Category Archives: Blogging and writing

Brew Britannia Reading List

In writing Brew Britannia we relied upon some books heavily and they’ve become our ‘go to’ references.

Though they’re listed in the selected bibliography at the back of our book, we wanted to spare a few words explaining exactly why we found some of them so useful.

The Death of the English Pub by Christopher Hutt (1973)

Importance: 5  |  Readability: 4

The Death of the English Pub (cover)If the Campaign for Real Ale was one expression of ‘something in the air’ in the early 1970s then this book was another. Though he began writing it before he’d heard of CAMRA, Hutt would go on to be the Campaign’s second chairman, and this short, fiery ‘fighting paperback’ would be its unofficial manifesto. Throughout, it conveys desperation, pessimism and pre-emptive grief for a culture that Hutt was sure would soon be gone, helped along by beautiful if rather sentimental black-and-white photography. It’s hard to believe he was only in his mid-20s when he wrote it, with scarcely a decade’s drinking under his belt.

The Beer Drinker’s Companion by Frank Baillie (1973)

Importance: 5  |  Readability: 1

The Beer Drinker's Companion (cover)A vital reference, this hardback records the products of every brewery in the country (not that huge a job in 1973, to be fair), cask, keg and bottle. Want to know how many stouts were being brewed in the early 1970s? Count them. Was all keg beer irredeemably terrible-tasting? Not according to Baillie’s pre-CAMRA dogma tasting notes. It’s good he wrote it just when he did because even two years later, many more of these beers and breweries (such as Barnsley and Joule’s) had disappeared.

CAMRA Good Beer Guide 1982-1999

Importance: 3  |  Readability: 3

The very first editions of the Good Beer Guide are slim and don’t have much content beyond pub listings. As they go on, however, they begin to accumulate interesting front and end matter, illuminating the attitudes of their time and proclaiming CAMRA’s various priorities over the years. There are contemporary essays about pub preservation, the purity of beer, the rise of the global microbrewing movement, lager, the place of women in the Campaign, bottled beer and numerous other topics. Oz Clarke’s essay in favour of pretension, from the 1990 edition, is a particularly dazzling, provocative piece.(And, of course, it is always fun to look up places you know to see what the pubs were like in, say, 1986…)

Beer & Skittles by Richard Boston (1976)

Importance: 4  |  Readability: 4

beer_skittles_boston_200The ‘Boston on Beer’ column in the Guardian from 1973 was vitally important in CAMRA’s early success; this pocket-sized anthology updates and distils the best of those columns. Some of his opinions now seem quaint, and the ‘beer history’ section is not to be relied upon as a work of scholarship, but as a record of the times, it’s hard to beat. His prose is also witty and sharp — enjoyable in its own right, even if you’re not that interested in beer. (Here’s Alan McLeod’s review from 2008.)

World Guide to Beer by Michael Jackson (1977)

Importance: 4  |  Readability: 5

A glossy coffee-table book, yes, but also the founding document of the global beer geek culture we all enjoy (or endure?) today. His artful prose inspired not only drinkers to broaden their horizons but also brewers. Also essential reading if you want to see the low base from which American ‘craft beer’ had to start. Though there had been books about pubs and beer before this, Jackson, we think, invented ‘beer writing’ as we know it, and we suspect most modern practitioners have a copy of this, or one of the many revised, condensed or pictorial variations on the same basic text, close at hand.

New Beer Guide by Brian Glover (1988)

Importance: 5   |  Readability: 3

A fascinating counterpart to Baillie’s book of 15 years before, this CAMRA publication, based on Glover’s work for their newspaper, What’s Brewing, attempts to record details of all the new microbreweries. Glover is more successful in finding stories and characters than Baillie and individual entries are often colourful in their detail. The introduction is an excellent summary of developments from the mid-1970s, much of it drawing on first-hand experience and Glover’s own store of interviews with key players. It is particularly strong on the then ongoing post-Firkin microbrewery boom.

