A Good Beer Blog

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Have you read The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer - A Rant in Nine Acts by Alan and Max yet? It's out on Kindle as well as Lulu.

Maureen Ogle said this about the book: "... immensely readable, sometimes slightly surreal rumination on beer in general and craft beer in particular. Funny, witty, but most important: Smart. The beer geeks will likely get all cranky about it, but Alan and Max are the masters of cranky..."

Ron Pattinson said: "I'm in a rather odd situation. Because I appear in the book. A fictional version of me. It's a weird feeling."


Comments

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braukerl -

The only major UK brewery that I am aware of that uses true 568ml bottles is Sam Smiths. There may be others but it has NOT "remained" a popular size. Various Cider makers have taken to using this size recently but only within the last few years. The overwhelming majority of bottled beer in the UK is sold in 330 and 500 ml containers.

Maybe its petty to point this out but its also CORRECT and i'd take one 'inconsiderate' but correct Cornell over any ten unctuous Olivers.

Barm -

From his readiness to make statements at the drop of a hat that can be proven completely false with a minimum of effort, I suspect I know who this "top UK beer writer" is.

It's clear that it's wrong to impugn Mr Oliver as having acted in bad faith. Evidently the problem is that he is too trusting. A praiseworthy quality in many respects, but not desirable in an editor.

Sam T -

Well it's good to hear Mr. Oliver's take and admission of some errors. As a brewer that uses centennial more than any other hop (and it is one of the largest grown crops in the US now), I do find it a little ridiculous that the team who did hops could simply forget about its existence.

When it comes to disputing historical interpretation, I see some genuine academic bickering between Oliver and Cornell, but I have a feeling much of the problem truly lies with the primary writers on those subjects in question.

Martyn Cornell -

I never expected Garrett to be happy about my expression of my fears at finding worrying errors in a very brief perusal of a few bits of the OCB currently available on the web. But to declare that "Mr. Cornell, in essence, refers to me as a dupe, a cretin and a liar, piloting a project populated by lazy idiots" is a polemic too far. Those are entirely his words. They are certainly not mine.

He continues: "All this about a person whom he has not met or had so much as a conversation with". Actually, I've met Garrett at least twice, and had conversations with him each time. But I'm sure he meets thousands of people every year, and I doubt there's anything that made me stand out amid the huge number of other bearded beer buffs he has talked to.

It worries me that he attacks me as "the blogger Martyn Cornell". I've written two books about the history of British brewing and the history of British beer styles, which have involved many years of research - that's my bona fides - and I'd like to hope I have a reputation as a beer historian rather than a blogger. I sent Garrett a copy of Beer The Story of the Pint when it came out in 2003, but never received an acknowledgement: I wonder if he ever received it.

I'll make only a brief refutation here of Garrett's attacks on my own statements: the OCB says the Anglo-Saxons "colonized Britain in the 4th century AD", not "made numerous incursions into". You won't find any scholars saying there was "colonisation" until the 5th century.

For Garrett to defend a claim that "Mead and spontaneously fermented cider would have been the predominant alcoholic drinks" in pre-Saxon England, by insisting that "OK, there's no evidence, but they MUST have been" suggests a lack of understanding of the rules of history writing. Rule number two (after "get your facts right") is "don't assume". There's almost no evidence for mead-making in pre-Saxon Britain, and none for cider making. Just because you think they ought to have been making mead and cider, you can't write as if they were without the facts to show it. On the other hand there IS a lot of evidence of Roman-era ale-brewing, as I showed in BTSOTP.

Rule number three is "don't make assertions without evidence" - and despite Garrett's fine rant accusing me of being there at the time, you cannot, and must not write that the rise of India pale ale was "unlikely" without saying WHY it was unlikely, and offering facts to back up that assertion. That's fundamental to historical scholarship.

Oh, and "pint bottles popular" - I have searched and found mention of just TWO British beers currently available in 568ml bottles, against a handful at 550ml (almost all from Sam Smith's) and hundreds - hundreds - in 500ml bottles. There appear, in fact to be more ciders available in the UK in pint bottles than beers.

To see myths I pointed up eight years ago in Beer The Story of the Pint repeated as fact in the OCB infuriates me. Really, I felt like banging my head on the wall when I started dipping into the OCB on the web. So did this result in "The most intemperate and inconsiderate thing I have ever seen a member of the beer community say about any of his peers"? Man, you clearly haven't read what Ron says about Horst. Is shouting loudly "Helloo - we appear to have a potentially serious problem here" intemperate and inconsiderate? Well, at least I've got some attention turned on the subject of possible historical errors in the OCB.

