Some people can be very difficult to buy a Christmas present for. Beer nerds needn’t be.
Year after year, beer fans all over the world are on the receiving end of “coffee table books” about beer – the sort that aren’t really designed to be read, but function pointlessly to let everyone who comes in to your home know you like a pint at the weekend.
These kinds of books have also been labeled “toilet books” and are one of the many tragic symptoms of the commercialisation of Christmas, as well as the results of the last minute panic of your siblings. As a result, hundreds of books with names like “501 Beers to Try Before You Die”, “364 Beers for the Next Year”, “The World’s 1000 Best Beers”, end up gathering dust on bookshelves and in sheds. They don’t really say much and they’re not really read much.
It needn’t be that way though. There are a huge number of brilliant books to buy for the budding newbie and the seasoned veteran alike. So without further ado, here is The Missing Drink‘s selection of the best Beer Books for Christmas:
A sort of Magnum Opus in the beer world. This collection of entries on everything from alpha acids to zythos, written by industry insiders, experts, historians and brewers. It’s a hefty ol’ thing, but that’s to be expected from a book packed with the world’s beer knowledge. It may appear to be more like those toilet books that you don’t read through and simply take a look at when you’re bored, but the entries are surprisingly easy to read – it is quite easy to lose a few hours reading by jumping to related entries. One for any beery bookshelf, if a little daunting. It will come in very handy if you’re reading one of the following books, or any other beer book, and come across a term you don’t recognise.
Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey (of the wonderful Boak & Bailey) published their fantastic book on the “strange rebirth of British beer” this year and were deservedly named the British Guild of Beer Writers Writer(s) of the Year. Fantastically and thoroughly researched, the story of Britain’s version of the beer revolution is pulled together into a captivating and entertaining narrative. It’s an excellent journey through the past 50 years of British brewing, from its near extinction, through the campaign to save it and onto the wonders of the modern brewing scene. Certainly one of the most important books on beer to come out this year, but it will remain one of the finest and most fascinating books about beer there is.
Martyn Cornell is a giant of the beer world. His blog articles under his blog name Zythophile are as well researched as his books, which have to be considered as some of the world’s best. Amber, Gold and Black is a thorough history of Britain’s beer styles – both long-surviving and long-forgotten. Myths surrounding the origins of IPA, Bitter, Mild, Stout and Porter are debunked and accurately explained whilst some of the weird and wonderful styles confined to the history books are explored for the first time in decades. Essential reading for the those fascinated by the history of the beer styles we enjoy today.
Pete Brown’s Triptych
Not since Michael Jackson has a beer writer captured and engaged an audience so effortlessly. Writing with a friendly and accessible voice and a take on the subject that is neither too broad or too bogged down in detail, Brown’s books are the perfect entry into the world of beer writing. He takes a strange sort of joy in being called “Hucksterish, juvenile and occasionally vulgar… at first, pleasingly engaging and then, alas, more and more tiresome” by the Wall Street Journal. Less snooty readers will unanimously agree that his writing is entertaining yet informative, and with a tone of voice not unlike having a bloody good night down the pub with your mates. In addition, the books have some of the most beautiful cover art of any printed and bound document on anybody’s shelves.
Man Walks Into A Pub – A sociable history of beer, according to the cover. In his first book, Brown takes a look at the history of beer through the lens of drinking culture. It’s a whirlwind ride through thousands of years of fermenting and imbibing that will make every aspiring beer writer furiously envious that they didn’t manage to write it first.
Three Sheets To The Wind – After the success of his first book, Brown turned his attention to drinking cultures around the world. In what is described in the blurb as “the biggest pub crawl ever”, Pete dutifully and diligently travels the world to sample the joys of drinking in Spain, Japan, Australia and America to name but a few. The excellent writing makes you feel like you’ve joined him the whole way, and there are some insightful and valuable observations on global attitudes to drinking.
Hops and Glory – An ambitious experiment to retrace the steps of the original IPA. In an effort to understand the origins of the semi-mythical beer style that has come to embody the craft beer revolution, Pete travels by boat from Burton, first down canals and then on the open sea, taking a cask of India Pale Ale all the way to India. Filled with elements of romance and discovery, it’s a thoroughly entertaining journey.
Written by the grandson of the man who brought imported beer to the US, Beer Blast is an unrivaled history of the American Beer Wars. Despite being an industry insider, Philip van Munching manages to be unbiased and level handed in his analysis of the rise of the big players in the growth of America’s big brewers. Filled with personal anecdotes, intriguing tales of corporate espionage, and the skeletons in the closets of the families that got rich selling the world cheap beer. It tells the story of the growth of extraordinary international corporations, the invention of Lite beer that would take over the world and, perhaps most crucially, provides the context for what we now know as the craft beer revolution.
While certainly not the first beer and food matching book, it is certainly one of the best. Written by Garret Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery,this was one of the first works that seriously challenged wine’s monopoly of the dining table and introduced the concept of artisanal ale to a generation of foodies. Brewmaster’s Table does more than simply provide matching ideas for your beer and your dinner. It gives insight into the theory of flavour matching, gives wonderful background on the history of these drinks and lets the reader know how the beer is actually made. It gives the reader a broad knowledge for themselves, rather than spoonfeeding them a few pairings. The trend for matching beer and food is in no small part thanks to Oliver’s influential work, and his unmatched enthusiasm is evident in his work. It is easy to see why he was asked to edit the Oxford Companion to Beer.
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So there are eight of the best books about beer on the shelves today. Perfect to fill the stocking of the beer nerd in your life. Buy them all and you’ll have a pretty solid start to a beery library, with a reference book, a superb beer and food matching tome, a book on drinking around the world and histories of British and American Beer.
If there are any areas you think we’ve missed, or books that cover the same material as above but better, do let us know by commenting below. If there are any unlikely or hidden sources of fantastic beer-related knowledge, do leave a comment to let us know!