And Quiet Flows the OCBeerCommentary Wiki

3014Well, I didn’t expect to be called out – or, rather, have my suspicions confirmed – by the east coast media establishment. I did say that I expect this to be a slow project from day one. Nonetheless, Clay Risen’s observations at The Atlantic today on the state of beer writing are well worth reading, including these:

Newcomers to wine can follow a reliable guide like Asimov or the Wall Street Journal’s Lettie Teague; good luck finding their equivalents (i.e., deeply knowledgeable but layman-accessible) in the world of beer…

Such absences would matter more if the book pretended to objective universality; as a companion guided by Oliver’s subjective perspective, their absences are points for debate…

The Wiki has only about 40 entries, and most of them deal with matters of interpretation. In a book that may have upwards of 100,000 factual statements in it, the presence of a few dozen errors, while regrettable, is pretty impressive…

It’s a shame that would-be critics have spent their entire time fact-checking the precise rules of the Royal Court’s brewing guidelines under Henry VIII (subject of one catch), because they’ve overlooked the achievement of the book as a whole — though, given their vehemence, it’s a good bet they weren’t going to give it a chance in any case. Thoroughly illustrated and beautifully typeset, the book is precisely what a companion should be: an engaging, subjective, erudite guide to the interested novice and, at the same time, a quick reference for the initiated…

Secret: one of my reasons for setting up the wiki was the suspicion that my concern with the date that lager beer was introduced to Canada was a blip. Fortunately, the wiki is intended – can only be intended – to give the book more than a chance. It’s a way of examining the text but it will take a lot of time. Feel for poor Stan who almost lost his marbles just working his way to the entry for “Thomas Jefferson” in order to start filling in the Index to Entries by Author. I have started to load his efforts… but that will take time, too. Might get done by Christmas.

This pace in turn is giving me more patience with the book. Oxford University Press chose my “throwing the book against the wall” sentence for their marketing but I might have been too rash. Garrett indicated in an email when we discussed the wiki that there was a chance for small corrections or additions between printings and that the wiki might be useful for that. I hope it is. Criticism can be useful. Even for those books in those subject areas of the library or the shop… or Amazon, I suppose… where not enough, as Risen suggests, has yet been written.

Garrett Oliver on The Oxford Companion to Beer

A few days after starting the OCBeerCommentary wiki, Garrett Oliver – editor, brewer and ambassador for good beer – emailed me and asked if I would like to have a question and answer session for my blog. The result is the response which you will find below under the extended text link. It includes five questions from me as well as other observations. I was going to say something about the experience of reading through what he wrote. But then I picked up a copy of a brand new self-published book called The Breweries of Kingston and The St. Lawrence Valley by Steve Gates. Steve can be found in the comments around our Ontario history posts. Like Garrett, I have never met Steve – even though Steve lives in my town – but I hope to meet both of them someday soon. Steve put himself out there by putting the book on the shelf and he described his aim when publishing his book this way:

This book represents my attempt to capably and accurately detail the brewers and their breweries that existed from the early 19th century to Prohibition. The area of examination will include the four layers of counties facing either the St. Lawrence River or the eastern end of Lake Ontario from the communities of Napanee to Cornwall. This is not the definitive study of this subject but instead I hope it to be the start point for others to take up the torch.

What a gracious thing to say when you realize Steve has worked for years putting together the material that makes up his book. When I wrote Garrett back after he first emailed me after he came across the wiki, I wrote back that I thought his book was a gift and hoped the wiki would enrich it though the comments, additions and edits of readers. After I sent it I thought I sounded like I was sucking up. See, I have written as much as would fit in many books but have never published a book with its own two covers. But I would hope if I did that it would be a starting point for others.

You can find Garrett’s statement at the wiki as well as below this link.

The Oxford Companion to Beer

First, a statement. As I mentioned in the preface to “The Oxford Companion to Beer” (OCB), no work of this scale can be, has ever been, or will ever be published without errata, and I look forward to working with the beer community to strengthen this work and other works over time. In the meantime, a book of this size, scope and reach can be and should be debated and questioned. The OCB has been met with overwhelmingly positive reviews from the press, and the comments from beer enthusiasts, homebrewers, professional brewers and brewing professors have been very kind indeed.

