My Friend and I Would Like You to Know

The Politics of Beer by | Jul 2011 | Issue #54

In August of 2010, while on holiday with my brood in the heart of Dylan Thomas’ Wales, I received a call from Mitchell Beazley Publishing, the people who, half a lifetime ago, took a risk on a young Michael Jackson and his World Guide to Beer. They wanted to do another beer book, and was I interested? I said I would think about it. And, truth be told, I have thought of little else since.

A copy of their top-selling World Atlas of Wine appeared at our holiday cottage, along with Dave Broom’s masterful and gorgeous-looking whisky equivalent. I began to understand the offer more clearly. My daughters were impressed—a sure sign of trouble. The sense of honor lasted several days before being replaced first by anguish and, eventually, by panic.

I pride myself on my ability to wriggle out of tight situations with dignity, reputation intact. So to escape, I rang the publishers and explained that I was not the writer for this project, as they were bound to want a liberal amount of puff for the lords of the empire who still control 90 percent of the global beer market, and I could not do that. I am strictly an independent craft breweries man.

Sadly, they had thought of that one and went to great pains to disabuse me. The focus of our (I felt the cuff go on) book will (second cuff) be top-quality craft brewing, and if global brewers have stopped making those, well, they’re just foolish. We (that word again) would produce an atlas for explorers. After decades of exciting developments, it will allow established beer lovers to take stock, while helping the untutored, who wish to add finest-kind beer to their list of consumer interests but don’t know how, to catch up. Deadline: summer 2011; out: spring 2012.

Jabbering is never attractive, so instead I accepted the offer—then promptly phoned a friend to see if he was free to help. I first met Steve Beaumont at a newly opened beer joint called Smokeless Joe in Toronto about 15 years ago. Its owner’s taste in smoke-free cellars, bottled beers, oysters and smiling Irish barmaids matched my own, so when the talk turned to beer writing and he insisted on calling “someone you just have to meet, Tim,” I took his word. I now realize why these moments happen.

All the best writing duos are said to see little of each other away from work, so I figured that the 3,600-mile crow-flying gap between the Webb family seat and Château Beaumont would grant us a head start. Nine months in, Steve and I are still speaking, which I take to be a measure of success.

It has surprised me just how much I have learned on the way to becoming so drowned in beer that at this point I would willingly sign up for a lifetime of cranberry juice and Temperance poetry evenings. I feel so knowledgeable that, for a fleeting moment, I might even have a clear perspective on the ways that beer reflects the world it serves.

I understand how the assassination of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1914 caused the beers I was drinking in 1970s Britain to be so awful, and how Lutheran ideas of Christian marriage led to the rise of the Chicago mob and the invention of Miller Lite.

I have learned that the thing of beauty that is quality beer-making just barely survived a near-ruinous 20th century that tried but failed to send it the way of the messenger pigeon. So, to advise all future generations: To those who seek to prohibit alcohol, wage total war or promote efficiency over excellence offer pity and disdain, but never your vote.

The World Atlas of Beer, by Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont, is due on shelves in 2012.


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