New Society Publishers
Soft cover, $18.95, 276 pp.
First let me say that I’m an advocate of the broad premise of this work from an earnest young writer: that good beer is a great thing, and the world would be a better place if people paid more heed to it. The world needs a book like this. Just not this book.
O’Brien advocates a beery revolution that will cleanse the earth of the sins of misogyny, globalization, industrialism and prickly heat. These heady plans would require a lot of redistribution, retraining, decapitalization and more—things that people will not jump gleefully into.
Seems to me, if you’re proposing a grand realignment of society, you really ought to get your facts straight, and your argument ironclad. O’Brien does neither. This quote sums it up on several levels: “Ultimately, brewing became driven solely by the profit motive and nearly all attendant religious, health, and cultural values of beer were discarded. Women, who had developed and safeguarded beer’s multifaceted roles for ten millennia or more, were robbed of this tradition as men reduced it to just three things: money, money, money.” Another section title reads: “Corporate Pig-Dogs vs. Enlightened Beer Drinkers.”
Pondering details like lifespan, opportunities, equality and standard of living, O’Brien eventually admits “maybe industrialism has been good for women…” which kind of devastates the argument he’d been building for the first four chapters.
There are lots of meaningful errors. Isaac Newton, he states, was “the man most responsible for initiating the Renaissance,” somehow missing 300 vital years of European history. This is not niggling. Historical arguments depend deeply on chronology; if it’s wrong, the facts don’t matter. O’Brien appears to rely on the Web for a lot of his historical nuggets: I recognized (and rejected) many of them from my own searching.
He includes a chapter about the problems with global warming, ozone, alien species and all the other “gloom and doom” issues, as he calls them. Can we take seriously the idea that real ale is good for the world because it uses less refrigeration? Let’s see the numbers. Yet he also misses the efficiencies inherent in low-gravity, mass-produced beer.
On the solution side, O’Brien at first proposes Africa as a model for the rest of us, not an appealing model to those of us who read the news. Organic beer’s nice. Wind powered breweries: no complaints there. His 24-point action plan is small-scale commonsense stuff like buying your beer in reusable growlers when possible and turning your fridge down a few degrees. I agree with all of them, but can you really call digging out a root cellar a revolution?
He delivers, as he promises, a book “filled with meanderings, postulations, proclamations, controversial claims, and radical ideas.” What Fermenting Revolution lacks is persuasiveness.
If I were an industrialist, I’d light up a big fat Cuban with a C-note, lean back in my leather chair and have a nice relaxing smoke, because the kids are a long, long way from storming the gates.