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Amber Gold & Black

Martyn Cornell

Even among the fellowship of beer writers, Martyn Cornell is known for his attention to detail. Brewing history is his bag and he fills it with scrupulous research that he then uses to debunk widely quoted ‘facts’ and legends.

Amber Gold & BlackHis first major book, Beer: The Story of a Pint, told the tale of our favourite drink from its earliest origins to the present day, exploding myths and received wisdom along the way. Now he has followed this mighty work with a book subtitled ‘The History of Britain’s Great Beers’.

Amber Gold & Black deals with beer style by style, from Bitter through to Lager via Mild, Porter, IPA, Barley Wine and more, with chapters even on Dinner Ales, Honey Beers and Heather Ale.

The earliest incarnations of each style are explored in detail, along with the changes wrought on the beer by events in history – be they wars, taxes, shortages, social developments or commercial decisions – until we arrive at the status of each style today.

In his direct, head-on style, Martyn once again delights in rubbishing accepted truths, such as the fact that golden ale did not just arrive with Exmoor Gold in the 1980s but can be traced back as far as 1842, and that the beer we know as India Pale Ale was not originally created for export to the Indian subcontinent after all.

He also introduces information unknown to most of us. Did you know that Cornwall has a history of wheat beer production dating back centuries, or that lager was being brewed in Edinburgh way back in 1835?

Because he is always keen to avoid others’ mistakes, Cornell is fastidious about including citations and references in his text. While many of these are interesting, and all are pertinent, they sometimes interfere with the flow of the prose and you may want to skip over one or two paragraphs where the historical quotations are most prevalent.

But this is a minor grumble, a personal reflection that does not prevent the book being both a fascinating read and very valuable research document.

I thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the history of the beer in their glass.

First edition (2010)

240-page hardback (The History Press)


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