For this anniversary issue, I decided to set aside the stack of new publications that have arrived, and instead contact the beer writers whose work I regularly read to ask them which books in their own beer libraries they open most often. Some responded with a short list; others wrote at length about the authors they admire. Set aside about four linear feet of bookshelf space to hold these 50 or so books, and you’ll have a world-class beer library.
Most beer books are transitory; too many are just stale rehashes of earlier work. One book that stands the test of time is Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion, his finest work, first published in 1993 but just as valid today as it was a decade ago. The British novelist Fay Wheldon said when she read Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, “Now that’s written the rest of us can all go home.” Michael’s book had a similar impact on me, though –in common with Fay Wheldon—I continue to write!
It begins with the memorable paragraph, “No one goes into a restaurant and requests ‘a plate of food, please.’ People do not ask simply for ‘a glass of wine,’ without specifying, at the very least, whether they fancy red or white, perhaps sparkling or still…When their mood switches from the grape to the grain, these same discerning folk often ask simply for ‘a beer,’ or perhaps name a brand, without thinking about its suitability for the mood or the moment.”
From there he goes on to extol the joys of beer, its methods of manufacture, and then takes us on a dazzling world tour of regions and styles. It is encyclopedic, passionate, lucid, committed and beautifully written—a tour de force that will survive when other beer books have turned to dust.
Tim Webb’s Good Beer Guide to Belgium and Holland is now in its fifth edition and is a remarkable achievement. Tim is not a professional writer (damn his eyes, how dare he write so well) but from his east of England base visits the Low Countries regularly and has built a vast database of knowledge about beers and breweries. He has a caustic eye, vigorously attacks the quick and the shoddy in the beer world, castigates brewers who turn from the path of righteousness, and is often wickedly funny. Here, in 350 pages, is everything you will ever need to know about Belgian and Dutch beers.
Another source of great help and information is Jeff Evans’ Good Bottled Beer Guide. The Brits drink most of their beer on draft and 10 years ago bottled beers were falling off the cliff. In a crowded beer writing market, Jeff chose to carve out his own niche, concentrating on bottle-conditioned beers. At first, sales were slow, but as bottled beer has revived and is growing by more than 10 percent a year, Jeff’s book has flourished and is now an annual publication and a vade mecum. With great attention to detail, he not only lists all naturally conditioned bottled beers in Britain, but also gives fascinating information about ingredients along with his own measured and thoughtful tasting notes.
My real appreciation for fine beer began back in college in La Crosse, Wisconsin. There was a liquor store in town that carried a couple of dozen imports, several taverns that had Hacker Pschorr on draft, and a beer bar that boasted 86 different beers, including a biere de garde. This was in the late 70s, mind you. Wallet willing, I tried whatever I could. Dark German beers, stouts, and English ales were my favorites. About 10 years later, I got my hands on an early edition of [Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion]. The title was apt, and the beer world now made perfect sense. I couldn’t even guess how many times I have read the tome, and each time it seems just as fresh as before. My first edition was completely worn out, and I am on edition two, which is no less tattered. I started homebrewing in 1987, doing all-grain almost immediately. The Companion provided as much information, for me anyhow, as any homebrewing book on how to concoct traditional, stylistic homebrew. There were no recipes, yet enough information for savvy interpretation. I still refer to it often for my columns, and I would have to say that my homebrews are usually close to my intentions thanks to The Companion. The world of beer-lovers owes a lot to Jackson, the man who made sense of the whole thing.
K. Florian Klemp
This is a tough one, because they are all my favorites. But in terms of what’s valuable to my writing, I can give you a short list:
100 Years of Brewing, published by the Western Brewer, a trade journal, in 1903. It is my single most valuable resource in understanding the history of brewing both in the U.S. and everywhere else in the world. A thumping great book I’ve consulted dozens of times.
Thomas Cochran’s The Pabst Brewing Company: The History of an American Business is a gem, and very useful in understanding what has happened to American beer as the country has grown. Probably the best single company history you will ever find.
Another good look at brewing early in America is Beer: Its History and Economic Value as a National Beverage written in 1880 by Frederick W. Salem.
For history of brewing in Canada, I turn to The Barley and the Stream: The Molson Story by Merrill Denison.
For England, The Brewing Industry in England, 1700-1830 by Peter Mathias is an incredible resource. Also useful is H.S. Corran’s A History of Brewing and Roger Protz’s The Ale Trail.
And for Ireland, Guinness’s Brewery in the Irish Economy, 1759-1876 by Patrick Lynch and John Vaizey.
For understanding beer styles, Fred Eckhardt’s The Essentials of Beer Style is terrific, as are all the volumes in the Classic Beer Styles Series from the AHA.
For pure pleasure, I confess to a love of pub porn: Victorian Pubs by Mark Girouard, The English Pub by Michael Jackson, The English Pub by Andy Whipple and Rob Anderson and Classic Town Pubs: A CAMRA Guide by Neil Hanson—all delicious armchair pubcrawls.
