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
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
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
The ‘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
“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.