I recognise that a huge amount of work went into the OCBs's production, and those involved are bound to be defensive when somebody expresses negative sentiments. I would be defensive myself. I only hope that the defensiveness does not get in the way of properly analysing claims of error, rather than pushing them aside with polemical non-rebuttals.

Craig -

Hmm... I'm on the fence about this one. On the one hand, It was commendable for him to contact you, Alan—and I'd imagine a pretty cool moment for you when you opened the email. He obviously is looking out for the best interest of beer and brewing, right or wrong in his efforts with the OCB.

That being said, the airing of grievances on your blog or the wiki, rather than on Martyn's own site, may not have been the best choice. If he wished to address the wiki and your concerns, then by all means his approach was terrific—and proactive. In defending himself, through you, he missed one point. Martyn doesn't ever name him directly in his post and he most certainly never calls him a dupe, a cretin or a liar. He should have taken his issues to Martyn directly, and sent him an email as well.

Alan -

I suck up to Martyn, too.

Craig -

Always the mediator and never the bride, huh?

Alan -

Or, as we like to say around our house, just a sucker with no self esteem...

Chris -

Agreed, in that Martyn criticizing the content of the "Oxford Companion to Beer," Oliver has mistakenly inferred that it is a criticism of him directly. Oliver's stretching of Martyn's comments, so as far as to suggest he "in essence, refers to me as a dupe, a cretin and a liar, piloting a project populated by lazy idiots," is childish, and uncalled for.

The part about IPA's unlikely rise got me, as well. Garrett had a charming response for it, but offered no explanation as to why the word "unlikely" appears in the text without hard evidence for the claim. Martyn never said it was "likely," just that there's no reason to believe it was "unlikely."

There's no doubt there's plenty that the book has right, but I see no fault in criticizing what isn't right, for the betterment of future volumes and of the shape of beer history. Attention to detail is paramount. The difference between "incursions into" and "colonized" might appear to be minimal at first glance. But it isn't. That's what proper historical writing is all about.

Bailey -

First two sentences of Mr Oliver's statement are great.

Think it's a PR fail after that.

Ethan -

Nice Offspring reference there, Alan.

I heasitate to jump into this, but... this sentence from Garrett's interview seems to me to be the crux of the issue: "any wise person will approach attempts at perfection with at least an ounce of humility"

I think he got a bit needlessly defensve, but then again, who's demonstrating the most humility here? Getting beer history "right" is important, but we should all remember that the impact of getting it "wrong" is, well, let's face it, of critical importance to few, and has very little impact on the brewer, toiling away in her brewery, trying to make yummy beer for a living. I am sure he's speaking metphoricaly, but for Martyn to say he's "pounding his head against the wall" over the inacuracies strikes me as being a little too far down the rabbit hole.

Alan -

Well, the word that springs to my mind is collegiality. Stan asks some very good questions in his post of yesterday but for me I wonder why this has triggered such strength of opinion. I am not one for speaking of community but if we are interested in beer knowledge, is there not a need for patience and self-awareness. B+B, too, asked about the absence of the circle of love in all this.

Stan Hieronymus -

Ethan - The way this book has been scrutinized should terrify anybody writing a book about beer. To me, getting the history right - or at least not getting it wrong - looks easy compared to the science (because what we understand about brewing continues to evolve).

What we're seeing from Ron and Martyn (and certainly jesskidden in the wiki) is that information was available, with sources cited.

And I'd argue that getting it right is just as important for individual brewers. Consider it your family history.

Craig -

Yes and no Ethan. To a brewer, those historical inacuracies might simply be unimportant, but a historian might see it differently. Professionalism is professionalism. Disseminating misinformation—especially when the correct information is fairly easily accquired—brings down the standards of the that industry. You (and I use the royal you) may not care when the the Angles, Saxons and Jutes arrived in Britain, but if the information is incorrect, it's still incorrect.

Taking the "nobody's perfect" approach to editing a volume of this nature is a bit of a cop out. Take an extreme example, what if I were writing or editing a book on the holocaust and I noted that 5 million Jews were killed between 1933 and 1945. The specific number isn't actually known—the point is a lot were killed, right?

In reality, although the final number is not known, it is known that over 5,860,000 Jews were killed and the accepted rounded number is six million. Omitting that 860,000+ number, omits nearly a million innocent lives—that's why getting your sh*t straight in a volumous, heavily distributed and widly read publication is important.

Craig -

Sorry that got a little heavy, but I was making a point!

Alan -

Just to confirm, Craig you are employed in a museum setting where this level of accuracy is a normal part of your daily diet, right?

Bailey -

I suspect that if someone had taken an hour to cross-check against the myths listed on Martyn's blog under false ale quotes, and then perhaps spend another hour browsing Ron's blog, the big, glaring alarm-bell errors (IPA, porter, Henry VIII, mild is dumbed down porter, etc.) would have been corrected; the ensuing criticism would have been slower to emerge; more temperate; and less widespread.

