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The Complete Guide to World Beer

by Tom Cannavan, 12/2004

Roger Protz's all-new edition of The Complete Guide to World Beer has recently been published by Carlton Books, and I have to say I have been dipping in and out of it on a daily basis as a reference, then finding myself hooked into sitting reading on for an hour at a time. It is a wonderful, large-format book with a profusion of illustrations, labels, etc., but more importantly, Roger's immensely detailed assessment of every brewing country in the world, and all the significant breweries and their beers. It is a brilliant and important book, and a stunning accomplishment. But rather than taking my word for it, let me borrow the Guardian newspaper's review:

The Guardian, Saturday December 4, 2004
The Complete Guide to World Beer: From Abbaye des Rocs to Zatec
by Roger Protz. Carlton Books, £19.99


Review by Andrew Martin

For a long time it bothered me that I didn't know how beer was made. The question tended to arise when I was drinking beer (pretty frequently, therefore), only to fade away as the pints went down.

Roger Protz - twice editor of the Camra Good Beer Guide, prolific beer author, Guardian beer critic - is certainly the man to provide the answer. He even goes so far as to live in St Albans, cradle of the Campaign for Real Ale, and it's as if he's decided, in this luxurious volume, to get all this beer stuff off his chest once and for all.
 

The Complete Guide to World Beer includes "The Art and Science of Beer Making", a "World A-Z of Beer", an analysis of the beer business, chapters on the culture and history of beer and more. The sheer beeriness of this book cannot really be overstated. There are recipes, supplied in many cases by beer experts, for dishes to be made with beer and eaten while drinking beer. A brief history of pub signs is supplied (under Cromwell, many pubs were named "God Encompasses Us", but the signs were sabotaged to read "The Goat and Compasses"), together with accounts of such adjuncts to beer as the game of darts, which Protz touchingly describes as "a remarkable game that can be played with great skill or by people with none at all".

Protz's account of the production process is all the more readable for being slightly elliptical. A new term comes up, and you think, "No, he's lost me now", only to find that you're rewarded with an explanation in the next sentence. And so you are tugged along through this most amiable of chemistry lessons, entertained on the way by the Blackadder-ish terms that still litter brewing: "grist", "wort", "sparge", "underback".

For Protz, the discovery of what hops could do for malted barley - such a fascinatingly random conjunction - was a sacred moment. Turning water into wine isn't such a big deal. Wine producers didn't have to range across the cereal crops of the world, they just needed grapes. Protz is subtly but persistently down on wine. He speaks in passing of "wine snobbery", of the "long shadow" cast by wine over beer in France.

I suppose there is a possibility here of sour grapes. Beer is seen as a coarser drink than wine, drunk by coarser people. Protz argues that beer deserves better on account of the fineness of the production process and the complexity and mutability of the taste. Indeed, in his history section, Protz equates brewing with civilisation: "When people of the ancient world realised they could make bread and beer from grain, they stopped roaming and settled down to cultivate cereals in recognisable communities."

Many of us, by contrast, equate beer with fighting - which brings us to the lager lout, and his root cause. Once upon a time, it seems, there was absolutely nothing wrong with lager. It is cold fermented beer, and was described as such in Bavaria in 1420. It arose from the storage of beer in ice-filled German caves during hot summers, and the resulting beer was less fruity, but "clean and quenching . . . malt-accented and with a delicate hop character". Lager was first made on a big scale in Pilsner in Bohemia; it spread throughout the world with the development of ice-making machinery. Today, lager accounts for 93% of world beer production, and Protz explains why: "The advantages of lagering were threefold: it gave brewers far greater control over fermentation, avoiding bacterial infection; it produced beers with a cleaner, less fruity character; and, because the beers were filtered and conditioned in the brewery, they were less prone to being affected by poor and unskilful service in cafes and bars."

This formula originating in Pilsner is, for Protz, "the most abused beer style in the world", too often giving rise to "a pale, thin, undistinguished" brew. But many young people like "pale, thin, undistinguished" beers, thank you very much, and so do Americans. The fact is that many of the mass-produced lagers are a means to an end rather than an end in themselves, their virtue being that they provide no distraction on the way to intoxication.

Protz laments this from the perspective of the Camra man, and I would have liked a little more from him on the campaign, on the sociology of it. You are as likely to see a Camra member reading a tabloid newspaper (in the old-fashioned sense) as you are to see him downing a lager and lime. The group's campaign for flavoursome beer, traditionally brewed and stored, has galvanised small-scale brewing around the world and is symbolic of a fight on many other middle-class fronts: pro-history, pro-conversation, pro-countryside, anti-corporate. We're back to the equation of beer with civilisation.

Departures from the high ideal are dealt with drolly in Protz's A-Z of beer. Of Australia, for example, he notes that Foster's lager was brought to the country by two Americans who stayed only for a year (1887) and changed Australian brewing "not by devotion to good beer but as a result of owning a refrigeration plant". In Mexico, Sol lager was a bottom-of-the-range product made for workers: "Served extremely cold it is a refreshing drink for those engaged in manual labour." In the 1980s, Americans on surfing holidays took it up and began to drink it at home with a wedge of lime stuck in the neck of the bottle. At first, Mexicans laughed at this, but then, Protz notes sadly, they began to do it themselves. Protz is just as entertaining when he's enthusiastic: the Saku brewery in Estonia brews a 7.4% ABV porter "with a big attack of dark grain, chocolate, coffee and floral hops".

The A-Z is relentlessly illuminating. All the breweries in Iran closed when the ayatollahs came to power; skull-splitting Carlsberg Special Brew was first made to commemorate a visit by Winston Churchill to Copenhagen. A "Gazetteer of Pubs, Bars and Taverns" is to be read in conjunction with the A-Z: you can visit the Falstaff in Brussels, but don't go between 5am and 7am because that's when it closes. At Munich's Mathäser Bierstadt you can conduct an oompah band before proceeding to the vomitorium.

I have two small criticisms of this book. If the history of beer section had been placed before, rather than after, the A-Z, the reader would have been better equipped for the great pub crawl. And the fact that Protz is aiming at an international market is rather painfully apparent in a passage on British pub-going: "A member of a round will declare his intention of buying drinks by declaring 'It's my shout'." (Why not "What's your poison?") But this is a highly enjoyable guide, one that will bring power to the beer drinker's elbow, and some justification, too.

book jacket

   Complete Guide to World Beer
Author: Roger Protz
Pages: 240
Publisher: Carlton Books
Price: £19.99 (Buy now @ Amazon for £13.99)

  

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