I have had this book for a few weeks kicking around. Things have been busy outside of this blog's range of duties. So I have been dipping into the book rather than reading it. Which is fine, isn't it. The point of a "number book" - for lack of a better name - or its sibling the style guide is that it is a reference. With the reasonably frequent publication of these books, it is important both to think of them as a cultural phenomenon as a whole and also to see what each offers that can't be found in a predecessor. Not sure if that makes this, then, a book review of a style guide to the style guides but there you have it. One can only have so many categories for the blog posts.
First, note the title. This is not about beer but a subsection of beer. Helpfully, there is a definition which can be distilled by the argument made for including Blue Moon in the category. It is in because "it gets people drinking different beers and works as a transition of tastes." Not sure that those are the criteria that matter to me but it's not my book and in any event Mark does a decent job canvassing the issues revolving around the question of identity in a way that doesn't promote a cultish belief system. The usual orthodoxies is not observed.
Second, and maybe what I like best about the book, is there is no rigid adherence to a pre- approved structure for style. In fact, as set out on page 41, Mark proposes a system of classic around which a style develops but admits that not every style has a classic because "some styles are so new that one hasn't established itself yet." Interestingly, this approach does borrow from the original Jacksonian statement on style but merges it with something that reminds me of nothing so much as the Michelson–Morley experiment of 1887 which started a path of thought that moved away from existing assumptions... even though that was not the original intention.
Third, as we should expect in a book of this year, it is a bit too hop obsessed. Reviews of beers note the variety of hops used but not the malt or yeast strain. I find the association with hop and craft too direct. It dissuades one from the consideration of taste as a unity, a statement. It can be taken to a further degree by not just isolating the hop as key factor but then unraveling the components within the hop. I don't know what to make of this phenomenon of the present age but I know it will pass even if these things are as good a foreshadowing sign of the end times as there are.
So, what does the book provide? It is an excellent snapshot of the themes flowing around good beer in 2012 and 2013. A good number of the beers described will never be in your marketplace and may already be out of production. But there will be a time when concepts like "Belgian IPA" or "American stout" will be looked back upon as one does wide-legged jeans. Yet, those ideas will only be replaced with other marketing terms unthinkable today. And, as noted, I take the tone of the book to be aware of this, to acknowledge that we appear to be somewhere in mid-stream. To that end - at the end - many blogs and books are recommended and many people are thanked. This here blog even gets a nod. Because the overall point is about the discussion of good beer as much as it is a statement about good beer.
We may be at mid-stream but this is a very handy stepping stone. And one with a very attractive price right now at amazon.ca.