Unlike Michael Jackson’s legendary World Guide to Beer, which painted a portrait of beer at its lowest ebb, Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont’s new World Atlas of Beer tours the vibrant global craft beer culture as it is today. Whereas the Guide called attention to the vanishing classic beer styles, the Atlas gathers together the raucous world of the emerging and expanding beer culture revolution.
The organization and narrative reflect a solid undercurrent of both writers’ beer passion. They argue that the world of macro brewing is suffering because of changes in the market and that craft brewing represents the future. Furthermore, the authors feel that the reason why regions where craft beer has failed to launch are both poorly made or unimaginative beers from the first generation of craft brewers. Finally, the authors’ love of beer, and all things beer, moves the writing away from rigorous structures and toward embracing the quality of the revolution.
The obligatory opening sections on all aspects of beer go well beyond the typical survey. The yeast section is detailed and extensive, as is worthy of the ingredient. The fermentation chart simplifies without dumbing down a complex process.
The authors have taken a very balanced and realistic approach to beer styles, paying respect to the classics, but leaving extensive room for innovation and experimentation. They have the same attitude toward glassware: defining a few classics, then opting for a preference for stemware. Their food and beer pairing section should hang in every beer lover’s kitchen. Their comments on beer and sweets are simply insightful.
The beer reviews are more than just a roundups of profiles. Webb and Beaumont have gathered highly respected examples from each country/region they cover. A beer lover could die satisfied should he or she sample all of the beers recommended by the co-authors.
The reviews themselves go well beyond a recitation of statistics or an account of sensory experiences. The pair stray into a more personal vision of beer reviews: Tripel Karmeliet is described as a “comfort beer”; Rodenbach, they suggest, might be best served from an ice bucket in the summer. My favorite was the description of a brewery as “possessed of confidence and apparently limitless common sense.”
Each section, region or country, includes two particularly fun features. There are sidebars with references for fantastic beer experiences or recommended cultural behaviors. (In Prague, one is reminded that the man precedes the woman into a bar, watching out for barroom brawls.) The second treat is the maps, displaying the geography of craft beer expansion and potential vacation paths.
As with any tour de force, one can quibble with points of view. Giving the Campaign for Real Ale credit for starting the craft beer revolution could be a stretch. Overlooking the early days of the organization now called the Brewers Association seems a gap. Also, the occasional odd fact: They locate Boulder Brewery outside of Denver, instead of in their hometown of Boulder. Yet these are quibbles in a massive and beautiful read.
There are also many humorous aspects, such as the imaginative captions the authors appended to the fabulous photographic spreads that are bereft of any beer or brewing images. My personal favorites are the “long road for America’s craft beers” and the caption for the causeway to Lindisfarne, which alone is worth the price of the book.
Every beer lover and every brewer should have a copy of this book. In addition to helping leave behind any stridency, the Atlas will introduce all to the global revolution and the worldwide community of craft beer, craft brewing and craft beer lovers.