Books about beer seem to be evolving in ways we like quite a bit: getting more specific, exploring fresh territory, enjoying the freedom of new business models.
When it comes to beer, most publishers seem hung up on the same handful of topics and formats: lists of beers you must drink, beginners’ guides, compilations of trivia and the occasional breezy personal memoir.
But perhaps things are changing.
Mark Dredge’s rather good Lager felt significant, specifically because a decade ago it probably wouldn’t have been published. In the age of Camden Hells and pilsner hipsterism, however, Mark was able to convince someone to take a risk with it. It’s a good book – we hope it’s sold well.
Not needing to sell well is one of the great advantages of eBooks, however. If an eBook doesn’t sell, it’s disappointing. If a print publication is slow to move, that’s someone’s office or warehouse or spare bedroom piled high with boxes for years to come.
(On an unrelated note, does anyone want to buy a copy of 20th Century Pub?)
Years ago, we identified the publication of Evan Rail’s Kindle-only eBook Why Beer Matters as a turning point. It was short, heartfelt and somewhat un-commercial – the kind of beer book you’d never find in Waterstones. And yet, it seems to have sold tolerably well and because Evan self-published via Amazon, the bulk of that money went into his pocket.
In a similar vein, two new eBooks published in the past month take full advantage of the medium to offer deeper takes on niche topics.
Craft: an argument by Pete Brown
Veteran beer writer Pete Brown used lockdown to challenge himself: could he write and publish a book in 13 weeks? He chose the topic of ‘craft beer’ – what, if anything, does it mean? And why is it important?
Speed of production is another advantage of self-published eBooks. A traditional publisher might have commissioned this in March 2020 for release in May 2021. The speed of writing, editing and publication gives this book an underlying urgency and currency – the very qualities which make blogging so exciting.
Disclosure: Pete unexpectedly sent us a PDF of Craft: an argument, but we’d have bought it anyway – £6.99 as an eBook via Amazon UK, £9.99 as a print-on-demand paperback.
It amounts to 200 pages of what you might call thoughtful belligerence – perhaps a fair summary of Pete’s personal brand – and feels a bit like being told to sit down, shut up and drink your beer while I explain this whole bloody mess. At points, it even feels as if Pete is arguing with himself.
Does craft beer exist? If so, what defines it? Could another word or phrase do the same job? Roaming through archive sources, summarising online debates and conversations he’s had with brewers, Pete valiantly strives towards a coherent answer.
We can’t imagine this book will change the minds of many people who think craft beer is meaningless, or hate the term, or have a fixed idea of what it ought to mean. But, as it happens, Pete’s view seems to chime with ours: it’s too late to bury or change the term; craft beer definitely exists and has meaning; but if you’re after a simple, rules-based definition – tough shit.
Beer geeks will tell you they’re bored of this debate. Traffic to any blog post on the topic suggests they’re fibbing. If you enjoy thinking about the language of beer, this summary of a decade’s-worth of debate and reflection is well worth £7 and a couple of hours of your time.
Vienna Lager by Andreas Krenmair
Andreas has several advantages when it comes to writing about Vienna, one of the early lager styles but now a minor one. First, he is Austrian. Secondly, because he is Austrian, he has access to sources in German. Third, he is as meticulous in his approach to research as he is in his home-brewing.
This eBook, available for £4.99 at Amazon UK, and worldwide via your local Amazon store, is a must-have reference for anyone with an interest in brewing an historically accurate Vienna beer, and benefits enormously from its self-published status.
A traditional publisher would have told Andreas to be ‘less generous’ to his research – in other words, to cut out 60% of the detail he’s worked so hard to dig up. They’d also have told him it needed a narrative, so he’d have been forced to trek across Europe in a camper van, or some such nonsense, as a framing device.
As it is, this is a book by a geek, for other geeks – a repository of information rather than bedtime reading.
The most detailed account in English of the trip to Britain made by lager pioneers Sedlmayr and Dreher in the 1830s? It’s here. The story of the rise and fall of the Dreher brewery? Every date, fact and event you could possibly wish to know about.
For brewers, though, it’s the practical information that will have the most value. Where other authors might say ‘close enough’ or ‘impossible to know’, Andreas keeps digging. The water chemistry of Klein-Schwechat, the family tree of the Dreher yeast, the exact colour of Vienna beer c.1870 – there’s nothing shrugged off or guessed at.
The recipes, the meat of the book for many, are both historically accurate and achievable for the modern home-brewer.
In fact, you might think of this as a single perfect beer recipe – the 1870 Dreher clone – with 200 pages of background notes.
Highly recommended and, if there’s any justice, the inspiration for a Vienna Lager revival in 2021.
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Self-published eBooks might be scrappy – both of these contain the odd typo, as do our own efforts in the same field – but that’s a price we’re willing to pay for something different.
These are precisely the books both authors wanted to write, not something tweaked or tamed by an editor with an eye on the mainstream.