Book review: The Economics of Beer

It's too easy to get dewy-eyed about beer. The breathless romanticism of the world's best long drink. Lest we forget - beer is a business. Whether it's the artisan in a converted barn or the multinational that can shape policy and culture, beer is a commodity. The result of an industrial process that is produced to be sold for profit.

The economic context of beer is often lacking in contemporary discussion. Maybe a new book by Oxford University Press will rekindle debate and inform opinion. The Economics of Beer stems from papers presented at the first Beeronomics conference at Leuven in 2009, addressing a shortfall compared to the study of wine economics. A wide range of academics have contributed eighteen articles, ranging from trade history through industrial organisation to analysis of newly emergent beer markets.

As with many academic works, the tone of each article is individualistic. John Nye provides a cogent history of how war and taxes helped shape the direction of the British brewing industry in the nineteenth century. The 'emerging markets' chapters are easy-reading but insightful, particularly from a quality versus quantity perspective. Some articles make for heavy going, though, for the non-academic; the growth of TV and the decline of local beer in the US is certainly interesting once you can get your head around the empirical evidence section. The chapter on beer consumption in a recession, however, tested by fairly-robust statistical knowledge to breaking point.

Which is maybe the issue with academic works such as this. Is it a work only destined for the university library shelf? I'd say not. There's plenty here to appeal to many beer enthusiasts from both a historical and contemporary perspective, plus detailed pieces on the esoterica that deserves formal academic analysis. The Economics of Beer deserves to be a staple addition to the bookshelf of anyone with a love and interest as to what makes beer sell.

Judge for yourself. The opening chapter, 'A Brief Economic History Of Beer', can be downloaded as a PDF. If you want to find out more, the book can be bought from Amazon.

The Economics Of Beer is published in hardback by the Oxford University Press. Many thanks to them for the review copy.