Best Beer Book

Modern British Beer (gold) and Beer by Design (silver)

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• • • Best Beer Book • • •  GOLD

MODERN BRITISH BEER by Matthew Curtis

Let’s be real for a minute: Modern British Beer, Matthew Curtis’s first book for CAMRA, was the most hyped, trailed and generally bigged up publication I’ve ever witnessed. I was sick of hearing about it a good six months before it was published, and therefor perfectly primed to dislike it, as fond as we all are of Matthew. But damn, this is such a good book that every vestige of cynicism evaporated like a waft of Burton snatch from the top of a freshly poured pint of Pedigree (not featured).

This is not, mercifully, a reference book, though a cursory flick through the pages might suggest otherwise. On the face of it, what we have is a ‘best of’ tour through the iconic beers that have brought the UK craft movement to where it is today, and the breweries that made them. It does this jolly well, ringing with a deep knowledge of the subject matter and sneaking in useful explanations of process, tradition and style along the way.

Matthew Curtis, the author

More importantly though, each beer tells part of a much grander story. And it’s this story that makes Modern British Beer such a very compelling book. The damn thing has an actual narrative arc, supported on a series of carefully placed points and held together by the author's own journey of discovery. We’re there with Matthew for his first craft awakening in the taproom of Odell’s, Colorado, through the thrilling first wave of Britain’s homegrown scene with Thornbridge, BrewDog and Five Points, right on to today’s cutting edge, represented by the likes of Utopian, Rock Leopard and Queer Brewing. It’s the ride, not the individual stations stopped, that give us a real understanding.

The whole thing is wonderfully presented, with Matthew’s own photography throughout, and arranged to be accessible to the casual dipper, as well as the cover-to-cover devotee. Whether you treat it as an A-to-Z or a memoire though, there is inspiration, passion and knowledge aplenty to be found in Modern British Beer, and we can’t recommend it highly enough.

• • • Best Beer Book • • • SILVER

BEER BY DESIGN by Pete Brown

The tirelessly prolific Pete Brown has real knack for divining and thoroughly mining intriguing seams of beer knowledge through his many books, and Beer by Design is one of his most enjoyable yet. It begins by goading the purists with the suggestion that, particularly in today’s crowded market, we choose our beers first with our eyes, then with our hearts and only then with our more expert faculties.

With a sure-handed grasp of his subject, Pete takes us back through the fascinating history of beer branding and label design, drawing on his own past life working in advertising to explore how brands – once simple visual marks of ownership – have evolved to connote ideas of quality, community and even personal attributes of those who associate with them. Why would a person have a brewery’s logo tattooed on their thigh, and what values does such a gesture project to the world? Pete knows.

Pete Brown, the author

Beer by Design takes us through the resolutely unchanging world of 20th century beer branding and explains how and why such rigid stylistic rules took hold. It then moves on to the explosion of creativity that came with modern craft, and how finding new ways to tip the sacred cows of classic beer label design became the hallmark of an entire movement.

Are these designs good branding from a purely commercial perspective though, and does it even matter? Does the kind of obstinate anti-branding that often appeals to the craft hardcore sometimes alienate shoppers grazing the supermarket shelves? Are we due for a correction in some of the wilder artwork, where creativity is channelled into the parameters of more traditional beer branding? Pete walks us through all these questions with examples, conversations with the brewers themselves and a hefty dose of his own trademark wit.

For a book that Pete himself describes as “entirely a product of 2020 lockdown” Beer by Design is an absolute treat, and a must-read for anyone in the market for a bit of pub argument ammunition.

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