This is yet another beginners’ guide to beer, albeit with a gimmick: it is built around a ‘periodic table’ of beers, and is designed to help you choose what to drink next.
The author, Michael Larson, is an American, and across the Atlantic, his book is published with a different title and cover. For the UK market, under the care of the Campaign for Real Ale’s publishing arm, it has been tailored and spruced up by consultant editor Roger Protz.
An attractively designed ‘premium’ paperback of just over 200 pages in length, it could probably be condensed into 75 pages of pure text. The bulk of the space is taken up by full-page ‘atomic structure diagrams’ for each beer style, continuing the ‘periodic table’ theme. These, frankly, didn’t work for us at all, using a lot of real estate to convey very little information in a hard-to-read format which made us yearn for simple bullet-point lists.
Some of the icon-style graphics are also confusing: ‘spiciness’, for example, even when subtle and derived from yeast, is indicated with a picture of a chilli pepper as on a curry house menu. This might well lead the target audience of beginners to wonder about the Scoville rating of Marston’s Pedigree.
The ‘periodic table’ itself, however, is rather more effective. The idea is that the beginner knows they like, say, Hoegaarden, and so finds Belgian Wit in the section of the table devoted to ‘Ales of Continental European Origin’. They then choose what to explore next based on which styles are adjacent. In practice, that would direct them to Leipziger Gose (yes, that makes sense), Belgian ‘strong pale ale’ (e.g. La Chouffe, which also works). It isn’t perfect, however: ‘Gluten Free’ (that’s a style now?) is next to ‘American Style Wheat’. Oops!
As we’re not beginners, we found ourselves picking holes in the history and griping about terminology but, on the whole, most of the worst Cornell and Pattinson baiting myths have been avoided and, anyway, this book is about learning to love beer in the here and now.
In conclusion, we found the Select-o-Pedia likeable enough, and it is as good a place as any for a would-be beer geek to start. It might also make a good gift for a beer-loving friend or relative who seems unhappily stuck in a rut with bitter or lager.
The RRP is £12.99 and it is due for release on 3 April 2014. We were sent a review copy.