CAMRA Books, Soft cover, $24.95, 384 pp
Ostensibly, this book reads more like a desktop page-a-day calendar that suggests a different beer to help get you through each day. But there is rhyme to author Jeff Evans’s reason, as well as some wordy heft.
The one-page intro notifies the reader that this “is not just a catalogue of great beers: it is a celebration of high days, holidays and the otherwise gentle passing of the seasons as seen through the eyes of the world’s greatest brewers.” As such, Evans offers a sense of seasonal chronology for his selected 366 beers―British harvest ales to ward off winter, French biéres de gardes to welcome spring, Belgian saisons to temper summer, and German märzens to celebrate autumn.
Yanks, be forewarned, this beery almanac is primarily of, by and for Britons, seeing as it’s published by Campaign for Real Ales (CAMRA). Consider this: nearly 200 of the featured beers are British (including several from Fuller’s, Greene King, Harveys and St. Austell). Only 29 are from us trifling Separatists (brewed by 16 of the over-400 packaging breweries, including four from Anchor). And, even then, two of them are British-style ESBs.
Evans augments each page/beer with history and trivia and every page follows the exact formula. Pages begin with a fun fact, usually straightforward: historical, national or religious. The selected beer pertains to that fact. Let’s start with January 1 as an example.
On New Year’s, “Bass acquires Britain’s first registered trademark, 1876.” While a photo depicts the familiar sight of a Bass Pale Ale with the red triangle logo, it is suggested to celebrate with No. 1 Barley Wine (10.5%) brewed by the White Shield Brewery in Burton upon Trent. A brief essay about Bass’s trademarks segues into tasting notes for this “magnificent bottle-conditioned barleywine that owes its rich red color to a 12-hour boil in the copper that caramelizes the abundant pale malt.” Finally, notable births (Paul Revere, 1735), deaths (Maurice Chevalier, 1972) and events (Samuel Pepys begins his diary, 1660) round out the day.
As for that 366th beer, every four years readers are entreated to commemorate the Salem Witch Trials with Batemans Salem Porter from Wainfleet, Lincolnshire, UK.
The amount of research and creativity the author put into this should amuse ale enthusiasts around the world. Pay homage to Scotland’s national poet by drinking Traquair House Ale (strong) on Burns Night, January 25, or venerable Russian author Dostoevsky (who died on February 9) by drinking St. Petersburg’s finest, Baltika. September 22 is evidently “Elephant Appreciation Day,” so instead of cracking open Carlsberg Elephant, opt for Delirium Tremens instead. For back-to-back fun, scare up some Moorhouse Black Cat (mild) on Hallowe’en and chase it on All Saint’s Day with the vaunted Trappist ale from the abbey of St. Sixtus, Westvleteren. Think that’s hard to obtain? Find Williams Bros. Kelpie Seaweed Ale on Seaweed Day (February 6) or Old Chimneys Black Rat Milk Stout on July 22―Rat Catcher’s Day.
In general, this makes for fun beer-and-society trivia that’s more befitting a bathroom reader (that’s a loo or WC to Brits) to flip through than curling up with by the fire.