The Problem With Guides to Beer Drinking: There Just Aren’t Enough
on 01/11/11 at 3:08 pmBeer
America is a beer-drinking country — we consume about 10 times as much per capita as wine — but you’d never know it from the state of beer-related journalism. Most newspapers have a wine columnist, but few have a part-timer for beer; the New York Times turns to its wine writer, Eric Asimov, for the occasional write-up. That’s not to say there aren’t great beer writers, or great beer magazines, books, and blogs. But compared with wine, they’re few and far between — and, to put it as kindly as possible, not exactly aimed at the mainstream, non-beer-obsessed public.
This is a problem, especially during the current craft-beer renaissance. Newcomers to wine can follow a reliable guide like Asimov or the Wall Street Journal‘s Lettie Teague; good luck finding their equivalents (i.e., deeply knowledgeable but layman-accessible) in the world of beer. And while it’s possible to find entire shelves of authoritative books on the Napa wine scene or the history of cabernet sauvignon, anyone looking for a comparable resource on brown ales or wet-hopping will find, at best, an ever-changing Wikipedia page.
Which is why the Oxford Companion to Beer was so highly anticipated in the months leading up to its publication — and why it has been so viciously criticized upon its arrival. Edited by Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery, the book includes more than 1,100 entries by 166 contributors, covering everything from acrospires (the tiny sprouts that grow out of grain seeds) to the Zatec hop region in the western Czech Republic. Like other books in the Oxford University Press “companion” series, this is decidedly not encyclopedic: As Oliver makes clear in the introduction, while this is arguably the most comprehensive book on beer, it is by no means all-encompassing.