The market for lists of ‘beers to drink before you die’ is crowded — are there reasons to choose Mark ‘Pencil and Spoon’ Dredge’s offer over any other?
If you’re just starting to take an interest in beer, it’s useful to have a more experienced friend who can point you in the right direction until you start to form your own opinions. If that friend happens to have similar tastes to you then all the better. If you’re a real ale drinker who wants to explore, then Roger Protz has you covered; if you are fundamentally turned off by the very idea of real ale culture, then Dredge is your man.
Some people will find this book annoying. They’ll roll their eyes at suggestions America is the beating heart of craft beer, and that hops ‘only really got exciting in the 1970s’ when American brewers worked out how to get the best from them. They’ll be rubbed the wrong way by food and drink pairing suggestions, and by the focus on big beers over everyday ‘drinkers’. They are not the market for this book and probably shouldn’t read it for the sake of their blood pressure. Dredge has, and has always had, a distinct voice, loved by some, sneered at by others, but certainly not ‘vanilla’. Read his blog before you buy the book and you’ll know what to expect.
Having said that, from our perspective, there is probably not enough Dredge in the book. There are photos of beer labels and bottles, but not many of him and his drinking buddies on their exciting sounding travels. (Jamie Oliver would not miss this trick…) Occasionally, he sets the scene for when and where a particular beer was consumed – the entry on Crate Brewery Lager, for example — and we’d have liked more.
Even though we’re got our own opinions on beer, and no longer need the ‘beginner’s guide’ asides, we did get something out of this book, as we’ve tried very few of the beers Dredge recommends. We won’t be carrying it round with us everywhere we go, as we did with our first Michael Jackson pocket guide, but we’ve made mental notes of a few brews and will keep an eye out for them on our travels.
We were also interested in his customised style classification system — descriptive rather than prescriptive — which acknowledges the emergence of, for example, ‘pale and hoppy session beer’ and ‘Pacific pale ale’ as recognisable categories. IPA is at the centre of his view of ‘craft beer’ and so almost every variation thereon — e.g. ‘Belgian IPA’ — gets its own sub-style. This is an honest reflection of what’s going on, like it or not, and makes sense to us.
If there is a bouncy twenty-something in your life who is just beginning to take an interest in beer, this might be the perfect birthday or Christmas present.
Disclosure: we were sent a free copy of this book by the publishers, Dog’n'Bone, and this blog gets a mention in the ‘learn more’ section at the back.