In a blog entry this past May, U.K.-based, beer- and travel-writer Adrian Tierney-Jones (ATJ) wrote this:
With beer writing, it feels as if on one hand there is the old traditional campaigning side of beer writing on one side of the border, nurtured in the once scared halls of CAMRA and now mutated to writing about diversity, brewery sellouts, why this beer festival is a game changer etc; on the other side of the border there’s the fanciful notions of beer, the poetic side of things, the sensory writing, the people watching, the personal experiences within the context of beer. Both have their validity and maybe someone somewhere will inevitably argue that beer writing is more of a federal state with a variety of identities. That might be true but for the moment my thoughts are in the borders.
I think it’s more a North American thing, although nurtured by an English writer, the late Michael Jackson, but I’d argue that there is a fourth form of beer writing. It is the one that focuses mainly on a description of brands and tastes, often organized by country, as Jackson did in the template The World Guide to Beer (1977) and his Pocket Guides, or style, as he did in Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion (1993). Variations abound on these approaches including what amounts to straightforward travel writing.
Many writers still approach beer that way. It’s an outgrowth in my view of early beer journalism and before that, wine and other forms of consumer product writing. In this post, I discussed the influence I felt Consumer Reports had on subsequent American beer writing including by people like James D. (“Jim”) Robertson. He wrote The Connoisseur’s Guide to Beer in 1978.
These books still provide a useful function, even in the global e-village where a keystroke or two will clue you in to a local bar scene, anyone’s from Turin to Timbuktu, or its range of breweries.
At this stage in my appreciation of beer and writing about it, I buy very few of those. I bought them all years ago and acquired my bedrock then, not to mention my own extensive tastings and early travels. I get top-ups from the Internet where needed, and keep up through an active participation in social media. But many younger people, or older sans the requisite knowledge, will benefit from buying this fourth type of book, or the glossy U.S. beer magazines that still continue.
There are numerous social media versions of this activity, e.g. the beercast including the “bro” fashion, all to the good.
A book on beer that charts a new direction, that explores precisely “the fanciful notions of beer, the poetic side of things, the sensory writing, the people watching, the personal experiences” was written by ATJ himself. It’s The Seven Moods of Craft Beer, 350 Great Craft Beers From Around the World, published in Britain last year by Eightbooks (see www.8books.co.uk).
ATJ won Beer Writer of the Year 2017 from British Guild of Beer Writers, not surprising when you take time with The Seven Moods of Craft Beer.
As the book came out that year and was widely reviewed and commented on, these remarks constitute not a formal review as such but an appreciation.
There are two major differences I see in this writing versus other approaches to beer writing including the influential, Jacksonian style-and-country method.
First, the thematic approach is completely different. It uses an imaginative exploring of “Seven Moods” as a framework to appreciate different beers from a wide range of places. The moods include “the Social”, which looks at interesting beer bars in the U.S. and Britain; the “Adventurous”, ranging on to bars and pubs, new type and older, in the likes of Germany, Belgium, and Antipodes; the Gastronomic, which spotlights a given beer that complements a dish or is used in the cooking (e.g., the Breton Telenn Du buckwheat beer for a local pot-au-feu); or the Imaginative, which looks at ostensibly workaday modern beer competitions and award systems and limns the kinds of beers that have done well in these or respond well to their ever-siren calls for the new and exotic.
The other themes explored are the Poetic, treating beer celebrations in the forms of fests or beer weeks and beers emotive of the literary; Bucolic, a lyrical evocation of classic country pubs; and Contemplative, outlining a small selection of beer writing ATJ has found useful or stimulating in some way and worthy of the reader’s attention.
Despite its new direction the book includes a style glossary, mercifully not long, with a chart explaining compactly what each beer treated signifies by way of Mood as well as style, place of brewing, ABV, and other practical information.
This novel way to explore modern beer is complemented by ATJ’s writing skill, in a word he is a writer. Many examples can be cited from the book, take this one, a propos a Norwegian Imperial Brown Ale:
You have to feel sorry for the colour brown. It’s not regarded as the most lustrous of colours, when you consider the fieriness and passion that red can invoke, or the mystery of black.
Quite so, or at least, now that I’ve read it courtesy ATJ, it is. It’s things like this that set the book off from most of the rest.
While not a work of brewing history, the book doesn’t misstep in that field, not that I noticed. In fact, you can learn from formulations such as this one that manage to be both learned and literary (lapidary, too, the book is well-edited):
IPA is an urban beer. It was born in London, brought up in Burton-on-Trent, and has more city berths than Airbnb.
That’s very true, especially as the beer was sent to sate governors, merchants, and officers in India, all with an urban sensibility.
The book is well-designed with spare yet artistic black-and-white renderings of bottles and cans and a restrained use of colour in the sidebars or for contrast. While the design is modern, reflecting urban cool to the max, something in the images harkens back to a more simple time in craft beer history. It reminded me of the down-home renderings you see in some 1970s-80s U.S. beer books.
The illustration on pg. 127 for Everett, Vermont’s Hill Farmstead’s “silky porter languid with chocolate, coffee, and vanilla both on the nose and in the taste”, brought the matter full circle for me. Vermont is one of the birthplaces of modern craft beer via its fearless, hippie-style 1970s homebrewers.
Intended or not, I found this link with early craft brewing history pleasing.
Finally, the beer palate itself is addressed often in poetic/literary form that makes you look at taste and enjoyment in a different way. I’ve enjoyed Hercule Stout from Ellezelles, Belgium (at beerbistro in Toronto, IIRC), but never thought of it this way:
This rich and creamy self-styled ‘Belgian stout’ is perfect for contemplating the creation of crime fiction’s greatest detectives. In the glass, the beer is as dark as a murderer’s motive, a silent, inscrutable motive that hides beneath a rocky crema-colored head of foam.
One can go on.
I said this wasn’t a review as such, but if it is anyway, maybe I should add what I don’t like. The page numbers are placed on the right margin mid-page rather than bottom- or top-margin as traditionally, which took some getting used to. Apart from that, I can’t think of anything else.