Called to the Bar: 25 years of CAMRA, ed. Roger Protz and Tony Millns (1991)

Importance: 4   |   Readability: 4

This collection of essays includes personal accounts of the founding years of CAMRA and British microbrewing by important characters such Michael Hardman and Martin Sykes. It also represents an official history — written by the victors, yes, but still useful in fixing details of, e.g., the first national beer festival in 1975. It is also a good summary of where the Campaign found itself at this point — in the process of becoming a serious, middle-aged national institution with a tendency to self-mythologise.

Three Sheets to the Wind by Pete Brown (2006)

Importance: 2  |  Readability: 5

Three Sheets to the Wind (cover)“But this only came out recently!” you cry. Well, eight years is a long time in British beer. This extended ponder in the form of  a travelogue offers a valuable snapshot of what was going on a decade ago: Brown, ahead of the curve as ever, expresses an enthusiasm for vibrantly hoppy American beer that, by 2007-08, was being echoed by beer geeks across the UK, and especially in the blogoshire. His strident criticism of CAMRA also put into words frustrations felt by many among a new generation of drinkers, and arguably provided the template for much of BrewDog’s rhetoric in the years that followed.

If you only buy one beer book this year, it should obviously be ours, but if you decide to spring for one or two more, most of these are available second-hand at fairly reasonable prices. For even more suggested reading, see Justin Mason’s ‘long read’ about his beer book collection.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 05/07/2014

Pint of beer illustration.

There’s been plenty of substantial reading this week, on subjects ranging from children in pubs to the philosophy of reviewing.

→ Justin Mason is a parent and a beer geek and has given some serious thought to the etiquette of taking children into pubs. It’s interesting to see what probably comes naturally to most people broken down into actions.

“Are we living through the death of the review?” asked David Lloyd earlier this week. He isn’t referring specifically to beer but, blimey, it certainly applies: Is anyone, really, listening anymore? Or is it doing no more than fuelling our confirmation bias or excusing our bitterness?” (via @Christopher_R)

→ On a related note, Jeff Alworth argues that beer judging, competitions and awards ‘help Americans understand’ (first beer, and now cider); while Alan ‘A Good Beer Blog’ McLeod is troubled by the idea that ‘craft beer’ implies you don’t have the expertise and knowledge to enjoy it without professional help.

→ We’ve heard it said that the definition of a good brewer is one who knows what to do when things go wrong: Chris and Emma’s use of Yakult ‘probiotic’ yoghurt drink in the absence of  acidulated malt is a striking example.

→ The Beer Nut’s entry to the 89th beer blogging session tells the tale of Ireland’s first lager brewery — a sadly typical tale of grand launch followed, a few years later, by a FOR SALE ad in the back of the paper.

→ Stan Hieronymus reports on serious plans to revive a Polish Grodziskie brewery.

→ We’ve been spoilt for full-length UK brewer profiles this week. First, The Evening Brews’ piece on London’s Brew by Numbers (of cucumber and juniper saison fame) runs to 2000 words.

→ Then Connor Murphy gave us a glimpse behind the scenes at Manchester’s Marble where a new brewer has recently taken over. Mr Murphy’s questioning elicited some delightfully detailed answers about the technicalities:

Previously we were pitching at 25C and fermenting at up to 28C and it was resulting in really high esters, which can sometimes add to the beer but we wanted to tone it down…. We’ve started pitching at 18C and fermenting at 20C because we want all these hop flavours to shine through and we’re not going to get that with a warm fermentation.

→ More on beer from the BBC, who we assume have a ‘habit streak’ going: a report from Harar, Ethiopia, where there is a Heineken-run lager brewery.

→ We liked this photo (via @robsterowski) of a Hackney pub between the wars — that jaunty illuminated sign promises fun times!

The Month That Was: June 2014

Despite spending more than a week in London sidling up to people saying “Pssst! Wanna buy a book about beer?” we managed a decent number of posts in June.

Barley illustration. 

Beer mixes illustration
For the Session #88, we asked people to try ‘traditional beer mixes’. Here’s our contribution.

