The Commons
Food and Drink

How far we beer lovers have come

Happily lost in ‘The World Atlas of Beer’

Tom Bedell has more on beer (and golf) at his website.

Originally published in The Commons issue #181 (Wednesday, December 5, 2012).


WILLIAMSVILLE—It might have been more than 20 years ago at some Midwest outpost we’d journeyed to that Stephen Beaumont and I idly speculated on who might eventually succeed the bard of beer, Michael Jackson.

The British writer strode like a colossus over the world of beer journalism, having pretty much invented the discipline in the first place. The rest of us were pedaling furiously just to stay far behind.

Still, I think I put my money on Steve anyway. The young Canadian clearly had a passion for beer, an ambition to make writing about it his life’s work, and the drive to succeed by, for example, rigorously training his palate to be able to discern all sorts of flavors.

I’m sure neither of us expected Jackson to pass away as young (65) and unexpectedly as he did in 2007. But Beaumont hadn’t let any grass grow under his feet anyway, authoring seven books on (mainly) beer and involving himself in various aspects of the drinks industry.

Likewise, across the pond, Tim Webb was establishing himself as one of Britain’s most accomplished beer writers, specializing in Belgian beers through eight editions of the Good Beer Guide Belgium and taking a leading role in CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale).

While I’ve had more than a few pints with Steve through the years at various points along the beer trail, I’ve never hoisted one with Tim, at least as far as I know or remember.

But good on the pair of them anyway, for co-authoring The World Atlas of Beer: The Essential Guide to Beers of the World (Sterling Epicure, 2012, $30), published this fall.

The pair acknowledges the debt to Jackson, and indeed the new book is very much modeled on his pioneering 1977 opus The World Guide to Beer.

That’s not a bad thing, because there’s something here for everyone, from beer novice to jaded expert. There are preliminary chapters that dutifully go through the basics of what beer is, its origins, various ingredients, how it’s made.

But the book expands on Jackson’s work in discussing beer and food affinities, and Steve and Tim ponder the beverage in terms of buying, storing, serving, pouring, and tasting.

* * *

The regional chapters make up the heart of the volume, surveying the brewing scene in traditional brewing countries like Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland, and showing how the craft brewing movement has erupted from the Americas and now reaches into virtually every corner of earth.

The authors estimate that in the 21st century there will be 10,000 breweries worldwide producing some 60,000 regularly produced beers (which basically means I’ll never catch up).

Indeed, that’s one of the distinctions between the old and new guides.

As Webb notes in a preface, Jackson’s book was describing a world of beer that was at a low ebb — when many regional styles and specialties were on the brink of extinction or already into the abyss. It was a world of consolidation and contraction, with one type of beer — watery, pale yellow lager — having flooded the marketplace.

Jackson’s work was a major finger in the dike.

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