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.
Accessible is really the key here: this is a beginners' guide not only to the Irish craft beer and cider movement -- the producers whose stories are set out in chronological order at the centre of the book -- but also the historical context of Irish beer and cider, the methods of production, where to get it, how to serve it, how to taste it and where to find the information to take things to the next level. Those of us familiar with all things beer and brewing may not have much to learn from it, but at last we have a single book we can give to those we wish to proselytise.
And then there's the food. The authors' experience in Irish food writing is very obvious in this book. Food matching is given almost as much attention as the drinks themselves, including a dedicated chapter on matching beer and cider with cheese, and there are extensive recipes for dishes that utilise every type of beer and cider Ireland makes. While there's no escaping the fact that Ireland's craft beer revolution is merely one aspect of a wider turn to towards artisan produce, this pint drinker found the food side of Sláinte a little bit overdone. There are only so many times one can read that this cuts through that, and one flavour complements another, before it gets a little repetitive. I felt that I'd seen these guidelines many times before, even if the specifically Irish examples are a refreshing touch. But, as I say, the accessible all-in-one approach is what they've gone for. This will be many a reader's first and only book on beer.
For all its densely-packed information, the book's tone is light and chatty, imparting the genuine joy that comes of drinking and eating lovely things, all with a sprinkling of cheeky good humour. The prose is broken up with informative text-box asides, helpful at-a-glance lists and big beautiful photos of the drinks and the people who make them.
While every book of this sort is out of date before it even rolls off the printer, omissions are surprisingly few. The very newest wave of breweries, those started between the end of 2013 and early summer 2014, are merely given a mention rather than a full profile. The absence of the most recent additions -- Jack Cody's and Wicklow Wolf for example -- pinpoint the date the copy went to print.
I can see Sláinte being a big seller this Christmas: the high production values make it an ideal gift for any budding beer lover. For the more experienced aficionado it's great to have an update to Iorwerth's book, showing how far we've come since 2007. At the current growth rate it may be the last time that a single general-information book on Irish beer can justifiably claim to be "complete".