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Britain's Beer Revolution

by Roger Protz & Adrian Tierney-Jones

In 1988, CAMRA lent its name to a book called the New Beer Guide. Its subtitle, A Guide to Britain's Small Brewery Revolution, said most of what you needed to know about the contents.

Britain's Beer RevolutionWritten in his usual affable style by What's Brewing editor Brian Glover, the book painted an optimistic picture of a changing world in which beer was increasingly being taken seriously and small breweries were beginning to rise up to challenge the hegemony of the big boys.

There was a long way to go, but a start had been made.

This year, CAMRA has published another book chronicling the changing world of brewing. Called Britain's Beer Revolution, it once again celebrates some remarkable achievements and trumpets the cultural overhaul that has led to breweries opening every week in the UK.

It's tempting to compare the two titles but brewing in Britain has undergone such a seismic shift that it would be unfair to do so.

When Brian Glover turned in his manuscript back in 1988, he was able to note the arrival of 150 new breweries since the day in 1971 when CAMRA was founded to shake up the brewing industry. If you lived through those times, you'll know just how big a deal that was.

True, it was still damned hard to find beer from small breweries, because of the way the pub market was stitched up, and those that did have the ambition to begin production very often failed to stay the course.

But, prior to those times, there was only one direction the British brewing industry was heading and that was to Hell in a handcart filled with pasteurised keg beer.

Most Exciting Drink

In contrast, just over a quarter of a century on from Glover's book, we arrive at a scenario where beer is the most exciting drink in the market place – and that's not just the jaundiced view of life-long beer bores like me: it's what the kids are telling us when they swarm into trendy bars.

Breweries pop up across the country on an almost daily basis and many of them go on to become big, strong players, continually investing in new premises or adding more capacity. The beers they brew are markedly different from those turned out by the breweries of the 1980s.

In those days, it was mostly bitter, with a sprinkling of mild and the rare treat of a stout, porter or barley wine if you were lucky. Today, it's by no means unusual to find a smoked wheat beer, wood-aged sour ale or something that looks like a stout but tastes like an IPA.

Life for the small brewer is undoubtedly better than it was for his (or increasingly her) forebears, with most pubs acting like free houses and specialist beer bars and off-licences further expanding availability.

That's the landscape that the authors of Britain's Beer Revolution, Roger Protz and Adrian Tierney-Jones, set out to capture in this very handsome, beautifully designed publication that is clear to follow and appropriately bursting with colour.

The co-writers explore Britain region by region, selecting a handful of the most notable producers and getting to the heart of their operation. There's no attempt to cover every brewery – the days when Brian Glover was able to do just that are long over – and there's not just a focus on the new generation.

Instead, it's a combination of the old and the new, the well-established who are adapting to changing times and the thrusting novices breaking every rule in the brewing book.

Meet and Greet

We are taken on a meet-and-greet journey to hear the brewers spill the beans on their motivations and success stories. It's an opportunity to get to know the people behind some of the country's very best beers.

In the Midlands, for example, the selected breweries are Bathams, Buxton, Castle Rock, Marston's and Thornbridge, while in Scotland the authors have plumped for Alechemy, Fyne Ales, Harviestoun, Highland, Orkney, Stewart and Williams Bros – with a special feature on BrewDog.

A trio of beers are picked out as highlights for each brewery, there is a small selection of pub and other 'beer destinations', and guest 'insiders' – retailers, farmers or local beer writers – offer their own take on a beer drinker's life in each region.

Adding to the colour are stand-alone sections covering trends in the industry – anything from brewpubs to ecology to beer and food matching. Importantly, there's also a neat summary of how we got where we are, from the brutal days of 1960s merger mayhem to the exciting influence of American craft brewers.

Having more than one author can have its downsides but Roger and Adrian seem to have squared the circle and produce material of equal merit and value. Roger's usual style is forensic, with a campaigning accent; Adrian is more poetic, with a colourful flourish. For the most part, they have reined back their natural inclinations to make a cohesive, entertaining read that successfully combines information with entertainment.

So far, I've only skimmed the surface of this book. There is so much reading in the 288 pages that it will take some time to fully digest. But, as a snapshot of the world we live in today, like Brian's earlier work, it looks like it'll be hard to beat.

1st edition (2014)

288-page paperback (CAMRA Books)


Available now from CAMRA

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