Craig -

In my department—the exhibitions department—we deal with the intrepretation of historical and scientific information. Sometimes the content of the exhibitions has the potential to be over the heads of our visitors—especially the science mucky-muck. So, that information needs to be conveyed in a way that everyone can understand. When explaining the content of an exhibt, there can be information (in both science and history) that is extemporanious to our theme. Sometimes it gets left out, or sometimes we compliment the exhibit with printed materials or online resources that delve further into a topic—the reality of an exhibit (and the OCB) is that we cannot include everything. That being said, we try very hard to present the most comprehensive and up-to-date information as possible. What our exhibit planners do is very similar to the role of editor-in-chief, they are the information wranglers. It is their job to take the content supplied by historians and scientist and make it understanable to a general audience (mainly families) while at the same time maintaining the accuracy of the research. Are we 100% perfect 100% of the time—not by a long shot. If we do err, we are fully aware that we will be called on it—and time take steps to correct the information.

Incorrect information is one thing—mistakes happen and they happen to everyone. Simply printing information, without substantiating it, is quite another.

Stan Hieronymus -

Bailey - Appendix I of Beer: The Story of the Pint is titled "A short and entirely wrong history of beer." It lists 39 myths. A good place to start.

Ethan -

Indeed, Craig, that's kinda my point, isn't it? In the general domain of "Historical Facts You Better Get Right," I would definitely say that Number Of Nazi Holocaust Victims > whether Angles 'incurred' or 'settled' in the 4th century AD. Also, > anything else about the history of beer.

Let's not loose scope here. Wrong is wrong, sure, but if your dying thought is "I can't believe people STILL think Hodgson invented IPA," I think you might better have, I donno, a beer or something. Martyn and Ron are coming on way too strong with their fully valid and well-referenced criticisms, and risk being taken as jealous prats instead of serious historians with their commentaries.

Barm -

Ethan, you realize the criticisms voiced so far are just the tip of the iceberg?

Why was OUP so eager to rush it out in time for Christmas that they went to press with this half-finished book?

Ethan -

@Stan- well, I really think that depends on the brewer's intent. If you're especially interested in re-creating an historical style--as best as one can really do that with modern malt and hop selections--then sure, you'll need the kind of information Ron digs up. But part of the brewer's art is to come up with new flavors, new combinations, and that might ultimately mean new styles, or at least, evolutions of old styles. So in that respect, I could consider history a hinderance rather than a help.

Ethan -

@Barm- Oh, I am sure the criticisms I am not hearing are even less measured and more pointed. Perhaps you can tell me/us whether the scientific/technical information is getting the same treatment somewhere; I haven't seen it yet, but perhaps I simply read the wrong blogs. If it were, though... I admit, that would be a much graver concern to me. I would nonetheless hope that whatever technical flaws exist are being brought to light in a less personal & heated way (as befits a good scientific approach.)

I think your point re. the timing of the release might indeed explain a lot. Big money is certainly at stake here... One reason Garrett Oliver has no choice but to try to address the criticisms and make a case for an evolving text, I suppose.

Stan Hieronymus -

Ethan - Getting off track, although I will arm wrestle you over the importance of getting history correct just as a matter of importance in life.

My wife and I wrote a biography of an artist, Frank Applegate of Santa Fe, who also happened to be one of my great uncles. Heard a lot of great family stories from relatives who actually never, or barely, knew him. Many turned out to be incorrect, but for the family it was good to get the stories straight.

And you allow "style" restrictions or "they did it this way in the old days" restrict your brewing creativity you have only yourself to blame.

Craig -

But the book isn't about "Historical Facts You Better Get Right." It is however, partially about "Historical Beer Facts" and OUP should have tried harder to get them right. This isn't a conversation about general knowledge, this is a reference volume about beer—of which the contents of, will be taken as fact. If their were gross inconsistencies and innaccuracies in the scientific aspects of brewing in the book, wouldn't that warrant critism, as well? I think someone might notice if the book said water boils at 250ºF. What's the benefit to printing incorrect information—other than getting the book produced and on the shelves faster?

I would imagine that you don't want to see craft breweries start producing sub-standard beer, right? Ron and Martyn don't want to see a prominent publisher of reference books and materials produce sub-standard products in their field either. Martyn has written a number of books trying to dispell some of these beer myths. The OUP sweeps in and reinforces them all over again. That's like you guys brewing a batch of beer and having someone drop their cell phone in fermentation tanks—a lot of work down the drain. I don't blame him for being pissed.

There a reason most universities have banned source references of Wikipedia on term papers.

