Until recently the only beer books in my collection were the stalwart CAMRA Good Beer Guide and a few other local guides. My beer book cupboard was bare and with that in mind I’ve picked up a few others in recent months. I've now been using them for a while; so thought I’d share my thoughts with you. Today I’m focussing on some reference style books, later I’ll cover books in the “beer story” genre.
Guides with titles along the lines of “(insert x number of beers here) beers you simply must try before you expire” are becoming more proliferate in the beer book marketplace. One of the best I’ve seen is Zak Avery’s “500 beers”. I like the format of this book: small and hardback meaning it is travel size and robust enough to pull out and flick through in a drinking establishment. There are also plenty of colourful photographs that help break up the text and it’s laid out according to style with a typical example given a slightly longer review. I also like that Zak has drunk all of the beers himself; so consistency of review is maintained. The decision to include suggested food pairings was inspired and I now have plenty of food matches to try (well those that I can veggie-tise). It was also a decent price too (an important consideration if you’d rather be spending book funds on beer). I’d have liked an easier to navigate index, perhaps by country. I’m also worried I’ve become something of a ticker as I find myself counting up how many of the beers I’ve tried. Maybe its just my obsession with I-Spy books as a kid, but I’d love there to be tick boxes and maybe a few pages for notes. Aside from a couple of typographical errors and the odd confusing tasting note (“dusty hopsack” anyone?) the book is great and recommend you picking it up. [500 beers by Zak Avery, published by Apple Press (2010) http://amzn.to/qyifZa]
Another guide to tasty beers is “1001 beers you must try before you die”, but this time it’s a compilation of a variety of beer writers kept in check by Adrian Tierney Jones. It’s arranged by colour, which is a novel approach, then alphabetically by name. Unfortunately the decision not to include brewery name in all cases sometimes makes it difficult to look beers up. On the plus side it has an alphabetical index by both brewery and country, both of which are useful for different reasons. The country by country index was great for checking which beers were recommended for GBBF this year! Generally given a page per beer, with some historical notes and a separate tasting notes box, there’s certainly a lot more reading material in this than in Zak’s book, but I think only the obsessed would read every single entry in its entirety. [1001 beers you must try before you die edited by Adrian Tierney Jones, published by Cassell Illustrated (2010) http://amzn.to/qou3ZD]
There’s a place for both of these books in your collection and my aim is to try as many as possible, though not at the expense of trying other beers, because sometimes the best beers are ones you have never heard of and try on an off-chance. There is some overlap as you would expect so its probably about 1250 or so to try, I’m about a quarter of the way there so still plenty to seek out!
An area of beer culture that is getting more press recently is beer and food matching. This has long been practiced by those in the know and one of the masters is Garret Oliver. His book “The Brewmaster's Table” is an in depth look at the styles of the world, looking at some of the major players in producing that style then suggesting foods that would match with it. There’s a great introductory chapter that talks about the principles of food pairing (expanded on here by Mark Dredge) and a handy look-up table for finding matches for different food types. A selection of glossy photos acts as beer porn and gets you salivating to try some of the matches. [Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasure of Real Beer with Real Food by Garrett Oliver, published by Harper Perennial (2005) http://amzn.to/nD8BmM]