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The Story of Craft Beer

Written by Ferment

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The Story of Craft Beer is the new book from BEER52 and world-renowned beer writer Pete Brown, setting out the past, present and future of beer as a drink, a hobby and a cultural phenomenon.

Written in Pete’s unmistakably compelling style and illustrated by the hugely talented Jay Daniel-Wright, a copy of The Story of Craft Beer will be free for all BEER52 members who have achieved the ‘Master Taster’ rank, from September 2017.

On the eve of the book’s publication, we caught up with Pete to discuss the writing process and the challenge of condensing the entire craft beer world into a single volume

Ferment: Having written so many great books on the topic, what did you hope would be different about this one?

Pete Brown: Most of my books take a sidelong look at beer and use beer to tell the story of something else, often seen through the lens of my own experience. This book required a more straightforward, matter of fact tone, but I still wanted to try to give it a bit of zip so it’s not too dry, and to freshen up a subject that’s been covered many times.

F: For someone who maybe simply likes drinking beer, what do you think makes it an interesting topic to also read about?

PB: Beer is as old as civilization and is drunk in almost every country around the world. It’s universal and timeless. As such, it’s like a constant you can use to analyse almost anything. Using beer, I can look at history, culture, politics, travel, science, nature... and through the lens of beer, each of these subjects becomes more interesting.

F: In the book, you reference the influence that brewers such as Carlsberg, Sierra Nevada and Brewdog have had on the history of beer. Who do you see shaping the future of beer today and how?

PB: Great question. I’m sure many readers will want to champion the impact of independent brewers, but I think you have to reach a certain scale before you can impact the future of the entire market, and achieving that scale means you’ll almost certainly be accused of selling out at some point.

With a third of the global beer market under their control, Anheuser-Busch Inbev are bound to have a heavy influence over what’s to come, and in my opinion, that influence won’t be positive.

Don’t be surprised if someone like Carlsberg has something useful still to contribute, as their lab is still exploring the nature of barley and yeast. In terms of taste, and what we want to drink, I have my eye on Cloudwater, who are about so much more than NEIPAs, which I think are a bit of a fad, and Little Earth Project, who are joyfully experimental.


F: Why do you think it’s useful for our readers to understand how beer is made?

PB: If you just want to swig beer from the can or bottle I’m in no position to tell you you’re wrong. But I think an appreciation of the ingredients and processes behind beer helps you appreciate it more and get more out of it. And there are so many interesting stories! Gathering and sharing the knowledge is fun in its own right.

F: Do you think some craft beer geeks take beer too seriously?

PB: Again, if someone wants to geek out over beer, I’m in no position to say they’re doing it wrong. But if you get to a point where that becomes an obsession with style classification, or the strict parameters of ‘real’ ale, or the technicalities of who owns what brewery and whether ownership means you are or are not allowed to drink it, and that means you’re not having fun and enjoying beer any more, then I’d suggest you’ve lost the point of what beer is all about.

F: What was the most challenging thing about writing the book?

PB: It was more of a challenge than I expected, I have to say. The issue is, I’ve written whole books about the history of beer. There have been millions of words written about beer styles and the debate around them continues to rage. I just wrote a 100,000-word book on beer ingredients. In this book, I was trying to cover each of these subjects in just a few pages. I wanted to make those pages fresh rather than regurgitating what’s been written before. I wanted to satisfy the beer geeks who take a forensic approach to technical beer writing these days, and I wanted to make it clear enough for the curious novice. It’s impossible to do all those things perfectly at the same time – I only hope I’ve done it well enough! As Oscar Wilde once said: “Sorry to write you such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.”


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