer. Simple and accessible, it focuses exclusively on extract brewing. With 200 recipes from ales and lagers to extreme beers and even ginger ale, George Hummel may have written the complete guide to extract home-brewing.
Despite its name, this book by ICB’s own Les Howarth is not a recipe book. It says as much on the back cover: “It is a database of ingredient information that should assist the home or craft brewer in creating their own recipes in order to replicate commercial beers…”
What Les has done here is trawl through all of the recipe books and podcasts you might look to if you want to clone a commercial beer and extracted the ingredient information. He is completely up front about this and lists the source of the ingredient information with every beer listed.
As an authority on the nuts and bolts of beer history, Ron Pattinson needs no introduction. Through his Shut Up About Barclay Perkins blog over the last seven years he has left no stone unturned in seeking out primary evidence of past beers, scouring brewery logs, media reports and marketing material from a swathe of breweries -- mostly British -- to find out exactly what they were brewing, how, and from what.
This book represents a distillation of that research into a single volume which not only describes how various beer styles evolved with reference to concrete historical examples, but also allows the amateur (or professional) brewer to recreate any beer covered in the most accurate way possible.
The Oxford Companion to Wine was first published in 1994 and is now in its third edition. It is widely regarded as the authoritative work on wine by both connoisseurs and those in the trade, with contributions from the most well-respected writers in the field of viticulture and oenology. It is, in short, a book for people who take their wine seriously.
That in 2011 the Oxford University Press published an equivalent volume for beer is the clearest sign yet that our poor relation of the drinks industry is suddenly finding respect among the public at large. But does The Oxford Companion to Beer rise to the task of being beer’s authoritative work?