Book Review: 500 Beers

I don't usually have a problem with book reviewing. But putting together a cogent and concise summary of '500 Beers' has proved to be the exception. I've had the book for almost nine months now and barely given this review a thought. So, apologies to Zak Avery and his publishers. But there's one good reason it's taken me so damn long.

It's unputdownable.

With most of these beercyclopaedia-type books I like to source a couple of beers featured within, conduct my own tasting and compare notes. With '500 Beers', I've been working my way through and tried about fifty beers new to me. Page corners have become scuffed. The paper sleeve was lost a long time ago and there's now a 'beer ring of authenticity' on the cover where it was once used at an outdoor festival as an outsized beermat. Notes have been scribbled next to reviews. Expletives and exclamation marks have appeared where Zak and I differ in opinion.

I'm still struggling with his 'craft brewing' tag of "brewing beer with a focus on flavour and quality". Even when I do get a handle on it, craft really isn't the antonym of macro; macro-scale-brewing doesn't have to be bad and there's plenty of small-scale one-man-and-his-mashtun 'craft brewers' who knock out vinegary tripe.

But some of his assertions deserve to be shouted from the rooftops and become the cornerstone of any beer lover's philosophy. Such as, "Beer is made for drinking. It's essentially a simple pleasure". And he introduces hundreds of simple pleasures throughout the book. Beers are grouped into ten broad styles which become darker and more intense towards the end. Alongside the usual light-dark colour indicator and serving temperature recommendation, there's a neat touch - a light-to-full bodied rating, which comes into its own when comparing stouts and porters.

There's a sprightly introduction along with a well-crafted glossary and a genuinely interesting insights into beer ingredients; yeast in particular gets a well-deserved overview. Too often, this kind of content is treated as contractually-bound filler but Zak adds a real personal flavour to the proceedings.

It's a fairly compact book into which to shoehorn five hundred beer reviews but Zak turns brevity to his advantage. No repetitious flavour profiling here, just pithy observation and well-crafted insights. It's attractively illustrated, too, with judicious use of stock photography and the occasional bottle shot.

Early on in the book, Zak says "there is a lot of pleasure in finding a favourite that you return to time and time again". True with beer - that's what makes me a Reluctant Scooper. And now it's true with beer books; '500 Beers' has already become a slightly-war-torn but much-loved addition to my beery bookshelf.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds good. Might have to pick that up at Amazon.