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Sunday, December 17, 2017
   
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Review: 20th Century Pub

There is no shortage of books on English pub life and pub culture. It is, after all, as essential a part of that nation’s self-image as the café is to Paris or the beerhall is to Bavaria. Popular works on the pub, however, have tended to take an overtly celebratory or sentimental approach, and this much is noted by Boak and Bailey at the beginning of their latest work on the subject. But 20th Century Pub: From Beer House to Booze Bunker is no tub-thumping demand for the pub to be recognised as the cornerstone of civilisation, nor a misty-eyed look back at an ornate past full of horse-brasses and handpumps. There’s a proper academic rigour to their treatment, while avoiding getting bogged down in detail.

The structure is broadly chronological, beginning at the creation of the modern pub in the 19th century from an amalgamation of the tavern, inn and beerhouse: each serving a different market need in their own ways. From the resulting Victorian pub, we follow developments through the social optimism of the early 20th century, the upheavals of two world wars and their aftermath, and into the pub diversification that we know today. The later chapters focus on specific archetypes of British pub: the theme pub and its most popular spin-off, the Irish pub; the gastropub; the superpub and the more recent developments of the community-run pub and the micropub. In each case we get illustrative examples, fastidiously researched and presented with original documentary sources, first-hand interviews and real-life visits. The authors clearly put in significant mileage when putting the book together and it really stands to them in the observations and photographs they provide.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is how many other corners of life and society it touches on. Urban planning and development is obviously a major factor in how pubs have evolved in Britain, likewise the class system, attitudes to women, and of course the temperance movement. All of them play bit parts in the drama, stepping in and out of the narrative as required.

Fans of the authors’ first book, Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer, will enjoy the similar style in this one: a big picture, sliced into easily-digestible chapters and fleshed out with colourful characters and anecdotes from behind the scenes. It’s narrower in scope, however, and speaking as a beer person more than a pub person, I found it somewhat less engaging. Your mileage may vary of course. Overall it’s an excellent look at recent British history through the lens of the pub, and certainly more substantial than any number of glossy coffee-table works.

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Review: The Pub

The Pub by Pete Brown

English beer writer Pete Brown is probably better known for his matey-blokey beer history and travel books, like Hops & Glory (the definitive story of IPA) and Shakespeare's Local (a history of one not-so-well-known London pub). His latest is a rather different format, however. The Pub, subtitled "A Cultural Institution - from Country Inns to Craft Beer Bars and Corner Locals", is a glossy, lavishly illustrated, coffee-table job, highlighting 50 different pubs around the UK.

It's more than a work of pub pornography, however. The book also has a practical remit, documenting an additional 250 pubs to the ones featured, so despite a total lack of portability it also has a very useful reference function. If you're going to a specific part of the UK and looking for particularly pretty or otherwise noteworthy pubs to visit, this book is of real help. The pubs are set out region by region with a couple of exceptional examples given a double-page spread of photographs and Pete's personal account of the place. These highlights are interspersed with single-paragraph descriptions of other pubs in the region, all with details of facilities available, address and contact details.

Review: Sláinte - The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider

Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider

My review of Iorwerth Griffiths's small 2007 volume, The Complete Guide to Beer and Cider in Ireland, expressed the hope that growth in Ireland's craft beer scene would mean the next edition would be more of a coffee table size. A successor has finally been published and while it's not a large-format work it does share much in common with the glossy, image-rich, lifestyle publishing genre.

That's not to say it's all fluff, however. Far from it. Caroline Hennessy and Kristen Jensen have meticulously researched the current state of the Irish beer and cider scene and drawn upon a wealth of sources, historical, zythological and gastronomical to create this compact and accessible guide.

Review: Brew Britannia - The Strange Rebirth of British Beer

Brew Britannia

We all know the story: in 1971 a group of Englishmen on a walking holiday in Kerry created a beer drinkers' protest group to fight the rise of industrialised beer in Britain.

35 years later, a pair of young Scottish home brewers set out to shake up the staid UK beer scene with a daring and aggressive new venture: we all know that story too.

But neither of these well-worn creation myths are the full truth. The circumstances behind the formation of CAMRA and the founding of BrewDog are just two of the areas covered in Brew Britannia, a book about the changes in British beer culture from the middle of the 20th century to the present day, and one which shows a continuity between the events with which, perhaps, neither entity would be entirely comfortable.

Review: The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

The HomeBrewer's Guide to Vintage Beer

As an authority on the nuts and bolts of beer history, Ron Pattinson needs no introduction. Through his Shut Up About Barclay Perkins blog over the last seven years he has left no stone unturned in seeking out primary evidence of past beers, scouring brewery logs, media reports and marketing material from a swathe of breweries -- mostly British -- to find out exactly what they were brewing, how, and from what.

This book represents a distillation of that research into a single volume which not only describes how various beer styles evolved with reference to concrete historical examples, but also allows the amateur (or professional) brewer to recreate any beer covered in the most accurate way possible.

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