However, last week I was pointed to a blog post in which the blogger Martyn Cornell suggested that the OCB was a “dreadful disaster”, owing to “errors” which he claims to have found in various entries as he scanned through them on Amazon. He says that I and my 166 colleagues simply “made things up”. In this post, Mr. Cornell, in essence, refers to me as a dupe, a cretin and a liar, piloting a project populated by lazy idiots. All this about a person whom he has not met or had so much as a conversation with, and about a book that he has not actually seen. In my 22 years in brewing, this most convivial of professions, it is the most intemperate and inconsiderate thing I have ever seen a member of the beer community say about any of his peers. I do not agree with or believe everything I read in Mr. Cornell’s books either, but it would never have occurred to me to vilify him in public.

No one who reads his post will be surprised that I take extreme exception to it. In deference to Mr. McLeod’s decency and courteousness, I will not be bothering to play that out fully here. I will, however, point out that many of Mr. Cornell’s historical “facts” are incorrect, speciously derived, or under scholarly dispute. He says, for example, “the Angles, Saxons and Jutes arrived in Britain in the 5th century AD, not the fourth.” Actually, the vast majority of scholars, up until this day, note numerous incursions by Anglo-Saxons well before the 5th century AD.

Regarding the subject “Bottles”, Mr. Cornell rails about a comment that the UK pint bottle is still on shelves, however just yesterday one of the UK’s top beer writers wrote me to say that “I see them (pint bottles) every time I go to the supermarket, which would suggest they’re still ‘popular’.”

In another bit, he says “This is, again, just made up. In fact there’s very little or no evidence of cider-making in pre-Anglo-Saxon Britain, (“cider” itself was a word introduced by the Normans) and evidence for mead-making is mostly or all post-Roman.” Not only is his outlook on this question a minority view among historians, but we all are perfectly aware that people everywhere on earth have fermented pretty much whatever is at hand into alcoholic drinks, from honey, to dates, to apples, to palm sap, milk, and even drinks containing blood. Saying that “evidence for mead-making is mostly or all post-Roman”, even if that statement could be determined to be correct, is rather like saying “there is no direct evidence that Neolithic peoples breathed oxygen.” “Foaming at the mouth” – these his own words – he even goes on to complain about the use of the word “unlikely” to describe the rise of India pale ale, saying that such use is “unsubstantiated and unexplained assertion-making.” No doubt Mr. Cornell, having been there personally in the late 1700s, found the rise of IPA to be very likely indeed. In fact, by now I feel certain that he predicted it himself in the broadsheets.

And it goes on, reminding me of nothing so much as McCarthy’s House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. I refer interested parties to the list of contributors, who have not even listed nearly the entireties of their bona fides in their small OCB biographies. Please do read it. As you will see below, “The Oxford Companion to Beer” is a peer-reviewed work, and 166 learned people from 24 countries expended many, many thousands of hours, for virtually no remuneration, to bring it about. I can assure you that neither I nor any of the OCB contributors have “made anything up”. All the negative comments I have seen so far are about historical matters. Well, even though Mr. Cornell has surely done yeoman’s work digging up old brewing records, the reading of a historical record and the interpretation of it are two different things.

History, far from being pure science, is a thing in constant motion, with much or it arguable or interpretable in various ways. People still argue about the precise make-up of George Washington’s false teeth, and he was the founding president of the United States, spoke before thousands and sat for portraits barely more than two centuries ago. I feel very confident that the OCB’s percentage of errata, though it must surely be more than zero, is probably as good as that of The British Museum, and no one is speaking of tearing that down. No one is more interested in the factual accuracy of the OCB than I am. However, it is famously said that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”. Well, I have not, in my time on this earth, seen perfect yet. I do not expect to, either, and any wise person will approach attempts at perfection with at least an ounce of humility. Beer is a human thing, and one does well to remember that. We have made, I think, a very good start, and no one, least of all me, has claimed that the work is or will be finished any time soon. As you will see below, many of the entries in “The Oxford Companion to Wine” have undergone substantial revisions between the three editions. This is entirely normal. All I ask, if anyone here is moved to acquire a copy of the OCB, is to actually sit down with it for a few hours, browse through the 1,110+ subjects (not just the ones that you have specifically had big arguments about), and then come back here and tell us what you think. We will be very happy to hear from you.

