Friday 30 May 2014

Brew Britannia

I enjoyed Boak and Bailey’s book a lot, read it quickly, devoured it even; it lasted me a couple of days, ate into valuable working time, and I was annoyed when I spilt some amatriciana sauce on it. I smiled at some of the portraits of the interviewees I have got to know since writing about beer from the late 1990s: the prickly one, the comical one and the regal (or really unregal) one. There are many moments in the book that chime. I recalled the Salisbury in Cambridge, which was an early CAMRA Investments pub that I used to visit a lot, for the scrumpy and ‘foreign’ lagers. I remembered the jolt that Man Walked Into A Pub caused amongst beer writers when it appeared and I even remembered when the Society of Promotion of Beer from the Wood (I always wanted to say prevention instead of promotion) had a stand at the Great British Beer Festival and looked forlorn; I thought about joining them for some unknown reason (who knows why one joins things: I briefly joined Amnesty to try and impress an ex-girlfriend).

Brew Britannia is a fascinating odyssey through the last half-century of British beer and I would recommend this without a moment’s thought. But (and I bet you could guess this was coming), with my book reviewer’s hat on, I can only say I feel slightly disappointed with parts of it. I was expecting more of a dynamic narrative that would reflect what has happened in beer. There are moments of great dryness, a kind of ‘then this happened and then this other thing happened’, but I wanted more.

Perhaps it’s the fact that the chapters from the middle of the last decade onwards (the emergence of Thornbridge, BrewDog, Magic Rock, craft beer etc) feel like they belong in a magazine article rather than a book (however, the stuff on the emergence of CAMRA and the 60s drinking scene is excellent and I wonder if this is where the authors’ hearts lie). They’re entertaining but feel flimsy, they feel like a broad brush and seem to rely on the way blogs reported things — personally I would have interviewed more of the characters, even if it was only on the phone. I would have certainly liked an interview with James Watt and/or Martin Dickie; the authors don’t seem to have been done that (please correct me if I am wrong) and as BrewDog are perhaps one of the most important British breweries to emerge in the last 20 years (along with Thornbridge) I would have liked more on what drives these two.

Still, I did enjoy the book and wish it every success but I can’t help feeling that my glass is only 2/3rds of a pint full.

Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer, Aurum Press, £12.99. 

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