The Oxford Companion to Beer is out (well, it is in the US, and it will be in the UK on 27th October).
|This book has doubled the weight of my carry-on luggage home
Let’s get the quibbles out of the way first: in today’s world of forensic pedantry surrounding beer, some people are bound to find errors. Others will take offence at subjective entries. Others still are bound to find glaring omissions, and some bits will have been out of date by the time the book went to press.
It’s impossible to capture every single fact, statistic and morsel of wisdom about beer into one book, but this is as close as anyone is going to get.
On Thursday night I attended the contributors’ party at the Great American Beer Festival and managed to snaffle a copy.
Obviously, I haven’t read it all – that would be silly – but I wanted to give the book a heads up, and give you an impressionistic view of what it’s like just from flipping through it.
To give you an idea of how good this book is, I don’t normally like reading encyclopaedias about beer, and when I picked it up, I was in a room full of friends I hadn’t seen for ages, some who I was meeting in person for the first time, and some people whom I didn’t know but wanted to meet. And it was a struggle to get my nose out of the book and say hello to them. You open a page at random and you start reading, and you lose yourself in trivia, history, and bits of brewing science you always wanted to know but never got round to asking.
It’s about two and a half years since I was first asked to contribute to the book. I filed my last piece about a year ago. And I was just one of 165 contributors, my 20 just a fraction of the 1100+ entries, which span 920 pages. This gives you an idea of the incredible scale of this project. My own pieces stretch from meaty topics such as IPA, Great Britain (how do you ‘do’ a whole country and its brewing tradition in 3500 words?) and Prohibition, to shorter entries on subjects like Farson’s Lacto Milk Stout, Snakebite, BYOB, Oast Houses and the Quarter (an obscure unit for measuring malt, about which I think my 250 words have probably doubled the amount written).
Opening the book at random, pages 520-521 cover Koningshoeven Brewery, kosher beer, Kostritzer Schwarzbierbrauerei, krausening and kriek. Flipping to pages 358-359, there are two meaty entries on Flanders and flavo(u)r. Pages 426-427 cover heather, hectoliter, hedge hops, hefeweizen and Heineken.
Get the picture? Just about everything any sane person could want to know about beer is in this book, and most of the entries I’ve dipped in to so far are surprisingly readable for such a weighty, authoritative tome.
The Oxford Companions to wine and food are regarded as peerless and essential by many working in those fields. I’d say the Oxford Companion to beer is the same: if you write about beer, study it or brew it, you simply cannot do without this book. And if you’re simply interested enough in beer to be reading this blog, you kinda need it too.
If you don’t yet possess any of my three books you should buy them first, obviously. But when you’ve got them and you’re back on Amazon, you simply have to buy this.
Your postman won’t thank you, though.