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Book Review: The World Atlas of Beer

1 October 2012

In the ever-changing beer landscape we’re lucky enough to be living in, it seems any time someone tries to lock down a guide to essential beers or bars you just have to drink at, it becomes obsolete as soon as it’s published.  A new essential beer bar opens, a brewery releases another must-have offering, or a new brewery making top-notch beer pops up.  The ever-evolving world of beer is a hard one to nail down, and it’s for the very reason that I don’t waste my time with beer-a-day calendars or books listing 1,001 beers to drink before I die.  By the time something like that goes through editing and finally hits the shelves, there will be 1,001 more.

It’s for this reason that I was going to pass on the newest beer book to hit the market, The World Atlas of Beer: An Essential Guide to the Beers of the World by Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont (Sterling Epicure, $30), which is available tomorrow.  However, the publisher offered me a free advanced copy to review, and I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity.  As it turns out, it’s a good thing I didn’t, because the book came as a pleasant surprise.

The book does not try to peg down the beers you must drink—though when it does list some, it sticks mostly to tried-and-true favorites that probably won’t fall out of favor anytime soon.  The book functions more as a large, coffee table-esque travel guide for the beer savvy, with a bit of education for the beer novice thrown in as well.  The authors don’t let any of the information get out of hand, either—the book could easily have been twice its current 256 pages, but each country and region is only given a few pages.  The coverage of each country, as they say, is like a skirt: long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep it interesting.

The World Atlas of Beer starts with a brief history of beer, an explanation of how it’s made, and a small bit about what you can expect on the following pages.  It then launches into the meat of the book: starting with the most crucial beer-producing countries (Belgium, Germany, etc.) the book talks about each country, the beer culture, and what you, as a beer drinker, can expect to find when you travel there.  Many of the countries are also followed by one- or two-page explanations of each country’s native beers.  For example, Belgium’s section is followed by pages about Trappist ale, lambic, and saison, while Germany’s section is followed by explanations of lager, kolsch, and bock.

Of course, not every style is covered, but the most important are given their due.  The authors do a fine job of touching on as many craft beer regions as they can, even hitting unlikely countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam—which came quite in handy, as my wife and I are planning a trip there next fall.  I even wished the book had come out a few years ago, when we had planned a trip to Australia and New Zealand.  I missed, it seems, quite a bit of good beer.

And this is where the book comes in the most handy: as a guide for the beer traveler.  All the information necessary to track down the highlights of a beer-brewing country are included, as well as a list for each country on some important individual beers to track down.  These parts, though, are not overloaded with information, which will help the book stay more current than many similar offerings.  For the novice and expert alike, The World Atlas of Beer will make a handy guide for traveling and a beautifully illustrated book to display on your coffee table.  It will be a good addition to any collection of beer books, and it will also make a great gift for the beer lover in your life, what with the holiday season right around the corner.  Just be sure to have a beer handy as you leaf through, though, because you will get thirsty reading this book.

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