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It's not only beer

In this article, amongst many excellent points, Pete Brown suggests that the fuss over the Oxford Companion to Beer highlights a lack of perspective on the part of some beer geeks, bloggers and writers. He says that, sometimes, people’s attitudes make him want to say: “Guys, get a grip – it’s only beer.”

But is it only beer?

We’ve written on a related subject before, pointing out that, as hobbyists, we know it’s just beer, but that taking it seriously is all part of the fun.

Telling real historians and scholars like Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson, however, that it’s only beer is like telling an archaeologist that the subject of his study is ‘just a load of muddy rubble’ and that he should stop being so anal about it. Yes, most specialist scholars have lost perspective, and thank God for that.

It’s through the efforts of people who take apparently insignificant things seriously, and spend time doing the kinds of back-breaking research others can’t be bothered with, that we learn more about our world and our history.

Beer is worthy of serious study and we should applaud those who undertake it, however nuts their obsession might sometimes seem to the rest of us.

P.S. We really don’t like wine very much. No pretending here.

6 replies on “It's not only beer”

I think I’m beginning to understand this from Roger’s perspective, following his letter in the Indy that Tom Stainer tweeted about today.

Roger has been campaigning for years to get beer taken seriously enough to warrant things like an Oxford Companion. That one exists is brilliant. That it’s full of holes is besides the main point: brilliance. That people keep pointing out that it’s full of holes makes them tarnishers of the brilliance, and that’s intolerable, and they should be made to see how brilliant it is.

I think he’s showing a tendency towards pollyannaism born of Things Being Crap for a long time, and suddenly becoming Considerably Less Crap in the last couple of years.

Funnily enough, we felt like spoilsports because our review was only *cautiously* positive when we first posted it.

I have to say that I think Pete Brown is way out of step on this one. His outright dismissal of factual criticism/correction seems strange for someone held in so high regard within the beer community. I can only conclude that, having taken the Kings Shilling, he feels obliged to defend the OCB come hell or high water.

Someone (can’t remember who) suggested we might be seeing a party line being taken. Contributors are essentially repeating the same messages — the book has a few minor issues, like all first editions; none of them are the kinds of things that *normal* people need to worry about; buy it!

Good points.

It is brilliant the OCB exists, and it was never going to be perfect but they had to know that, and some of the condemnation of, rather than listening to, the critics does smack of toeing a line somewhere.

I don’t have a problem with Oliver, Brown, Protz or anyone else trying to sell the book, but when the mistakes have been so well publicised then continuing to dismiss them seems less like being ‘out of step’ (a superbly British turn of phrase from Tyson) and more like downright hypocrisy. Especially when it comes from people setting themselves up as authorities.

I don’t think it’s “just” or “only” beer, and as someone with a scientific and research-oriented background, I certainly appreciate and celebrate the scholarship of Messrs. Cornell and Pattinson. Valid criticism ought to be brought to light, even though I recognize that not every worthy point leads to an unambiguous conclusion.

I would say, however, that because the topic *is* beer, and because beer is the center of, indeed, one of the most convivial of professions… criticisms shouldn’t be overwrought, personal, or delivered with undue alarm. Yes, some of the errors so far revealed could easily have been avoided, but the sky is not falling and the entirety of the work is not a disaster for the existence of the relatively few mistakes so far discovered. It remains a foundational work and a useful resource.

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