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Books we have enjoyed recently:

Title: A Pub Crawl Through History
Authors: Mike Pentelow and Peter Arkell
Publisher: Janus
Price: £16.99 (buy at Amazon for £14.44)
Pages: 368

(RP) Pentelow and Arkell are unimpressed by the large number of pubs named after monarchs and aristocrats. They have unearthed, as a result of a mammoth pub crawl, pubs named in honour of "common people" - ie uncommon people - who have made massive contributions to society and the welfare of their fellow citizens. The cover shows a pub devoted to Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasants' Revolt in the 14th century. The Scots and the Welsh are not ignored, with taverns named after William Wallace, Rob Roy and Owain Glyndwr. Robert Kett, leader of the agricultural workers' rebellion in Norfolk in the 15th century, has a pub bearing his name in Norwich. This is not a worthy but dull book (though it does show the limitations of self-publishing as Peter Arkell's photos are disappointingly small). Mike Pentelow, who wrote the text has a ribald sense of humour. I was in hysterics for several days after reading the entry for the children's writer Richmal Crompton - she has a pub named after her in Bromley in Kent. There's a quote from one of her Just William books written in a less politically correct time that I can't quote here but it's worth the price of the book.

Title: Good Bottled Beer Guide
Author: Jeff Evans
Publisher: CAMRA Books
Price: £12.99 (buy at Amazon for £7.92)
Pages: 320

(RP) I hesitate to call Jeff Evans a veteran beer writer for fear he points a bony finger at the date on my birth certificate. But Jeff has been around the beer scene since the early 1990s and earned his spurs as a distinguished editor of the Good Beer Guide. His main claim to fame admiration is the Good Bottled Beer Guide: admiration, because when he wrote the first of seven editions back in 1998 bottled beer was falling off a cliff in Britain and Jeff lauded one tiny section of that small sector, bottle-conditioned ales. Today bottled beers are carving out an ever greater share of the British beer market and craft brewers are rushing to package their beers with live yeast. Jeff, in short, has put the bottle back into bottle. Does it matter whether beer in a bottle is filtered or contains live yeast? Jeff - and I agree with him - says an emphatic "yes". When I open a bottle of Woodforde's Wherry Best Bitter to discover a rim of yeast in the neck I know I face the pleasure of rich aromas and flavours (I also consume the yeast, because it's good for me). There's excitement connected to drinking beer that has quietly matured and aged gracefully in its bottle. Some years ago, Jeff and I shared a bottle of the iconic IPA from Burton-on-Trent, Worthington's White Shield which, with great self-sacrifice, I had left in my cellar for 10 years. The beer was darker, fruitier and spicier than a young version of the beer and it made for a fascinating drinking experience. You won't get that with a filtered and pasteurised bottle from Global Corps Brewers Inc. Jeff writes well and succinctly. He has a good nose and palate and teases out the character of each beer in a style that lacks pretention. I open the book at random and immediately want to sample the Fox Brewery's Drop of Real Norfolk: "Tart, fruity hops, with bitter orange and grapefruit flavours, fill the aroma, and sharp grapefruit then continues into the taste, which is mostly bitter and slightly perfumed, with background sweetness from silky pale malt. Sharp citrus hops feature in the drying finish, with bitterness building." It's a description that draws you enticingly into the beer. Previous editions of the guide were arranged alphabetically but now Jeff has - wisely, I feel - broken the book down into styles. The result is not only information about the chosen beers but a journey round the great styles of Britain, from Mild to Barley Wine and taking in the likes of Golden Ale, IPA, Porter and Stout and Old Ale. There are even sections on Lager and Wheat Beer: yes, brewers in Britain are not only making Lager but are producing them in bottle-conditioned format. The beer world is changing fast. The book is not confined to the British Isles. There's a section on bottle-conditioned beers brewed in the United States, Belgium (of course), Australia and even France, along with helpful advice on the distributors who can obtain beers for your delectation. The book is beautifully designed and illustrated in full colour. It's a delight from start to finish, a fine contribution to our appreciation of good beer, written by an inspirational writer.