Craig -

By the way Ethan, if you think that research critique and peer review, in the scientific community, isn't as heated or as uncivil as this debate—I can assure you it is.

Joe Stange -

I don't want to wade into the OCB debate except to say that I've really enjoyed flipping through it, but I'm also glad that we are seeing some renewed pressure for historical detail.

Meanwhile, I love this bit...

One very prominent beer writer said to me, right to my face, “I wouldn’t take a sh*t for that kind of money.” Okay, well, fortunately, I had not asked him to. His own book will be out soon, and I hope it provides him the money he requires.

All right, guys and gals, fess up. Who was it? I will definitely buy your book.

Ethan -

Well, you make good points, Craig & Stan; and I certainly never disagreed with the general notion that getting things right is important-nor do I doubt (trusting fool I might be) that the OCB will ultimately fix whatever errors are presented unto it.

But I maintain that insulting people just isn't the way to do it, that some "errors" may be more subjective than they're being presented as; and that beer history ought not become a rugby scrum. It might be the definitive reference book on the topic-or not- but the topic is still beer. Relax, don't worry, have one.

And yeah, I have certainly seen scientists get ugly. Thankfully, scientific progress is still made; I am sure the same will be true here.

Jeff Alworth -

What leaps out from the exchange between Martyn and Garrett is, I think, the essence of where we are in (god help me for saying this) "beer scholarship." I don't know Martyn's academic background, but anyone who's spent time in a graduate program recognizes what he does: it's scholarship. Historians become historians because they have a deep conviction in understanding things as they were, not how we've been told they were or wish they were. It's sort of like forensics--you have to be committed to the history, not the people with an investment in it. The way scholars talk about their work is usually direct--sometimes to the point of laceration--but the focus is on the work.

Garrett is a brewer who has had the enormous fortune of living in a time when brewers are colleagues and friends, when industry connections are partners and friends, and when everyone is generally pleased as hell to be making and selling beer.

I doubt that Oxford considered how this orientation might change the product, but Garrett reveals it when he writes "In my 22 years in brewing, this most convivial of professions, it is the most intemperate and inconsiderate thing I have ever seen a member of the beer community say about any of his peers."

I suspect Cornell doesn't give a fig about conviviality or being a member of the "beer community" (words to cause Alan to grimace). He writes to get the history right and that's where he places his attention. Anyway, that's how most scholars work.

Both Ron and Martyn have taken me to task on my blog, and of course it doesn't feel good. I've also emailed privately with them and both have been quick to offer help and guidance. This is what I would expect--flinty fidelity to historical accuracy, but gentle support in other matters. One wishes someone with their orientation had been given the helm of OCB.

On the other hand, it's also worth acknowledging Oliver's promise of revisions. Perhaps getting a flawed OCB to print was the price of getting a stellar one to print down the road.

Kyle -

In The Shallows, Nicholas Carr examines James Evans' 2008 sociological study of academic articles written since 1945. What Evans found was a *decline* of citations in scholarly sources and a *contraction* of citing sources that first appeared in print. In other words, recent scholarship is biased toward online sources written relatively recently, with scholars unconsciously shying away from "marginalized" sources and tending to rely on "prevailing opinion."

I'm wondering if some of what Martyn and others have noticed with the OCB might be part of this larger trend (and many others that Carr trenchantly and prophetically writes about): that easy access to a mind-boggling amount of information might be leading - counterintuitively - to a more superficial analysis of it, or at least provide conditions for erratum to rise exponentially because of our search engine world.

Gary Gillman -

Interesting discussion. I'd like to read the whole book before deciding finally on its value. Based on portions I've read on google books, I think in general it's excellent, a formidable first effort. No one values the contributions to beer historical scholarship made by Martyn and other authors and historians (e.g., Peter Mathias, Peter Clark, James Sumner, Pamela Sambrook, Ron Pattinson, Roger Protz, Ian Horsley, Ian Donnachie) more than I.

I hope ultimately their findings and perspectives are included in the book where this has not already occurred. That will probably never happen to everyone's satisfaction, since this is a book written by humans and no such endeavour can be perfect or take into account every position and argument, but I am sure future editions will reflect more of what should be said about beer history questions. At the same time, I've read numerous entries in the book which are well-written and accurate or accurate enough in my opinion given the nature of the Companion series, and its intended readership (which is broad).

But based on some of the things Martyn has said, I think there is room for improvement, clearly. At the same time, I don't agree with everything he said, e.g. the snippet he gave from the book of porter's origin sounded fine to me and I've read (I believe) almost everything significant written in English about porter history. Some of this gets into the opinion/interpretation area and reasonable people can differ on these things.

