Fans of Michael Jackson’s beer writing will be excited to see a new Jackson book on the market, Great Beer Guide: 500 Classic Brews. However, if these fans have faithfully collected all of Jackson’s books, they will quickly discover that they’ve seen much of the material in the Great Beer Guide before, in Ultimate Beer, published in 1998.

Ultimate Beer was a beautifully produced hardbound book in coffee-table format. The hundreds of beers were organized by the occasion when that style might best be enjoyed, under the headings “Beers for the Moment” (seasonal beers, aperitifs, party greetings, nightcap beers), “Beer and Food” (with shellfish, with pickles and pâté, with lamb, with creamy desserts), and “Cooking with Beer” (for soups, for stews, for basting, etc.).

This unusual organization made the book a pleasure to browse. The clean design was typical of publisher Dorling Kindersley (DK). And the care lavished on photographs of each beer with an appropriate glass, often bearing the brewery’s logo, and the accompanying food rewarded the reader’s attention.

Great Beer Guide takes the same reviews and photographs, adds photos or expands the text for some of the beers, and organizes the beers alphabetically, one beer per page. (This, by the way, is also a rather unusual structure among beer books, usually organized by style or region.) The book, soft cover this time, is now a compact 5 by 7 inches, but it is also an inch and a half thick, and no lightweight.

Much of Ultimate Beer’s supporting material on beer ingredients and brewing techniques has been omitted, as have the food photographs.

What’s left is quite a useful reference book for readers who want information on a particular beer, not on making the most of a drinking occasion. Ultimate Beer is for the living room: the Great Beer Guide is for reference shelf. Does a beer lover need both? Probably not: the alphabetical index of Ultimate Beer is, in essence, the sequence of beers in Great Beer Guide, although the Guide has some new material.
That said, many beer lovers will use both. Ultimate Beer will be the volume of choice when you want to cast around for ways to enjoy beer more. Great Beer Guide is the book you’ll grab when you want facts at your fingertips, fast.