And probably the book that started it all for me, and still a great read, Michael Jackson’s The World Guide to Beer.
A very simple question to answer: American Breweries by Dale Van Wieren, 100 Years of Brewing, and The United States Guide to U.S. Beer Cans published by the BCCA.
Beer Dave Gausepohl
At BeerHistory.com, I get a lot of requests for info on long-defunct breweries. So, for me, the two most referenced books, by far, are:
100 Years of Brewing (1903)
American Breweries II (1995)
My two most utilized books are a xerox copy of Wahl-Henius American Handy Book of Brewing and Malting and Auxiliary Trades (1908) and Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide—500 Classic Brews (2000): the former for info on traditional American brewing, and MJ’s for specific beer info. I also cling to CAMRA’s Good Beer Guides for Western Europe for the very good info they contain about Western European beers.
The most-thumbed books in my beer book collection are travel books: Stan Hieronymous and Daria Labinsky’s Beer Lover’s Guide to the U.S.A., Stephen Beaumont’s The Great Canadian Beer Guide, and CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide, portions of which accompanied us to England last year. One of my favorites is Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide. By my count, I’ve had 145 of the 500 best beers Jackson lists in that book.
As far as books go, I’m embarrassed to say that I consult my own pretty regularly, mostly the Canadian Guide and Taste. Beyond that, I frequently reference Tim Webb’s Beer Guide to Belgium and Holland, Stan and Daria’s Beer Lover’s Guide to the USA and CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide. Also, although less often, Michael’s Pocket Beer Book.
Jackson and Protz.
Mine is The Theory and Practice of Brewing Illustrated by William L. Tizzard, printed in London in 1846. It’s a brilliant book by one of the first brewers to really delve deeply into the science of brewing. He was a bombastic writer who castigated his colleagues who brewed by rote without truly understanding what they were doing. There is a chapter entitled “East India Pale Ale” which inspired our beer of the same name. It was a gift from the famed brewpub pioneer David Bruce.
Technology Brewing and Malting by Wolfgang Kunze
After that, two highly respected:
Malts and Malting by Briggs
Brewing Yeast and Fermentation by Boulton & Quain
Origin And History of Beer And Brewing From Prehistoric Times to the Beginning of Brewing Science And Technology by John P. Arnold (1911).
There’s another book called Let There Be Beer by Bob Brown (1932) I came upon not too long ago, which contains, I believe, some of the most lyrical writing on beer I’ve ever read. Really wonderful.
The books I turn to most would be:
The Essentials of Beer Style by Fred Eckhardt
Great Beers of Belgium by Michael Jackson
Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian
The various tomes in the Classic Beer Style Series
Here are two unfamiliar and one familiar book to answer your question about beer reference books:
Michael Jackson’s Pocket Guide to Beer (Simon and Schuster, numerous editions) Still the first place I turn for information about an unfamiliar brewery or about places to drink in cities I’m visiting.
William L. Downard, Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries (Greenwood Press, 1980). An excellent concise excyclopedia of American breweries and distilleries. An up-to-date version of this book would be welcome.
Allen Winn Sneath, Brewed in Canada (Dundurn Press, 2001): A very good concise history of Canadian breweries and the beers they made.
Martin Morse Wooster
In my “Lager Library,” the most popular books are:
Simon & Schuster Pocket Guide to Beer by Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion
Classic Stout & Porter by Roger Protz
The Good Beer Book by Timothy Harper and Garrett Oliver
Beer Basics by Peter LaFrance
Windows on the World Complete Wine Course by Kevin Zraly
Champagne by Serena Sutcliffe
Jim Murray’s Complete Book of Whiskey
Spirits & Cocktails by Dave Broom
Michael Jackson’s Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch
The Martini by Barnaby Conrad III
The Complete Book of Mixed Drinks by Anthony Dias Blue
The Harvard Student Agencies Bartender Course
The Complete Book of Cocktails & Punches by Sue Michalski
Professional Guide to Alcoholic Beverages by Robert and Kathleen Lapinski
The Bar and Beverage Book by Costas Katsigris and Mary Porter
I still probably refer to Michael Jackson’s books the most. The Beer Companion and New World Guide to Beer are used all the time, even though some of the information has become outdated.
As I typically focus on British topics, Roger Protz’s stuff also gets a lot of use. I still use The Ale Trail from time to time. Given the frequency of my travel to the UK, it’s no surprise that I rely heavily on the CAMRA Good Beer Guide (I don’t always buy it every year, but do have the last 3 years including 2005). But I also really like the annual Good Pub Guide.
My favorite pub guide to London is out of date, but still quite valuable. It’s Peter Haydon’s Known Treasures & Hidden Gems: A Guide to the Pubs of London. It hasn’t been updated since 1996 but I still refer to it frequently. It’s among my most dog-eared and beer-stained books in my collection! His new book, The London Pub, is quite nice, but it’s less of a practical guide and more of a coffee table book.