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The World Atlas of Beer (2nd Edition)

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Co-author Tim Webb has inscribed the title page of my copy of this book. ‘Jeff’, he writes, ‘if you don’t find something new in this, it is time for us both to retire’.

World Atlas of Beer I don’t need to flick through the pages to know that he has a point. Both he and I have been around the beer block a multitude of times – as has his Canadian writing partner Stephen Beaumont – and, if we’ve ever learned anything from beer it is that there is always something else to learn.

Webb and Beaumont’s attempt to shoehorn this piece of wisdom into book form has been hindered – if that is the right word, and it clearly isn’t – by the fact that beer is throwing more ‘new’ stuff at us all the time.

Sometimes we manage to catch it and between them Webb and Beaumont have caught quite a lot in this publication.

This is the second time they have somehow achieved the feat of capturing the thrill and the zest of what’s going on in the world of brewing in just a few hundred pages.

The first edition of their World Atlas of Beer arrived in 2012. They had latched onto an idea that the late Michael Jackson had developed to establish himself as the world’s leading beer authority back in the late 1970s. With Michael’s tragic passing, it was good someone picked up the baton.

What Michael created some forty years ago was the first colour coffee-table book on beer, but a book that was not short on detail as many coffee-table books tend to be. He scoured the world for beers weak and strong, explaining the old ways and embracing the new.

Webb and Beaumont did the same and now, four years later, they’re back to tell the next chapter of beer’s amazing story.

Countries and Territories

As last time, the book is subdivided into countries and territories, offering a general introduction to the local scene and then bite-sized explanations of indigenous specialities. Hence for Belgium you get lambic, saison, etc., while for the Czech Republic you get pale and dark lagers.

I grumbled a little in my review of the last edition that – this being an atlas – the maps featured were not uniform. For some countries, notable breweries were plotted; for others the maps just illustrated a trend or provided a historical statement.

It’s the same again this time – for New Zealand, they’re all there but for Australia it is just an indication of the number of breweries in each state – but I do take the point that putting every brewery of note on a map would be rather pointless in some areas as you’d end up with an overly-congested diagram that would be impossible to decipher.

And sometimes a map needs to tell a different story than simply where breweries are located.

There is less emphasis on breweries this time around and more on styles. The potted reviews of around 500 beers that were scattered through the last edition have now been removed in recognition of their inadequacy considering the sheer volume of beers now available globally.

But in their places are more local insights, such as into the Reinheitsgebot, the craft beer scene in Rome and the ‘hop problem’ in Chile.

Balancing Act

Again as before, pressure on pages means that some territories perhaps suffer from a lack of detail. Brazil seems a little unfortunate in this respect.

On the other hand, regions of the US or Germany are very well served, and room has been found for whole sections on countries such as Poland and Switzerland for which only a couple of sentences could be mustered last time around. It’s a balancing act in which – I know from experience – the publisher always holds the wire.

Did I find something new? Of course – on almost every page. There are more detailed national or regional beer guides around – Webb’s own Good Beer Guide Belgium is a classic example – but for an overview that is not patronising, doesn’t forgo vital details and gets to the heart of beer scenes the world over, this takes some beating.

Second edition (2016)

272-page hardback (Mitchell Beazley)

£25

Available now from amazon.co.uk and other stores

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