Review: World's Best Beers

Some say that a beer lover can never have too many books about beers of the world. Well... actually, I can. I've been there, bought them, cross-referenced them, bought an extra shelf for them and later dispactched 90% of them off to the charity shop. Because most of them are the worse kind of self-congratulatory claptrap.

"Look at me! I've drank lots of beer! I've managed to reword the phrase "mid-brown bitterish beer with a clean finish" over a hundred times! And I've included beers in here that a) you can't buy any more, b) you've never heard of and c) you'll never get to drink! All you can do is stare slackjawed at the pictures! HA!"

So, it's with even greater Reluctance than usual that I delved into a new offering. "World's Best Beers" is a weighty coffee-table tome that promised "a unique portfolio of boutique beers to savour, cherish and enjoy ". Was it worthwhile? You bet.

In fact, there are five reasons why it works so well and makes other 'best of' beer books feel lacklustre;

- It's written by Ben McFarland. Funny, passionate; not nerdy, not dry. And he brought us Beer Snob Bingo.

- It does actually look great. There's a keen use of white space, clean photos of pump clips/bottles to illustrate the beers, an uncluttered layout with touches of amber, russet and gold . It's beer-erotica, all those brews clad in bespoke glassware.

- There are honest tasting ratings. After all, it's not merely an illustrated directory. Rather than being overly-analytical, Ben offers ratings based on broad style indicators (such as Dark Side and Hop Head) as well as more emotive collections like the avant-garde ('New World'), off-the-wall ('All The Unusual') or beers best suited to quiet contemplation ('Think While You Drink').

- The articles are thriller rather than filler; sure, there's the seemingly-obligatory brewing/glassware/styles overview but the pearls here are the brewery profiles. The likes of Thornbridge, Mikkeller, Cantillon and Baladin are examined with insight and enthusiasm.

- Beer and food pairings are often deliberately esoteric or a pure lottery but I'm won over by Ben's suggestions. He makes a surefire case for pairings based on a keen understanding of how flavours complement or contrast, albeit whilst still including the cop-out of 'all beer goes with pizza'. But for pairing honey glazed duck with Kwak, the man deserves plaudits beyond his wildest dreams.

In fact, the whole of the food section is outstanding. Having 'guest' articles such as Stephen Beaumont's pairing rules, the El Bulli guide to the science of food and musings by Garrat Oliver makes for a more-rounded read than those books that include a beer-food chapter seemingly for the sake of it.

Best-beer books are an expression of the author's personality. That's why some are overly-factual and dense. Others are glossy and shallow. World's Best Beers is witty, irreverent, passionate and stylish. It's proof positive that beer writing can be entertainingly vicarious.

World's Best Beers: 1000 Unmissable Brews from Portland to Prague by Ben McFarland is published by Jacqui Small and available at all good booksellers, although in smaller stores you have to ask the lady behind the counter nicely to see if she can get a copy ordered in. They can't stock everything, you know. It's bad for their cashflow.

Many thanks to Aurum Press for the review copy.

1 comment:

  1. agreed, great book I got it for Xmas. the more in-depth brewery profiles were very interesting.