Title: Hops and Glory
Author: Pete Brown
Publisher: Macmillan
Price: £24.99 (buy at Amazon for £20.00)
Pages: 288

(RP) Many of us have written about India Pale Ale and its journey to India in the 19th century. Pete Brown, the current Beer Writer of the Year, went a step further - a momentous step - and took a cask of Burton-brewed IPA on a boat to Mumbai to replicate the storm-tossed voyage of the iconic beer style. It's a fascinating story and Pete weaves into the record of his voyage the history of Burton-on-Trent and the development of beer for the India market in Victorian times. His research was meticulous and he shows that those of us who thought Hodgson's brewery in Bow, East London, was the first brewer of "India Ale" need to do some more homework. Brewers before Hodgson were supplying the Raj though there's no doubt that Hodgson, based close to the London docks, not only developed the market but encouraged Allsopps and Bass in Burton to join the race. It's a lively and funny account: Pete had many unexpected adventures on his long sea journey. There's also a contentious issue: he claims that - contrary to received wisdom - the IPAs sent in casks were not naturally conditioned with live yeast but were filtered in England prior to voyage. I doubt whether a "racked bright" cask of ale would have lasted beyond the Bay of Biscay, let alone three months to Mumbai. It's an interesting point and worthy of further discussion.

Title: 300 Beers to Try Before You Die - Revised Edition
Editor: Roger Protz
Publisher: CAMRA Books
Price: £14.99 (buy at Amazon for £9.74)
Pages: 304

The 2010 revised edition has been updated with the same comprehensive information on the lucky 300 beers, which reflects Roger's personal selection from best bitters to barley wines, Belgian brews to golden ales, pale lagers to porters and stouts. There's still the same index at the back of the book for you to chart which of the beers you have tasted, together with boxes for tasting notes so you can create your own records. Half the fun of this book remains in simply reading it, whether you intend to hunt down the 300 or not. Spotting beers you know and agreeing - or disagreeing - with Roger's conclusions is half the fun. It is a stimulating book that is the perfect companion as you set off on your own voyage to discover the world's great beers. I cannot recommend 300 Beers highly enough. I guarantee that the first thing you'll do is skim through the beer index counting up how many of the 300 you have tasted personally (it's about 70 for me), then begins the fun of discovering all the rest.

Title: Good Beer Guide 2010
Editor: Roger Protz
Publisher: CAMRA Books
Price: £15.99 (buy at Amazon for £9.97)
Pages: 880

The annual Good Beer Guide is a real institution, now in its 38th edition (and the 18th edited by Roger Protz). As always the new edition is a massive reference work, compiled from the local knowledge of thousands of CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale) members across the United Kingdom. The GBG is an exhaustive directory of pubs serving real beer, with descriptions, full contact details and lists of the draught beers they offer. Because the guide is compiled by paid-up members of CAMRA the opinions are blunt and admirably to the point. Helpful symbols tell you which pubs have, for example, a real fire in winter, or a beer garden in summer. At the back of the book is another excellent resource: an alphabetical listing of independent brewers, again with contact details and tasting notes for their main beers, bottled and draught. But apart from almost 800 pages of detailed listings, the GBG also offers fresh writing each year, with opinion pieces on the state of beer, news and developments, and food and beer advice, from leading writers. It is a totally reliable and very honorable guide that really is an essential companion.

Title: 500 Beers
Editor: Zak Avery
Publisher: Apple Press
Price: £9.99 (buy at Amazon for £6.49)
Pages: 288

Beer-pages' columnist Zak Avery's new guide is a dinky little hardback guide that promises to lead you to "a beer for every occasion." After Zak's introductory chapters on how beer is made, tasting and food matching, the meat of the book splits beers into 10 styles and delivers a pithy overview on approximately 50 examples of each. Zak's descriptions are accurate, and for every beer he gives its vital stats (ABV, etc) as well as serving temperature and food matching ideas. It is a very nicely produced book, with lots of colour photography, and whilst not the same monumental work as Roger Protz's epic 300 Beers to Try Before You Die, it is a genuinely useful and readable guide.