Garrett made some good points too I thought about how the Oxford Companion To Wine has evolved and one can see that something similar surely will probably happen to the OCB.

Gary

Jim V. -

I'm a journalist by trade, and as such, "accuracy" pure and simple will always be the deciding factor in my opinion on this kind of kerfuffle.

In his opening response to the Cornell post, Oliver skirts the issue whenever possible. He picks and chooses which of the criticisms to attempt to refute, and seems to purposely misunderstand, misinterpret and miscast what Cornell has said, painting himself as a victim.

Mr. Oliver, you're the figurehead behind what is meant to be (and I don't care when you claim it's not) the definitive book on this subject. What single tome could realistically be expected to be MORE definitive? As such, it's held to the highest standard---people are going to point out things that appear to be plain wrong. You don't have to like it, but don't be surprised by it. As it turns out, people who have dedicated their lives to history don't like it when history is, you know...wrong.

Mike Cleaver -

I have the book, as yet unread. I am looking forward to reading it, but since Martyn pointed out some errors I am going to be looking for things that challenge what I have read before, and believe to be fact. It should be fun. IPA and Mild are two beers that are my favourite in terms of the mis-information that is out there, particularly on the interweb.

Pete Brown -

"Unlikely"

That's my entry, and my choice of word, so allow me to explain. This explanation may also serve to highlight the differences between approaches to the history of beer.

It's one word tossed into a sentence. It's a statement of opinion, to some extent, but one based on three years' intensive research on the subject.

So why do I believe the rise of IPA was 'unlikely'?

Because a style of beer that evolved for export in very small quantities (initially) is perfected in a landlocked town that, on first glance, is the last place you would think of as a national centre for brewing export beers. What no-one knows at the time is that the wells in this town just happen to contain mineral water that is perfect for brewing strong pale ales that are ideal for export. But the brewers there only start brewing these strong, export ales there, and ultimately discover this fact, on the basis of a chance conversation over dinner between one brewer who is probably about to go out of business, and a director of the East India Company.

When this is happening, porter is the UK's most popular beer. The brewers making it are the largest brewers in the UK, the first 'industrial' brewers to create beers on this scale. London is arguably the world centre of brewing and porter is its main product. (Feel free to chuck in anal comments from old brewing records here to suggest I'm 'making this up' - I'm basing my analysis on general hype around the time, mentions in contemporary records, cultural importance, the weight and balance of beer advertisements in newspapers, etc).

Within a couple of decades, the small export beer from Burton on Trent becomes the most fashionable beer of the age (I'm not saying the biggest by volume - I'm saying the most fashionable, the most talked about - which you discover by looking at the world at large, rather than just at brewing records), exported to all corners of the British Empire, and hugely popular at home (albeit quite quickly in less hoppy, less strong versions than the export version - which is why some of those beloved brewing records suggest IPA wasn't as strong or hoppy as we like to think - the domestic version wasn't.) Burton becomes the most famous brewing town on the planet, and those huge London brewers have to open branches there to compete. Burton-based Bass soon becomes the largest brewer in the world. The beer is feted by royalty. Doctors are taking out press ads to endorse it as a cure for a wide array of ailments.

And there's no dramatic action that makes this happen - claims that IPA was exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851 are false. Sure, the railway connection to Burton made it possible, but all that did was facilitate distribution - think about it, it made transport of London porter to Burton on Trent just as easy as that of Burton IPA to London.

The only single event that does propel IPA further into the public consciousness is an international scandal when a Frenchman uses a public lecture to accuse Burton brewers of using strychnine in their beers to get the bitterness.

I'd say all of this makes it a pretty 'unlikely' and extraordinary story. I believe this is one reason why the story if the rise of IPA arouses such passion in people.

What I've done here is look at the facts, and then as a writer I've gone and had an original thought. Sorry if this offends anyone.

You may disagree with my thought, with my fact-based conclusion. You may argue that my analysis and interpretation of the facts is wrong. You may offer an alternative reading of the facts to argue that the rise of IPA was inevitable, and obvious. That's the whole nature of historic discourse. But no one who wasn't alive at the time can simply dismiss my assertion as 'untrue'.

I've looked art the facts, and I've drawn a conclusion, and I've expressed that conclusion. And you know what? That's what historians do all the time, even proper ones. It's why new books on Hitler, or Cromwell, or whatever, keep being written - new interpretations, that are often based on the same facts, put together in a different way, from a different perspective.

All historians write subjectively and selectively. ALL of them. Even beer historians. For example, many new facts about the development of IPA that I revealed in my book Hops and Glory have been completely ignored by other beer historians, who have their own reasons for being subjective and selective.