1. I understand that The Oxford Companion to Beer was a project that you spent four years working on. Can you provide some insight into the origins and development of the book, including the process of gathering 166 people involved with the world of beer?

In late 2006, I received an email from Benjamin Keene, who was then an editor in the Reference Division of the American office of Oxford University Press. He said that the time has come for an “Oxford Companion to Beer”, and asked whether I would be interested in originating the book as editor-in-chief. I told him that I was flattered by the question, but I said “no way”. I have a copy of “The Oxford Companion to Wine”, and basically thought “no one in their right mind would take on something like this.” I did, however, end up going out for a pint with Ben Keene. He convinced me that there was much missing from the public literature of beer. And as I looked around, I found that it was true. There was nothing to be read on professional dry-hopping, for example. I had lots of technical brewing books, but they covered dry-hopping in a sentence or two. Almost nothing on bottle-conditioning. Or barrel aging. Very little, except for one recent book, on recent developments in wild and sour beers. There was not even so much about the actual production techniques for mass-market beers, although technical journals have covered certain aspects very well over the decades. There was not enough, at least in English, about the rest of the world outside the U.S. and certain parts of Europe. So eventually Ben convinced me that the book needed doing, and that I should take it on. I formally signed on as editor-in-chief in August of 2007. It is not an overstatement to say that the prospect of taking on the OCB was terrifying, and for good reason.

The start of the project was the assembly of the “headword list”. This is the list of subjects that will appear in the book in alphabetical order, rather like an encyclopedia. I put together a list of several hundred headwords. After I ran out of things I could think up on my own, I combed the indexes of many dozens of books, looking for subjects that the OCB should cover. Once I had a large, credible list, I posted the first of many requests on the Brewers Association daily Forum, asking for help in assembling a more complete headword list. The Forum is read by over 1,000 people in the brewing industry and some journalists, amateur brewers, industry affiliates, and writers, not only in the U.S. but in other countries as well.

I got a very vigorous response from the community. Probably 100 people offered to help, and I sent them my original headword list. They added their own headwords to it in another color or font so that I could easily tell what had been added. Sometimes, as expected (and hoped), there would be a term with which I was entirely unfamiliar (stuykmanden, for example). I’d do a little research and decide whether the term seemed to merit inclusion. One by one, I went through everyone’s lists and incorporated terms that I though would interest people. When the first round was done, we had about 1,000 headwords and were ready for the second phase.

The second phase was the assignment of word-lengths to each of the 1,000 headwords. Without assigned word-lengths, the writers could have no idea how to approach their subjects, and Oxford University Press (OUP) would have no idea how large a book they were planning to produce. Of course, assigning a pre-determined length to a subject you haven’t even begun to explore is a very difficult task, especially when there are so many of them. Fortunately, OUP had a system for this, wherein each entry was set at one of five lengths – 250 words, 500 words, 1,000 words, 2500 words, etc. If this seems random, it is not – it actually does make sense; you cannot have an infinite number of different lengths for the assignments. However, later on, when we approached writers, we made it known that the word lengths were targets, not edicts, and we would make room for any crucial information.

From here, we assembled an Advisory Board. They would receive all entries first, before the editor-in-chief (EIC). The Advisory Board is a group of peer reviewers who are tasked with reading through the entries, looking for inconsistencies, errors of fact, incompleteness, or other problems. Only after passing review by the Advisory Board would EIC begin work on the entries. I was asked to assign each entry to one of the members of the Advisory Board, based in many cases on their particular area of expertise. When entries came in to OUP, members of the Advisory Board would sometimes send entries back to writers, asking them to do further work. Even when entries were passed to EIC, they would often come with notes from the Advisory board member attached regarding something that needed curing. The Advisory Board was:

Dr. Charles Bamforth, who needs little introduction. He is, among other things, the Anheuser-Busch endowed professor of Brewing Science at U.C. Davis, and has spent his career in brewing research, brewery quality control, and many other pursuits, and is the author of several books.

Dr. George Philliskirk, before becoming the Co-Director of the Beer Academy, was head of the Technical Department for Carlsberg UK. He is a past Chairman of the Board of Examiners of the Institute of Brewing and an external examiner for the Brewing degrees at Heriot-Watt University.

