Tuesday, November 1, 2011

More (Better) Beer Guides Please.

Here at Thirsty Pilgrim I've tried to write about beer and never about beer writing. I'll make an exception for one day since the latter is going mainstream.

You see, the Oxford Companion to Beer (have you heard of it?) has an entry on "beer writing," stuck in there 'twixt "beer weeks" and "Belgian brewing degrees" (straight away dismissed as "obsolete," but let's not mention that to the brothers at Rochefort and Westvleteren). And yesterday a magazine no less prestigious than the Atlantic had an article devoted to beer writing.

I'm not going to join the OCB kerfuffle here, except to summarize it for those who don't know: It's a big book, fun to read, and mostly true. A couple of beer historians (much cited and respected by less detail-oriented writers like me) have noted a number of inaccuracies or statements they deem to be misleading. Editor Garrett Oliver and defenders have said that some errors are inevitable in such a big book. In yesterday's article, Atlantic writer Clay Risen sides with the defenders.

I'm not going to side with anyone here, because I want to note two of Risen's more important points: First, we need more beer writers who write well for the wider public, rather than for each other or just for (fellow?) geeks. Hard to argue with that.

His second point is that we need more beer guides -- good ones -- as in, guidebooks with a beery bent. Risen mentions Christian DeBenedetti's Great American Ale Trail. I want to mention Andy Crouch's Great American Craft Beer, Adrian Tierney-Jones' Great British Pubs, and Stackpole Publishing's state brewery guides. Last but not least, self-interest compels me to mention Cogan & Mater's handy series of European beer guides. There are many more.

I don't think Risen is coming from a point of ignorance about these books. I think he knows about them, and he wants to see more. I can get on board with that. I love the damn things. That's why I wrote one.

And since I'm writing about beer writing today, and today only, I'm going to point out one more interesting thing. It's something Martyn Cornell, one of those persnickety beer historians, mentioned at the end of a post a few days ago:

I’m going to try to ignore the OCB now, at least until my own copy finally arrives: all the criticisms (and indeed the praise) I’ve made so far are based only on trying to search through what little is available of the book on the web. But Google Books did turn up something amusing. There is one of the 140-plus contributors who simply copied-and-pasted whole paragraphs from the book he wrote several years ago straight into his work for the Oxford Companion to Beer. Evidently for some people, five cents a word only gets you second-hand sentences.
So... what do you think? Is it past time for beer writing to, I don't know, grow up a bit? It's a risky thing for a beer writer to suggest. Something about casting stones. Maybe that's why I don't like to write about beer writing.

Right. Head down, back to work.


  1. Thanks for this beer guides! I have a better idea of what your trying to point out here.

  2. I agree. There are some fine beer guides out now, particularly the Cogan & Mater series.