I didn't explain the above fully in my OCB entry. That's because there was a word limit, and this point was tangential to the flow of the main entry, and when you're hoping people will read something you've written, it pays to try to make it readable and relevant. So I used a word that was different, provocative, to make people think, to try to help make my piece interesting. I guess my hope was that people would go 'unlikely'? I've never thought of it as that before. Hmm... maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. But I would have thought that anyone with a working knowledge of the history of IPA would at least be able to see why I would think it unlikely, even if they disagreed with my reading of the facts.

Guess I was wrong.

Alan -

Thanks for that, Pete.

Bailey -

From the reactions people are having to the Companion, and their reactions to other people's reactions, it seems there are a few camps emerging:

(very roughly)

Camp 1. who gives a shit? It's only beer, dancing about architecture, have a brew, etc..
Camp 2. history is about drawing (often qualified) conclusions with primary source evidence for each and there is no such thing as an unimportant detail. Grrr!
Camp 3. of course history needs to be factual but let's not get so hung up on detail that we can't use intuition/common sense to fill in gaps and tell a compelling, readable story.

Personally, I think I'm in Camp 2 -- outside beer, I tend these days to prefer to read slightly dry, boring history (very slowly, with my brow furrowed) than the more narrative, novel-like popular form. I like footnotes, lots of them, for everything.

So, as a matter of taste, I prefer the 'anal' approach of Martyn and Ron, even if their scholarly bluntness sometimes makes me uncomfortable, and that, I guess, is why I find some of the beer history in the Companion so unsatisfying. Some of what Pete says above does sound (to me at least) like a complaint that boring brewing records get in the way of his thesis re: the rise of IPA.

Martyn Cornell -

Pete, your comment above is an excellent justification of why it may be possible to suggest the rise of IPA was "unlikely", and now you've written it I understand your thinking. But the whole explanation about WHY you think the rise of IPA was unlikely should have been in the OCB. Because what is in the OCB is a blank assertion with nothing to back it up, and if you're writing about history you simply must not do that.

Personally I'm not sure any change in public taste can be placed on a spectrum of likely to unlikely: it may be a category error to talk about "unlikely" changes in public taste. But that's a completely different argument: let's not go there now.

Alan -

Martyn, I thought Pete's point was excellent and especially his point about the word count. The more I think about this the more I go back to an early thought I had that this is a summary document: "...pages and pages of brief dense entries..."

I think one thing we are doing is grappling with what sort of book this is. I agree with you entirely that the the whole point of the why behind each fact should be there but then there would be at least another 1,000 pages of footnotes. I love footnotes myself. When I look at my desk right now, all the texts I rely upon in my professional technical writing are riddled with them to my delight. But this sort of book actually lacks the capacity to do that, I am going to suggest, by definition.

Ethan -

Having had some more time to think, a conversation offline with a freind, and a good night's sleep, I'd add a few things to my position, though I stand by my previous assertions:

1) Since I am a consumer, not a producer or discoverer, of beer history, I have to realize that it is far easier for me to have a laid-back attitude about it, and that is worth acknowledging. But then again, it is produced for consumption, and necessarily, there will always be more consumers than producers, so I think their/our position on it does matter. Still, I do totally understand Martyn and Ron's frustration, if not their way of expressing it.

2) I needed an authority just now on the definitive number of Trappist breweries--variously given as anywhere from 5 to 7--and found myself unsure whether to trust the entry in the OCB. So as a result of the conversations here and elsewhere on the inaccuracies in the book, I felt I needed to cross-reference with a number of other sources to see if I could draw a firm conclusion: this is a good thing, and I am glad about it.

Pete Brown -

Bailey - you might be right about my 'complaint', but as it's a defence against an attack on my work, I feel perfectly justified.

I'm not going to help things at all with my next thought, but I'm going to drop it like a bomb anyway and then retreat to my ivory tower to focus on writing my next book:

There's a big difference between the history of beer and the history of brewing.

Right, bye!

Gary Gillman -

On categories, I like scholarly, antiquarian, survey-type, technical manuals, memoir, food-and-beer books, business histories, all of it. Obviously some I liked less than others, some I thought weren't great value, but that would be my overall posture towards beer and brewing writing including their history.

I have learned something interesting or useful from almost all beer books I've read including the 1000's of extracts of books and other writings Google Books perusal has allowed.

Sometimes a datum clicks in only after many years, e.g., I recall one 1970's American book mentioned that Canadian ale was of a type called Canadian sparkling ale. Only many years later did I fully understand what that meant, but the seed was planted early. One early beer book or article quoted a brewer in Michigan, an early craft brewer, saying he liked his ale "fresh off the line". That observation has helped to form my own tastes even though I know many styles rely on aging for their keynote character. Much later I learned that mild beer was new fresh beer and I said that's what that brewer liked, mild beer. In the 1800's he would not have enjoyed vatted porter unless the aged element was minimal perhaps. And so on.

