With everything from brewers' own web sites, beer columns, beer blogs, articles on beer and food matching and message boards where home brewers exchange technical information, the internet is awash with information about beer.
However, as is the case with almost any subject, when it comes to learning about beer the internet can be something of a minefield. With just about anyone free to contribute it can be hard to determine what's factual and what is merely someone's personal opinion or conjecture.
Although the internet has the advantage of being bang up to date, especially when it comes to breaking news, if I'm looking for technical or historical information about a brewery or beer I tend to check first with my favourite reference books before heading online. This week, with late Christmas gifts and book vouchers in mind, I thought I'd list a few of my favourite beer books.
Looking at my own bookshelf my most well-thumbed tomes are the works of the late English writer Michael Jackson, most notably Michael Jackson's Beer Companion and Great Beers of Belgium. Both are classic works that can be read like a novel, or dipped into for reference.
Next up would be The Oxford Companion to Beer which was published in October 2011 and has since become one of my most used reference works. Edited by American brewer and writer Garrett Oliver, this weighty tome has been described by the Huffington Post as "The largest amount of knowledge about beer ever assembled in one book".
Garrett, who is notably passionate and eloquent on the subject of beer and food matching, also wrote The Brewmaster's Table (HarperCollins, 2003), my favourite book on the subject of pairing beer with food.
My bookshelf also contains several world guides and other volumes with titles like "(insert a large number here) beers to try before you die". Unfortunately the big problem with such books is that they quickly go out of date. The world of beer is constantly evolving - beers come and go, breweries are taken over or closed and the production of beers is sometimes transferred from one location to another (Mac's and Monteith's would be good examples) - and for that reason I'm hesitant to recommend any of the older world beer guides.
That said, the latest addition to my collection is a most worthy effort. Attempting to cover the fast-changing world of beer in a single volume is a brave - some might say impossible - task, but the English-Canadian duo of Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont have made a good fist of it with The World Atlas of Beer (Sterling Epicure, 2012).
After defining "What is beer?" the authors have included separate chapters on beer's origins, its ingredients and the brewing process. These are followed by pages on the subject of beer styles, buying beer, storing beer, serving beer, pouring beer and tasting beer. Finally there's a chart listing recommended beer and food pairings.
The bulk of the book is then divided geographically into countries and regions, offering illustrations and tasting notes for examples of "above-average" beers "that in some way epitomise what is going on (in the region)". A useful two-page glossary of beer terminology precedes the index at the end of the book.
Back in February one of the authors, the Canadian beer writer Stephen Beaumont, made a whistle-stop tour of New Zealand and I caught up with him briefly at the Great Kiwi Beer Festival in Christchurch. Although he was only here for a few days he seems to have got a good handle on the evolution of craft brewing in this country.
In the book Stephen identifies "the rise of a uniquely New Zealand style of pilsner, equal parts malty and hoppy in the Czech fashion but imbued with perfumy tropical fruitiness courtesy of the local hops" and observes that this country has gone "from beery also-ran to flagging market to poster child for New World craft brewing". The book also includes illustrated examples of Kiwi craft beers from Yeastie Boys, Epic, Emerson's, Tuatara, The Mussel Inn, Three Boys, 8 Wired, Moa and Renaissance.
If you're looking for a last-minute Christmas gift for someone whose interest in great beer extends beyond drinking it, The World Atlas of Beer would be a fine choice. Cheers!
- The Marlborough Express