Title: The Complete Guide to World Beers
Editor: Roger Protz
Published: September 2004
Publisher: Carlton Books Books
Price: £19.99 (buy at Amazon -30%)
Pages: 220

Roger Protz's all-new edition of The Complete Guide to World Beer has recently been published by Carlton Books. It is a brilliant and important book, but let me quote an independent source: Andrew Martin's review in the Guardian newspaper: "For a long time it bothered me that I didn't know how beer was made. Roger Protz is certainly the man to provide the answer. The Complete Guide to World Beer includes "The Art and Science of Beer Making", a "World A-Z of Beer", an analysis of the beer business, chapters on the culture and history of beer and more. The sheer beeriness of this book cannot really be overstated. There are recipes, supplied in many cases by beer experts, for dishes to be made with beer and eaten while drinking beer. A brief history of pub signs is supplied, together with accounts of such adjuncts to beer as the game of darts. Protz's account of the production process is all the more readable for being slightly elliptical. A new term comes up, and you think, "No, he's lost me now", only to find that you're rewarded with an explanation in the next sentence. And so you are tugged along through this most amiable of chemistry lessons. The A-Z is relentlessly illuminating. All the breweries in Iran closed when the ayatollahs came to power; skull-splitting Carlsberg Special Brew was first made to commemorate a visit by Winston Churchill to Copenhagen. A "Gazetteer of Pubs, Bars and Taverns" is to be read in conjunction with the A-Z: you can visit the Falstaff in Brussels, but don't go between 5am and 7am because that's when it closes. This is a highly enjoyable guide, one that will bring power to the beer drinker's elbow, and some justification, too".

Title: Good Bottled Beer Guide
Editor: Jeff Evans
Published: September 2004
Publisher: CAMRA Books
Price: £9.99 (buy at Amazon -30%)
Pages: 288

Thirty years ago the Good Beer Guide noted there were just five brands of bottle-conditioned beer on the UK market. By 1998 the figure had risen to 160, and this new edition of the Good Bottled Beer Guide lists 630. In the past year alone no fewer than 30 brewers have started producing bottle-conditioned beers - a revolution that has gone largely unnoticed whilst the big story has been the inexorable growth of lager. The other story, however, has been the success of smaller, craft brewers and the increasing willingness of beer drinkers to experiment. Bottle conditioned beers are there to be explored and discovered. For that a guide is indispensible and that guide is the one that Jeff Evans has meticulously compiled and built on over the past few years. The latest edition explains what goes to make a bottle conditioned beer and it charts their phenomenal growth. But the most valuable part of the book is, of course, the list of beers. What comes through is not only the surprising number of them but the fantastic variety. There are bitters and lagers, stouts and milds, wheat beers and fruit beers, between them producing a range of flavours that surely rivals what wine can offer. Three of those original five brands are there: Worthington's White Shield, now brewed by the giant Coors at its Burton visitor centre, Gale's Prize Old Ale and Thomas Hardy's Ale, recently revived by O'Hanlon's Brewery. Guinness Extra Stout and Courage's Imperial Russian Stout have been sadly lost. But there are many more. Too many to single out any single beer. Better to buy the book and discover them for yourself. (Phil Mellows)

Title: The story of the pint
Author: Martyn Cornell
Published: June 2004
Publisher: Headline Books
Price: £7.99 (buy at Amazon -20%)
Pages: 336

I really enjoyed this book, which Martyn Cornell has written beautifully and pitched perfectly, with plenty of humour and human interest sprinkled throughout. Take for example, a chapter headed "A short and totally wrong history of beer" that explodes a whole catalogue of beer myths. Otherwise, the book is a studious but never boring story that follows the development of beer, from its rather vague and much argued-about "invention" (possibly as much as six thousand years ago) through the many cultural and historical factors that shaped the diversity of beer styles we know today. Cornell's research is staggering, and his appetite for the quirky and intriguing aspects of how beer has been made, and how it has been drunk, make the book really quite riveting for what is basically a historical text book. Beer's place in love, life and war is celebrated with excellent historical context and detail. Really, it is hard to imagine any more thorough or more detailed history of beer than this, another absolutely essential part of any beer-lover's library.

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