While we continue to work on the advertising opportunities around here, I am pleased to state that publishers are the keenest participants in the expansion of A Good Beer Blog Nation through their supply of review copies of books. And these three are fantastic additions to any library that I can heartily recommend. It is interesting that they come from the publishing wings of two advocacy groups, CAMRA from the UK and and the Brewers Association of the USA which was established in 2005 by a merger of the Association of Brewers and the Brewers' Association of America and includes Brewers Publications, the source of the excellent Classic Beer Styles Series among other things. Here are my thoughts in no particular order...and the books in no particular order either.
- Good Bottled Beer Guide by Jeff Evans (CAMRA): This is the sort of book I have wished to find for decades. I rely heavily on the annual published Hugh Johnson's Pocket Encyclopedia of Wine and its dense symbol-laden approach to helping you buy wine when actually in the shop. Entries are given a few lines but use icons, font size, bolding and italicization to give up as much information as a one by one inch space might give. Jeff Even's has taken that same path to a great degree and I hope he will expand upon it. For example, we are told in the section "How the Guide is Organized" that a star is shown next to a beer's name if he believes it to be a particularly outstanding beer. This creates an understanding that is only binary. It is or it is not outstanding. Further, not many get the star. Surely there could be a three star system that might convey more information about relative merit. Plus, as Peter Brown has discussed with us a short while ago, there is a tone that is slightly puritantical, which is apparently an accusation that one can make about CAMRA. I see it in this passage at page 13 describing traditional Trappist methods:
There is not talk of pasteurization here. There are no gas bottles to swamp dead, filtered beer with carbon dioxide. There is no rush to turn over pallet after pallet of mass-marketed "brands". This is bottled beer at its purest. The dirty fingers of the commercial world are kept well away from the production process.Seeing as many of the Trappists are now among the biggest names in beer and produce at a global scale, I find this a bit much. But CAMRA is an advocacy group, not an independent ratings organization, and their cause is one that we beer lovers have all been enriched by. In future, I would hope to see this Guide expanded or another arise to actually be about all good bottled beer and not just good bottled beer with yeast in it. I would also like to see more gradations amongst decisions as to the relative praiseworthiness of a beer, a necessary first step and expecially so in a pocket guide to anything. Buy it at Amazon here or direct from CAMRA here. Note: while the cover does not say so, CAMRA says that this 2006 book is the sixth edition so have care as to which one you order.
- Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski (Brewers Publications): This 2004 book is something of an evolution from the Classic Beer Style Series which are aimed at homebrewers but which I recommend highly to all of you for their exploration of one style or a family of styles of beer. This one, however, moves away from that instructional focus to explain the two styles, their history, producers and make-up. Farmhouse ales are defined as those made in north-east France and called biere de garde or made in southern Belgium and called saison. These are two forms of beer and localities of beer culture that I am becoming more and more interested in. I have written some reviews but they serve only as the merest scratch. I am not even certain where these styles end and others begin. So a book that helps in understanding is greatly appreciated. One that sets out the problem like this is even more welcome:
Because these beers belong to a "family" of products with, in my opinion, no stylistic absolutes, few sources of authoritative information can be found. This fact hampers our understanding of these beers and our ability to research them effectively.Starting a description of a problem solving exercise by admitting there is no clean solution is always the wisest approach. If you are at all interested in these beers, get this book. I actually bought my copy as I do not feel that a review copy is likely where the book has been out for a while. And you should too. Get it at Amazon here or at Brewers Publications directly here.
- Good Beer Guide Germany by Steve Thomas (CAMRA): This one simply blew me away. As with the other two books reviewed above - and like any you will generally see reviewed here - this is an effort of love spanning many years. But to take on to providing knowledge or even just to attempt to structure a means to convey knowledge about 7500 beers from 1250 breweries is an immense accomplishment. I know as little about the beers of Germany as anybody - mainly as I am not one to rush to the lager tap ahead of an opportunity to consider an ale. The summer 2006 book is a quick reference that could support a month's worth of Teutonic backpacking with ease. It has also cracked the tale of more than one German language label in the stash. Who knew that I happed to pick up a Bamburgian Ungespundet as much by accident as luck? There are helpful introductory chapters on beer gardens, Octoberfest and other aspects of German beer culture in addition to pages and pages of information about each of those 1250 brewers. There are no gradations of quality indicated along with each brewery's list of products but to be fair to the author I think that is a matter of scale that is practically beyond the reach of an author without a team of ten researchers on the ground. If the book were to be sold in the hundreds of thousands, then maybe I could expect it. I do want to live in a world like that but we are no there yet. Buy this one, too, from CAMRA or from Amazon.