I've always felt too that even in scholarly writing, the persona of the writer comes through and this is what ultimately inclines me for or against - but usually for - a particular book. This is even so in encyclopedia-type books, because an editing hand has usually imparted a distinctive style or tone. And so it is not just what I can learn anew but the factor of getting into the style, the mindset of the author, that I like.

So I generally take a broad approach to it and due to this, there are few books that go wrong with me, very few. Perhaps the "so-many best beers" type has palled, because I've read so many.

My favourite writer was and still is Michael Jackson, he had a big influence on me and I just liked the way he wrote, his voice. He was also a very accurate describer of palate, and accurate generally in his work.

Gary

James Wright -

In my book, calling someone else's work a "dreadful disaster" does not count as constructive criticism.

The essence of the criticism is spot on. The Oxford imprint conveys an enormous amount of authority so its power to spread misinformation masquerading as truth is indeed quite worrisome. However, to refer to this predicament as a "dreadful disaster" is to make light of the term disaster. There is no doubt that from an information integrity perspective one cannot imagine a worse fate for a reference book.That said, I believe both sides agree that in a work of this magnitude, inaccuracies will exist and ought to be corrected as soon as possible.

Did the OCB miss a great opportunity to create the authoritative work on beer, squashing myths and folklore? Yes...so far anyway; but there is the practical component of limited resources and massive scope that makes such a work error prone. At some point you are releasing the book to citizen editors so that there can be revisions. That's what 2nd and 3rd editions are for! Well that and to kill secondary textbook markets...but mostly the corrections thing. I hope there is spirited and vibrant debate about the content of the OCB articles and their accuracy but I am willing to bet it will be far less apocalyptic than Mr. Cornell suggests.

To me, the much more troubling aspect is that there are two sides in the first place. I don't expect everyone in the beer world to magically agree - and neither Mr. Oliver or Mr. Cornell are without fault - but when two prominent members of the beer community are trading jabs in public that hurts the whole community. People are debating semantics when, at the end of the day, two guys fired insults at one another rather than engaging in some sort of face-to-face interaction (if not in person, a video beer summit would suffice). I am sure that Mr. Oliver and Mr. Cornell could find common ground, or at least mutual respect, over a pint...or 6. To me, that this personal argument has escalated to such a level is the dreadful disaster.

FlagonofAle -

I can't believe the level of drama with all of this. I'm even more surprised that Oliver was going to be surprised or offended that there would be criticism from beer blogs about what is supposed to be the ultimate reference on beer and brewing. Frankly, based on the highly personal, defensive screed he wrote where he completely misinterprets Cornell's factual dispute as a personal attack just highlights the fact that for the most part he is a "beer celebrity" and apparently a bit of a diva as well. Clearly he was chosen for the book because he is famous rather than being famous for writing books. The basis of his argument on cider is that it *probably* happened? Jesus, OCB just lost any benefit of the doubt I might have been giving it.

And of course then there's Pete Brown the ego-driven tooth fairy of beer blogs across the globe magically appearing, also, to defend his status as beer celebrity (UK edition). More to the point, Burton was inevitably going to become a source of fantastic pale ales, and given the unsustainable gigantism cycle that porter brewing was going through at the time, it seems hardly a big leap or a surprise at all to think that porter would eventually collapse and that Burton would brew good pale beer.

Alan -

Nothing personal, FoA, but have you not just been the kettle calling the pot black? You say you see an unbelievable level of drama and then engage in ad hominem slaggery.

But to your point, nothing is inevitable after the fact.

Craig -

It occurs to me that this volume should have been two volumes—the Oxford Companion to Brewing and the Oxford Companion to Beer. Pete's last line sums it up.

Bailey -

Craig -- or at least it could have been edited that way, jointly by a scientist and a historian.

Alan -

But then we would need the Oxford Companion to Draymen!

No, I think Pete's point is both insightful and yet slightly silly. And by saying that I do not mean to slag Pete. The whole wiki started in my mind as hoping to redeem myself for something I said about Pete in a comment at Stan's about the OCB. While I think I still agree with what I said, I could have put it more kindly.

There is no "big difference" between the history of beer and the history of brewing. They are on a continuum and offer two entry points to the same subject. Yet, which I think is really Pete's point, the two modes of entry are equally valid.

Craig -

Yes Bailey! Kinda'...

And not hat's not quite what I meant, Alan. Putting together a two volume set—one of which deals with the art and science of brewing—that is peer reviewed by brewer's, brewing scientist and brewing educators and editied by someone like Garret Oliver. While the other volume would be history of beer that is peer reviewed by beer writers and historians, and edited by someone of the like. The team assembled by OUP for the editing and review process of this book, was more akin to the volume that I first mentioned. Obviously they missed a few bases—perhaps the scope of the work is what got in the way.

