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.
It should be a matter for public outcry that the complete guide to beer and cider in Ireland is pocket-sized. Neither is the completeness a publisher's idle boast: this densely packed little book covers everything from the extinct micros like Balbriggan and DBC, to those just getting going, like Shelta and Bluestack. You can find out how long it takes to mash a batch of Murphy's and which came first: Stag or Ritz. And there's more...
Professor Charles W. Bamforth is the author of several books on the science and history of beer and brewing. His Lancashire roots, long career in the industry and current role as Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences at the University of California have led to some interesting perspectives: while very much concerned about beer quality, he has no truck with the notion that this is the exclusive preserve of small-batch breweries. And though steeped in the Real Ale traditions of Northern England he has an appreciation of all kinds of beer from around the world, a believer in consistency and good presentation as much as flavour.
This collection of essays, sub-titled, "the unexamined beer isn't worth drinking", interprets its remit in a variety of ways. The great philosophers had very little to say on the subject of beer and there's only so many times one can make a pun about alcohol measured in degrees Plato -- here it's done early to have it out of the way. Some articles are simply about the brewing world and beer in general, given a slight philosophical twist. Many others are undergraduate philosophy lectures, peppered with examples from the beer world by way of illustration. A handful, however, undertake a fully philosophical examination of the enjoyment of beer. The quality is mixed, but the fifteen essays are at least short and if the reader is bored with the current one, the next isn't too far away. To assist further, every page is illustrated with a pint of beer in the corner, full at the start of each essay and gradually emptying towards the end. Not only does the book tell you how far you still have to read, but it also indicates what stage of your drink you should be at, assuming one pint per chapter. It is, to my knowledge, the only philosophy textbook to do this.
We all know the story: in 1971 a group of Englishmen on a walking holiday in Kerry created a beer drinkers' protest group to fight the rise of industrialised beer in Britain.
35 years later, a pair of young Scottish home brewers set out to shake up the staid UK beer scene with a daring and aggressive new venture: we all know that story too.
But neither of these well-worn creation myths are the full truth. The circumstances behind the formation of CAMRA and the founding of BrewDog are just two of the areas covered in Brew Britannia, a book about the changes in British beer culture from the middle of the 20th century to the present day, and one which shows a continuity between the events with which, perhaps, neither entity would be entirely comfortable.