You should know from the outset that this book is not about beer. And don't expect there to be much discussion of beer as the author explains how he was, as he puts it, a drunk: "...I would assiduously get up every morning and go to a pub, the way my grandfather went to the bank." So why do I recommend this book? Well, Gill is my favorite author - and not (just) because of his reputation for nastiness seen in his weekly restaurant reviews in The Time of London. I wish he wrote about other things. He does a bit. Almost five years ago he wrote a ripping article about Celine Dion in Las Vegas for Vanity Fair. And ten years ago he wrote a piece about "Heterogay" - the precursor to "metrosexual," that key factor in the Stonchian lifestyle - but mostly he writes restaurant reviews.
My real reason for recommending this book is his strong dedication to criticism as a form of writing which in the book's introduction Gill describes in this way:
I don't think critics feel things more intensely or on another level. Their knowledge and experience, if they have any, doesn't necessarily make them more sensitive to the all-round enjoyment of a sausage than anyone else is. Indeed, many of us critics look like we enjoy life only occasionally and then grudgnigly. But being able to organize, distil, articulate and parse a sausage in the context of aesthetics, taste, morality, history, anthropology and fashion, whilst remembering it is still just a sausage, does give me a separate, academic, rather drily smug satisfaction.I don't think there is enough of that with beer. As far as I can tell there is much too much note jotting, plenty of beer writing, not so much beer journalism and very little beer criticism - even if each of these forms of writing, like those Russian dolls, sit as a layer within the inside its neighbouring class of recording keeping. Criticism requires that we are as critical of ourselves in our relationship with the topic being written. With beer, for the most part, there are still too many elephants in the room - like the tension between value and enthusiam, the problem of needing the lubricant to be social as well as that unspoken question of dependency - for most writing to be considered criticism. That requires not only the consideration of whether this beer is good or not but why is it that I am again facing a beer on the table before me and, sometimes, why it tastes frankly a little like poo.
One very fine beer writer and journalist - I am pretty sure Lew but I can't find the link - wrote somewhere that he would not be drawn into rooting out negative things to write about a topic just to prove that he was someone else's idea of a real journalist. I take the point but I think that it too closely align critic with cynic. Gill truly loves food and how it brings people together as well as how it defines a people. His writing writhes with it and yet is so laced with wit and humour that he is also one of the few writers I know whose words I experience with a level of exhilaration. I want that for beer and beer writing. Between you and me, I see a bit of it in Ron's writing.
It may be unfair to expect it as there is still too much work being done and likely needing to be done evangelizing for there to be any protestant movement in response to the one true path as yet. But if you want a glimpse of what an anti-snob, eloquent, anti-PR, rebellious, anti-fad, iconoclastic beer advocate in a suit and tie might look like, get this book.