Dr. Patrick Hayes is professor of Crop and Soil Science at Oregon State University in Covallis, which is in one of the centers of American hop farming, but also focuses on grain science. Most entries involving agronomy went through him.

Dr. Keith Villa is Master Brewer of MillerCoors, inventor of their Blue Moon brand among many others, a well-experienced judge of international competitions and a graduate of the brewing school at the Catholic University of Leuven. His career has focused on brewing innovations.

Dr. Wolfgang Stempfl is CEO of Doemens Academy of Germany, which also needs no introduction to those assembled here.

Dr. Val Peacock, before becoming president of Hop Solutions, was well-known within brewing circles as Anheuser-Busch’s Manager of Hop Technology. He is one of the most experienced hop researchers in the world-wide brewing industry. While he is not technically listed on the Advisory Board, he went through every hop entry and helped organize, verify and catalogue a huge amount of hop information.

EIC makes all assignments of entries. In some cases I reached out to people who I knew to have specific knowledge of a subject. So Vinnie Cilurzo was asked to write about “sour beers” and “oak”, Pete Brown to write about India Pale Ale, Steve Parkes of American Brewers Guild to write some technical brewing entries, Chad Yakobson (whose Masters-degree work on brett is a sight to behold) wrote about Brettanomyces, etc. Some people suggested I reached out to specific other experts, and then we would check out their bona fides and reach out to them as well. Others wrote and offered to help. I put out the word through various forums, and I think I can say that there are very few people who write about beer who would say that they didn’t know we were looking for writers on a wide range of subjects. Eventually, the vast majority of subjects were assigned and people got to work. All contributors were sent a set of guidelines as to what was expected, what the scope and writing style was, what sorts of sources would be accepted as references, etc.

Aside from writing my own entries, my job as EIC was to make sure that each entry was properly written, in what might loosely be termed the “Oxford style” (though without squelching the individual voices of the contributors). EIC also assures that entries contain the information that they need to have, that this information has been properly researched, and that the information is not unduly parochial. Almost anyone who wrote a piece for the OCB got questions back from me, was asked for additional information, and had some changes made to their copy, etc. Some pieces were able to go through with very little work – we had some great writers. Many others needed substantial additional work, from simple editing to complete re-writes.

This is not unusual, but I had no real idea how much work this would involve. Many very bright people, who have lots of excellent information to impart, are not natural writers. Some may not speak English as their first languages. However, if you want the best possible range of information, you cannot rely entirely on people who write all the time, nor solely upon English-speakers. In some cases, I added an international perspective – for example, someone in Germany writing about “dunkel” might not be aware how prevalent the style is among craft brewers in South America. As a result of all these roles, I had some part in virtually every entry. In any event, if you do not like the writing style of the OCB, the full blame falls upon me. If you do like it, then credit may well lie with the original writer, or with some combination. However, in every instance, writers signed off on final edits after they came back from OUP’s copy-editing and before they went off for typesetting. If a writer objected to the editing or thought something was wrong, it went back through the process until the matter was resolved. In a very small number of cases, an entry was rejected and later written by someone else.

In some cases, I would send certain pieces, especially my own, to other writers whose knowledge I respected. So, for example, I sent my own pieces on “barrel-aging” and “bottle-conditioning” to Vinnie Cilurzo and Will Meyer for vetting, not only of the info present, but also so they could check them for completeness. Sometimes I would send pieces out to independent experts. For example, before finishing my editing on the piece “beechwood chips”, I sent it out to two former employees of Anheuser-Busch so that they could confirm that this was indeed correct information from top to bottom. Oxford editors also combed through everything, looking for problems, inconsistencies, plagiarisms, and all sorts of other possible difficulties that occur with all projects of this scale.

In the last few months of the project, Horst Dornbusch joined the OCB as associate editor. He has been a Fulbright scholar, a brewer, a brewing consultant, a writer, a translator, and spent 10 years in magazine editing. His main job was to “rough cut” some of the remaining entries, some of which did not arrive in wonderful condition. After his work, he would pass them to me (with all of his changes visible), and I would work them into final form.