Alan -

But the second volume already exists: Hornsey.

FlagonofAle -

Alan, fair point on the first. On the second, isn't everything that's happened inevitable after it happens? Maybe not. To avoid an argument on word usage, let me rephrase to explain that what I mean is that the rise of Burton and pale ale/IPA was not in any realistic scenario, "unlikely". It was more than likely.

Alan -

[Thanks for that. Handsome is as handsome does and I do like civility... especially when discussing an apparent drop of civility!]

Hmm... were pre-conditions for its success were well established? Inevitable, likely, probable, possible, unlikely, unexpected, out of the blue. That is the range, isn't it? I am not sure which one I would tie my boat to but I am sure there is an argument for each.

Jeff Alworth -

Garrett comes in for some pretty harsh talk about his over-reaction to Martyn. Since I think Martyn is going to get the best of this argument based on the merits, I'd like to throw Garrett a bone on the tenor of things.

People who haven't spent much time messing around online are almost invariable shocked at what they see as a level of personal attack. Those who do spend a lot of time online--not only posting blogs, but engaging in comment threads--tend to have far thicker skin. Since it's easy enough for an anonymous commenter to degrade the level of discourse, we all fall prey to using a sharper tone than I think is innate to our personalities. (Debacles ensue; as when I irritated Alan with attempted comedy--one example.)

I think there's a bit of a culture clash here. Garrett doesn't have the same sense of how to interpret tone online, so he's responded in a way the online folks receive as overly tetchy. I say give him a break. He spent four years assembling this thing, and it must feel like preparing for and climbing Everest. Yet when he gets to the top, there are a bunch of people throwing eggs at him. I think his response was overdone, but I also completely forgive him, recognize that we've all done the same thing online, and also recognize that it comes in defense not just of a frivolous little blog post, but a tome into which he's invested massive elbow grease.

He earned his response.

Steve Gates -

Good point Jeff, I'm sure it like defending perceived attacks on your child, it is your first instinct to counter attack and you are going for the soft underbelly with extreme prejudice. Egos are a funny thing and my minimal exposure to the academic set definitively proved that they all have one and many of them have a large one. I think these two fine gentlemen are shining examples of the veracity of my premise. Oh well, it's only human.

Pete Brown -

Flagon of ale - "ego-driven tooth fairy?"

Wow.

Apart from resulting to cheap name calling as a method of argument, your refutation of my argument has no basis in fact whatsoever and answers none of the points I raised.

I don't know what I've done to upset you, apart from write about beer as well as I can and then step up to defend my work when it's criticised, but really, get a grip, mate.

Pete Brown -

Flagon - now I've found out who you are, I'm genuinely bemused by your hostility and spitefulness. I've always been very admiring of your beers and have spoken very highly to others about what you do. Needless to say, I won't be doing so any more.

olllllo -

Very late to this discussion, but it's finally reached a point where I feel as though I have something to contribute and it follows the same trajectory as Jeff's points about online discourse.

Bear in mind I'm not taking sides, I'm just making an analogy about the tone of the conversation.

All of this reminds me knowledgeable and mostly "trying to be helpful" homebrewers telling the professional brewer what's wrong with their beer. Generally speaking, it's a recipe for disaster and awkwardness when done in the public space of the taproom.

Carry on

FlagonofAle -

Hm, I wonder who Pete Brown thinks I am. Out of pity for whichever poor guy is going to get retribution for my cranky attitude, I feel like I should say that I live in the US and do not work for a brewery in any way, so I think it's unlikely you've tried my beers, Pete.

However, your chiming in and threatening to with hold promoting someone's beer based on this interaction does sort of prove my point.

Alan -

Very odd notice over at Amazon.com, as noticed by Stan. Trading halted? Canadians not under such conditions at Amazon.ca.

Alan -

Notice has now been removed from Amazon.com... just hours after being noticed.

olllllo -

I realize that this is digging up a thread and I don't think it warrants my joining od the wiki, but I have to drop this gem off somewhere.

Hoooley Cow New Republic.

http://www.tnr.com/book/review/oxford-companion-beer

Alan -

Excellent! I will pop it up over at the wiki.

Dan -

Late post about British beer bottles. 568mL pint bottles may have been quite popular once but they are certainly not these days. I seem to recall the reason most (if not almost all) british beers are sold in 500mL bottles was to come into line with standard EU sizing (see most German/Dutch beer bottles) i also seem to recall there was a bit of an uproar about the change within the British beer community. This is all from memory of course and absolutely not the result of scholarly research :)