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.

Blogging and writing london

Beer Books: Shakespeare’s Local

The George Inn, Southwark.
Illustration from Walks In London Vol. 1, c.1896.

Talking to publishers about beer books, you quickly learn that there’s one writer they think has really nailed it in commercial terms: Pete Brown. They like his ‘high concept’, ‘pitchable’ approach; they like his titles; and most of all, they love the fact that his books appeal to ‘normals’ as much as they do to beer geeks.

Shakespeare’s Local is yet another step towards the mainstreaming of both Brown and beer, though, in fact, beer is hardly mentioned at all and even the pub of the title isn’t always centre-stage so much as it’s used as a lens through which to view London at various periods in its history.

It tells the story of the George Inn, Southwark — these days a tourist attraction, tourist trap, after work City hangout and chain pub, but long associated with Olde London, Shakespeare and Dickens.

The opening is reminiscent of — bear with us — a ‘history episode’ of Hartnell-era Doctor Who; a Powell and Pressburger film; one of those nostalgic shorts from Roll Out the Barrel; and a nineteen-eighties text adventure we really want to play: “April the nineteenth in the Year of Our Lord 1737… You quickly scan the front page news of shipping list on its way to the colonies and elsewhere…”


The portrayal of the relationship between Southwark and the City of London is excellent and, throughout, there’s a sense of virtual reality — of being there, in the time and place described with carefully chosen details in 3D, surround-sound, smell-o-vision. We came away with a list of places to visit, things to see and things to look out for.

It made us laugh out loud here and there, too — a quality not to be undervalued.

It’s not perfect. With our mortarboards and scholarly gowns on, we regret the lack of footnotes, and wouldn’t cite it as a source in a Phd paper; but, on the other hand, in holiday reading mode, we found a few passages where Brown has, in publishing parlance, ‘been too generous to his research’, and so caught ourselves skimming. (Yes, that’s right — he can’t win.)

On the whole, though, it is a great read and (with a few shopping days to go…) the perfect gift for anyone in your family with a passing interest in London, history, pubs, architecture, the heritage industry, highwaymen, public transport or lewd poetry.

The single pub micro-history could become an interesting sub-genre: here’s a nice piece on a pub in Croydon by Kake.

beer in fiction / tv

Beer season on the BBC (if only)


Watching Beer Amongst the Belgians, the proof of concept pilot for a TV series hosted by one of our favourite beer writers, Tim Webb, it’s easy to imagine it fitting nicely into a season of programmes about beer on BBC Four.

Perhaps, in the same season, there might be room for Lew Bryson’s proposed American Beer Blogger series? Or something with Pete Brown?

We’d certainly love to see some compilations of of vintage beer advertising (see above, but there’s no shortage).

A while back, the BBC showed a documentary about an artisanal baker building up to a national competition, perfecting his recipe, sourcing ingredients and exploring new techniques in search of a competitive edge. Contrived drama, sure, but wouldn’t a similar show about a small brewery be interesting?

And, finally, the BFI has some great archive documentaries about British pubs — those would round out a season nicely.

How about it, Auntie?

Beer history Blogging and writing opinion

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.