Continue reading

News, Nuggets & Longreads 28/06/2014


To make up for skipping a week (our trip to London got a bit hectic…) here’s a BUMPER SUMMER FUN EDITION of our regular round-up of links and news.

→ Peter Swinburn, CEO of global brewing giant Molson Coors, gave a fascinating interview to Bloomberg. The headline is ‘Craft Breweries Massively Over-valued’, but we read it as an acknowledgement that ‘craft’ is more-or-less immune to corporate takeover: precisely those things consumers like about ‘craft’ are difficult to maintain at scale.

→ Michael Tonsmeire has shared a long extract about saisons from his new book American Sour Beers: An elementary recipe inspired by Saison Dupont, the archetype of the style, could be comprised of only water, Pilsner malt, and Saaz hops, but many American brewers opt for something more complicated.”

→ The Guardian reports on German brewers’ attempts to prevent ‘fracking’ which they fear will pollute the pure water upon which their beer depends.

→ Last year, we got excited when we noticed ten-sided pint glasses in the trailer for the BBC drama series Peaky Blinders. (Yes, excited. Tragic.) Now, it seems the show, which returns in September, has inspired a vaguely historical Midlands-style mild from Sadler’s.

→ Since they closed their big brewery in Blackburn, there’s been anxiety among fans of Thwaites that this might signal the end for the Lancastrian brewer. They’ve now announced that a new site has been acquired. Phew!

→ Modern Farmer magazine reports on a booming ‘craft beer’ scene in Paris driven by the ‘eat less, eat better’ trend. (Via First We Feast.)

This piece about the mark-up on wine in restaurants seems to us to have resonances with the debate around the cost of ‘craft beer bars’, especially this point about knowledgeable staff: A good sommelier will increase the guest’s pleasure… If you’re getting divorced, do you Google it and do it yourself or do you pay a solicitor £300 an hour?”

Evan Rail’s new ebook, Beer Trails: The Brewery in the Bohemian Forest, turns out to be the first in a series, with entries from Stan Hieronymus and Joe Stange to follow. Interesting.

Lynn Pearson has written a book about brewery architecture for English Heritage.

→ And, finally, here’s another review of Brew Britannia, from Richard ‘Edinburgh Beercast’ Taylor.

Actually, maybe that wasn’t as ‘bumper’ as we’d hoped — did we miss anything juicy?

Brew Britannia: Launch Week

Even though it escaped into the wild a few weeks ago, this is still the official launch week for Brew Britannia, so we’re spending the week in and around London making various appearances:

There have been a couple more reviews since our last round-up, too:

  • The Pub Curmudgeon — “…an excellent and enjoyable book which really is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the development of the specialist beer market in Britain over the past forty years.”
  • Martyn ‘Zythophile’ Cornell — “Overall, Boak and Bailey have produced an excellent guide to the journey British beer has taken in the past half-century, well worth reading whether you lived through it or not, simply to understand where we are now.”
  • Kiley Bense for Saveur magazine — “… for anyone interested in beer’s modern renaissance, it’s a quirky, comprehensive read, filled both with obscure information and more essential facts…”

UPDATE 23/06/2014: While we were away, a few more reviews arrived:

  • Ron Pattinson liked it: “Well written – but I’d expect no less from them – and with loads of good stories about the individuals who drove the quest for better beer. It kept me entertained even while my arse was aching from hours of sitting.”
  • Roger Protz said: “This is an exhilarating read, well researched, in the main objective, and encompassing the views of many important players in the great beer revival of the past 40 years.”
  • Chris ‘Beer Diary’ Hall gave it the thumbs-up, saying: “It’s not just a great book, it’s an important one for the time we live in.”
  • And Alan ‘A Good Beer Blog’ McLeod declared it a “superbly researched and deftly written history”.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, Alan McLeod says:

We’ve also been enjoying a steady flow of shots of the book in various states of completion from readers around the country and, indeed, the world, via Twitter. Here’s our favourite so far, from Steve ‘Beer Justice’ Williams: