Categories
Blogging and writing

Self-published eBooks are the future of beer writing

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.

Anton Dreher

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.

* * *

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.

Categories
Beer history

From barley broth to Wompo: a dictionary of beer and pub slang

We’ve been collecting these bits of beer and pub slang for a while and thought they deserved a more permanent home than the occasional Tweet.

act of parliament. c.1785. Military. Small beer, from the legal obligation of landlords to provide five pints of weak beer to each soldier free of charge. (FG85)

admiral of the narrow seas. c.1750. Drunkenly vomiting into the lap of another person. (EP)

Alderman Lushington is concerned. c.1823. Said of someone who is drunk. (FG23)

ale draper. c.1823. Alehouse keeper. (FG23)

barley broth. c.1785. Strong beer. (FG85)

beggar maker. c.1785. Publican. A pub is ‘the beggar maker’s’. (FG85)

belch. c.1823. Beer. (FG23)

belly vengeance. c.1864. Small beer likely to upset your stomach. (H64)

bene bowse. c.1785. Good, strong beer. Thieves cant. (FG85)

blind excuse. c.1823. An obscure pub. (FG23)

bowsing ken. c.1823. An alehouse or gin-shop. (FG23)

bub. c.1823. Strong beer. (FG23)

bubber. c.1823. Drinking bowl. (FG23)

buy the sack. c.1823. To get drunk. (FG23)

Categories
Blogging and writing

Not this again: the birth of the term ‘craft beer’

As the question is in the air again, here’s our attempt to answer the question “Where did ‘craft beer’ come from?”

A decade or so ago, it seemed as if this was all anyone was talking about – what is craft beer? Is there a better phrase we could be using? Is it meaningless? An Americanism? A con trick?

We enjoyed the debate, formulated an opinion, and have stuck by it, more or less, ever since.

And in our 2014 book Brew Britannia we gave a brief account of the history of the term and how it took hold in the UK, drawing on research by Stan Hieronymus and others.

Since then, we’ve picked up a few extra instances of its use, or similar, and thought it might be helpful to everyone involved in researching and writing about beer to have a timeline at hand.

Timeline

1883 | “the great craft of brewing” – anonymous, Holmes’ Brewing Trade Gazette, 01/09/1883

1930s | “the craft of brewing” – Worthington Brewery advertising

1934 | “neither an art nor a science, but a traditional procedure” –  A. Drinker, A Book About Beer

1946 | “Maybe it can hardly be called a craft in the strict sense, but cider-making is an interesting old country work” – Norman Wymer, Country Crafts

1967 | “Craft Brothers” – Ken Shales, Brewing Better Beer

1973 | “In the last decade, brewing has turned from being a craft industry into a technology.” – R.E.G. Balfour, chairman and MD of Scottish & Newcastle, quoted in What’s Brewing, 08/1973

1975 | “This is all some way from the small craftsman brewer.” – Conal Gregory and Warren Knock, Beers of Britain, via Gary Gillman

1977 | “craft-brewers”, “craft-brewed” – Michael Jackson, The World Guide to Beer

1982 | “A craft brewery down to the last detail.” – Michael Jackson, Pocket Guide to Beer

1983 | “The recent return to the craft brewing of ‘real ale’ as championed by the consumer group CAMRA…” – Elizabeth Baker, the Times, 07/03/1983

1984 | “craft-brewing scene,” “craft brewery”, “craft brewing” – Vince Cottone, New Brewer, 09/1984

1986 | “I use the term Craft Brewery to describe a small brewery using traditional methods and ingredients” – Vince Cottone, Good Beer Guide: Brewers and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest [SOURCE]

1993 | “They’re riding on the tails of the craft beer movement” – Steve Dinehart of the Chicago Brewing Company quoted in What’s Brewing 08/1993

1994 | “craft ale” – Ed Vulliamy, Observer, 27/10/1994

1995 | “independent craft breweries” – Roger Protz, Observer, 26/02/1995

* * *

A couple of those are new additions – the 1973 Balfour quote and the 1983 one from Elizabeth Baker.

Our view is this: the phrase ‘craft beer’ is a natural development after a hundred years or so of people talking about ‘the craft of brewing’.

And it’s not really any surprise it beat designer beer and boutique beer because they’re both, frankly, a bit wanky, while ‘craft’, per some of the examples above, has a simpler, more down-to-earth, traditional quality.

Updated 4 April 2020.

Categories
News pubs

News, Nuggets & Longreads 13 October 2018: Pine, Pubs, Pilsner

Here’s everything in beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past seven days, from nostalgia to grapefruit IPA.

First, some mild melancholy: Becky at A Fledgling Blogger has been reflecting on the part being alone in the pub has played in the state of her psychology over the years:

As a student in Newcastle when times were hard (which they often were) I would head to The Carriage alone and stare into a pint until I felt that I could face the world again. I can’t say I always felt better after sitting in the pub alone for hours, but it made me feel like I was able to go home and talk to my friends. After all alcohol is a depressant but it also loosens the lips and it meant that I felt able to confide in my long-suffering flat mate who regularly dragged me out of my pit of despair.


Casks in a pub yard.

Jessica Mason AKA the Drinks Maven has joined the wave of discussion around cask ale that always follows publication of the Cask Report with observations on opportunities missed during the craft beer hype of the past half-decade:

This might have been the pivotal point where cask appreciators repositioned ale. Effectively, reminding how it is naturally flavoursome, freshly created and diverse in its myriad of varieties. All of this would have been compelling; as would flagging up the trend for probiotics and natural ingredients… But the vernacular surrounding cask ale lacked something else: sheer excitement.

Categories
Beer history

A Dictionary for Beer Tasting, 1981

Here’s another find from the collection of Guinness-related material we’re currently sorting through: a 1981 dictionary of beer tasting descriptors by American brewing scientist Joseph Owades.

This is fascinating to us because while researching Brew Britannia we spent ages trying to find examples of the kind of tasting notes we now take for granted — horseblanket, pine, all that jazz — and found nothing substantial from before the mid to late 1980s.

This document, however, lists almost 80 different taste descriptors with brief notes on their meaning. Here are a few sample entries:

cellary — usually an odor, but sometimes also a taste, produced by micro-organisms which live mainly in wood, and found in beers which have been kept in such wooden tanks or barrels. Also found in beers which have not been in contact with wood, but with such micro-organisms; also musty or woody.

flowery — an odor which resembles a mixed bouquet of flowers, usually sweet and pleasant; most probably derived from hops.

skunky — an odor, resembling closely that emitted by a skunk, produced only when beer in a clear bottle is exposed to visible light. The use of brown glass protects from this effect.

It looks as if this particular copy, typed and photocopied on eight sides of A4, was a handout at some kind of conference held at the Harvard Club in New York City in November 1981 and sponsored by Anchor Brewing of San Francisco, and All About Beer magazine.

Owades is an interesting figure, best known as the inventor of light lager, and of contract brewing as we know it today. The dictionary was published under the flag of his beer consultancy firm, The Center for Brewing Studies.

Though the document is obscure (scarcely a passing mention exists online) we can’t help but suspect that some key players — writers and brewers on both sides of the Atlantic — acquired copies, and were inspired by the language employed.