Before we move on, let me emphasize that this is a very hard style of writing to master. It is meant to appeal to a wide range of possible readers, from the casual enthusiast to the beverage professional, to the technical brewer. And it is intended to be interesting and engaging, not to simply be a dry textbook. That is one reason the book series is called “Companion”. In the preface to “The Oxford Companion to Wine”, Jancis Robinson writes that the book is meant to be “a comprehensive work, with attitude, aimed at curious, intelligent wine drinkers and wine students who want to understand more of the background to the delicious liquid they find in their glasses and bottles.” Well put, and though I would obviously change “wine” to “beer” and add a few more areas of possible readers, that was very much the goal of the OCB.

A final thing here – I have read posts by some writers, who were among the very few who rejected assignments, who have said that they were annoyed at the tiny remuneration offered to them by OUP. One very prominent beer writer said to me, right to my face, “I wouldn’t take a sh*t for that kind of money.” Okay, well, fortunately, I had not asked him to. His own book will be out soon, and I hope it provides him the money he requires.

Of course, there is nothing I can do about the pay. Everyone here should realize that (1) academic presses never pay much – in fact, they often don’t even pay advances, and (2) OUP is a not-for-profit organization. Much of any surplus that may be generated by book sales goes back into education, including scholarships, other books and educational material, and the subsidization of massive works such as the Oxford English Dictionary. No one is getting rich here – everyone, myself included, has made far below minimum wage, and all the OCB writers I spoke to said that they did this partially to give something back to the brewing community. The fact that so many were willing to do so says something about that community. I understand that not everyone can afford to do this work, but I’m grateful to those who did.

2. The OCB comes to us eight years after the publication in 2003 of your marvelous book, The Brewmaster’s Table. The two books are very different. It might be said that The Brewmaster’s Table is an exercise in expressing the subjective experience of beer from the perspective of eloquent and comprehensive passion that might even butt up against the obsessive. The OCB, by comparison, is almost by definition objective in its approach. Is there something about beer that favours one route to good beer over the other or are they two necessary paths to full appreciation?

Thanks for the kind words. “The Brewmaster’s Table” (BT) won the International Association of Culinary Professionals Book Award in 2004 and was a finalist for the James Beard Award. Having never won any prize for anything but making beer, that was very gratifying. And I think that people did react to BT exactly as I meant them to. It was a very subjective work, and a work of passion. That was a book that was burning a hole in my pocket – I had something to say, and I needed to say it. The fact that so many people have enjoyed it and have made some use of it is wonderful. These days I’m meeting young brewers who tell me that BT was their inspiration to get into homebrewing and then professional brewing. That’s very cool, though it makes me feel rather old!

The OCB is entirely different. While I did not entirely put a lid on my opinions (note Robinson’s “with attitude”, above) or those of others, this was meant to be a largely objective work. This meant that I needed to turn off my “partisan craft brewer brain” and put myself in a different mental space. It also meant, and I am very grateful for this, that writers and advisors who came from the mass-market brewers needed to trust that I was not here to sack them or their products. I know that they have read “The Brewmaster’s Table” and many of them were not thrilled with my characterizations of mass-market beer. It was a mark of true character on their part that so many people from the world of mass-market brewing were willing to trust me and pitch in on the OCB, and I worked hard to try and earn that trust.

After all, if you come to this book and look up “light beer”, it would be incorrect for me to say to you “well, you shouldn’t want light beer.” That wasn’t the question that was asked. OCB is there to answer the question, and such a piece will have been written by someone who knows precisely how light beer is made, where it comes from, its development over the years, and its societal context. So in a certain way, I had to become a different person, beer-wise, to do this work. And other people had to forget certain things about me.

In the end, I think and hope that craft brewers and mass-market brewers will be equally happy with the OCB. As for the bits of opinion, I quote again from the OCW, which says that it is “laced with the editorial opinion which is such a crucial ingredient of all Oxford Companions across a range of equally worthy subjects.” And so it is with the OCB.

To answer your question, I think both the subjective and objective roads to beer appreciation are valid, and there are probably one or two other roads besides those. If Michael Jackson taught us all anything, it was that good beer should engage both halves of your mind. And both BT and OCB have subjective and objective aspects, but the balance is very different between them.

3. Was there anything in the difference between being primarily the writer of The Brewmaster’s Table compared to the editor of the OCB that taught you something new about the pleasures of beer?

