Carlton Books Ltd., Hard cover, ￡12.99, 384 pp
The World Beer Guide was first published in 1995 under the title of The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Beer (there were a lot of “ultimates” doing the rounds at the time). It was a splendid book, big and glossy, packed with smart photographs of beers and breweries. Wrapped around the pictures was Roger Protz’s authoritative text. For your money, you received not only a book that looked good, but also one that actually told you something. When it comes to coffee table books, the two can never be taken for granted.
Fourteen years on, the book is enjoying a renaissance. It was last updated in 2000 and has now been pored over again, the cobwebs blown away, and the facts and figures updated for a new era. But what you don’t get anymore are the pictures, which is a shame as this is a book crying out for illustration. Don’t get me wrong, Roger’s words are as clear and crisp as ever, drawing on his four decades of banging on brewery doors and seeking out beers of quality, but the book, in its new, compact, monochrome format, has a rather dry feel to it.
The contents begin with the art and science of beer making, and the basics of brewing are explained extremely well, with more detail than is often found in catchall beer books. Then Roger describes his travels; zipping around the world, country-by-country, summing up the local beer scene, selecting the best exponents. Chapter Three takes us on a pub and bar tour of the world, with paragraphs on all of the best places to drink, before Chapter Four explores what it describes as “the culture of beer drinking”―anything from the origins of pub names to the latest licensing rules in the UK. Throughout, it’s clear that Roger knows his stuff; much of it gleaned firsthand through visits to the breweries and bars themselves.
Producing a revised edition of a book this extensive and detailed is always going to be fraught with danger―danger that an odd fact may be overlooked, danger that new information is sidelined in favor of just updating the existing text. Being picky, I did find examples where the story is not quite up-to-date and also stumbled across some notable omissions. I also noted that the absence of web details makes the book seem somewhat dated. That all said, it’s a good, solid, informative work―nearly 400 packed pages of text from the world’s leading beer writer―that I will certainly consult on a regular basis.
The lack of gloss and glamour in this new version can, of course, be a bonus. Think of the World Beer Guide as a solid primer―a fundamental, almost school textbook-like introduction to the world of beer, bars and brewing that cuts to the chase and leaves the frills for other titles. The added bonus, of course, is that you have a coffee table book, without the coffee table price.