It made me realize how much there was to know and to think about. It showed me how much I already knew, which felt good (keeping up with Charlie Bamforth, for example, is not for the faint-hearted), but also opened up whole other worlds of thinking. I also learned a lot about the beer histories of other countries and how their path through the world of beer is the same as ours, different than ours, and entwined with ours. I tried hard not only to avoid thinking only as a craft brewer, but also to avoid thinking only as an American, only as a professional brewer, only as a beer geek. I tried to understand the point of view of a beverage manager for a restaurant, for example, and what he or she needs to know in order to bring beer alive for the restaurant’s guests. I hope that we did it – I think we did.

4. The discussion of beer both on-line and in the traditional media has changed significantly since 2003. While beer forums existed, blogs were in their infancy and there were few beer columns in newspapers. How has the reception of the OCB differed from The Brewmaster’s Table? Is there a greater noise to signal ratio or has the discourse truly advanced with the volume of discussion?

The noise to signal ratio has increased drastically. Sometimes it seems that there is almost nothing but noise. That said, at the same time, there is also much more real information available. Not only are there actually many more good writers, but facilities such as Google Books, whatever one may think of them, would allow me to look at some book from 1820 that’s sitting in a small library in Scotland and read the scanned book. And, in many cases, the book had only been scanned in months or weeks before I looked at it. There is so much more info that’s coming available, and that’s very exciting. Which is why, as I’ve mentioned above, the OCB had crowd-sourced elements to it. There is virtually no one who writes about beer that did not know that the OCB was underway, so people reached out to me from around the world.

It is worth noting, I think, that in the preface of the 3rd addition of “The Oxford Companion to Wine”, EIC Jancis Robinson writes “These are new entries [referring to the more than 300 new subjects in the 3rd edition], but of the old ones roughly three-quarters have been changed in some way, and a good 40% of the total, about 1,600 entries in all, have been revised quite radically.” She goes on to say that the world of wine is a rapidly moving target requiring frequent revision and updating. 40% revised quite radically? Yes, actually, of course they have been. That’s because the first OCW was excellent yet imperfect. The important part is that OUP and Jancis have continued to do the work.

Those who are wary of this first edition of OCB might take note of this. We worked exceedingly hard, but there is no way that I or any other EIC could possibly hope to personally verify ever single asserted fact in a book containing this much information. That said, I am certain that the first OCW was an extremely valuable resource, and I feel confident that this first edition of the OCB is as well – and we now have the benefit of better, faster checking of information than we once did. In the future, the best comprehensive works will involve a lot of crowd-sourced elements and expanded digital sourcing capabilities combined with solid editing work.

5. What would you wish for the commentary wiki on the OCB and other forms of on-line response? How can they best serve your intention for the book as a centrepiece for the continuing elaboration of the meaning of beer and the passion people have for beer?

That’s a good question and will require further thought. I would love to see a wiki like this somehow connected to formal Oxford research teams. Perhaps some of the larger breweries and mid-sized breweries could even help fund such things. The wine world has plenty of people paid to do pure research into elements of flavor, history, etc. We have no idea how far behind we are in the world of beer. Mondavi has teams – teams – of people who study nothing but wine and food interactions. Think of that. I’ve met these people and they’re doing fascinating work. Can we do that? If not, why not?

A few quick things as I close:

People wonder how the featured breweries – and there are not very many – were chosen. I decided from the beginning that trying to cover thousands of breweries was not only impossible, but largely useless. There are plenty of other resources for that. So I stuck to breweries that I thought had a particular cultural relevance that went beyond their sheer size or popularity. I also paid attention to the many people who suggested headwords – certain breweries popped up over and over again, which struck me as a sign that they were touchstones of some sort for people. This is the reason for something of a bias in the direction of the older European breweries; they have been highly influential all over the world. For example, Brasserie Dupont is important not only because Saison Dupont is delicious, but also because Saison Dupont resides somewhere in the mind of almost every modern brewer who brews saison. The fact that they are tiny is not as relevant as the fact of their influence.

Is the list subjective? Yes – how could it be otherwise? Is it random? No. Do I think that other breweries, possibly many, deserve inclusion? Yes, absolutely.

BTW: “Leipsiger Gose” was written for the OCB, but came in too late to make it into typesetting. I’m sorry about that too, but it’s hard to have everything. Next edition.

Also: It has been noted that there is no listing for the hop Centennial. I use Centennial myself, as do a great many brewers, especially in the U.S.. I hate to say it, but the omission was inadvertent. The omission got past me, our hop editing team, and the OUP editors. Centennial is actually referenced elsewhere, and how it skated past is a mystery we shall track down. In any event, an actual error – sorry for that.

Some people have been a bit annoyed by what are called “blind references”. These are used when the editors feel that people will look for a subject under a different headword – it is meant to direct them. So “Calagione, Sam” has a “blind ref” to “Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.” Sam is one of the most famous brewers in the world, so some people will search for his name. Similarly “Magazines” has a blind ref to “Beer Writing”, and so on.

Going back to “The Oxford Companion to Wine”, the second edition had 650 more entries than the first, and the third edition had more than 300 new entries, but had to cut some existing entries to make room. All these things evolve – this is the way it’s done. As I said, we’ve made a start, not a finish. I hope to help out, and I hope many others here will help too. And I also hope that we will sit down and drink fine beers together, leaving “foaming at the mouth” to unfortunate animals against which we will barricade the doors of the pub, leaving the rest of us to enjoy our conviviality in peace and fellowship. That, let’s not forget, is what beer is for. Thanks for listening.

– Garrett Oliver

Is This The Gold Standard Of Brewery Tours?

I have been on a lot of brewery tours. In Halifax in the early 1980s it was a euphemism for college kids being locked into a room at the brewery and given all the beer they could down in a Friday afternoon hour. More recently, it’s the chance to hear craft brewers explain their processes. At one Japanese brewery, however, it’s now a chance to test out their equipment and your own ideas:

Soon they called our group, and we entered the brewing room. Our brewmaster sat us at a picnic table and brought us more beer. She asked us to taste all of their standard brews and choose one to use as a base for our own beer. We chose an amber ale and increased the alcohol content by adding more sugar, in the form of grain, for fermentation. We also increased the amount of hops added to bring up the bitterness and add more flavor. The whole process took about four hours and we did all the important things ourselves. We measured out the grain, milled it, threw it in a pot and boiled it. There were even tasks — as our brewmaster warned us — that, if done incorrectly, would allow bacteria to contaminate our beer.

I like this concept – even if the cost of $235 for a delivery of 15 litres of beer seems a bit much. But for all I know that might be the cost of a donut and coffee there, too. The brewery in question is no dud – the Kiuchi Brewery in central Ibaraki Prefecture is the maker of the Hitachino Nest line of craft beer imported into North America like this stout and this wit I had a few years back.

Could it happen here? I don’t know. There are likely 15,387 regulations between here and there but what a great way to reach out to your customers and to let them know how your business works.

“I Am Less Free Today Than I Was 30 Years Ago…”

That is a shocking sentence to read. Gets the brain going. Here is the nub of an excellent post over at the always excellent The Last Exile:

Globalization was suppose to make us all free and rich. Although, it has not worked out that way for most of us. I am not any richer and my wages face a constant erosion from the rising rates of taxes and the general cost of just about everything while the corporate tax rate continues to slide ever downward. I know for a fact; I am less free today than I was 30 years ago. Canadians generally do not have any babies anymore; mostly because they cannot afford to when it takes a 2 person income just to raise a small family with ordinary expectations. We never really discuss that in this country, and if the topic does manage to come up in public dialogue, somehow the dominate ethos manages to give the impression that a woman who works outside the home rather than rising her children at home does so for selfish avaricious reasons rather than the fact that taxation, housing and transportation costs now claim a much larger percentage of family income than they did 30 years ago.

Add to that list communications device fees. I pay over $250 a month for home phone, internet, cell phone and cable TV. I could cut it but with the range of ages in the house it’s not a practical solution. I am a bit shocked at electricity hikes added to natural gas bill, too. Again over $250 a month combined. If I ever created that stand alone blog dedicated to complaining about society’s broken promises called Where the Hell is my Jet Pack??, I might write about these things or think about them more.

Why don’t I? We are fortunate and a bit unconventional as fosterers and for other reasons, I suppose, but if I thought about it, I might have expected the sort of financial status we have now to have been the lifestyle in my late 30s rather than my late 40s. But maybe I don’t care. Maybe the money or other resources go to intangibles and non-investments. Like better cheese. Like tanks of gas for wandering weekend road trips. I think I am better off. But who knows. I don’t think I think about it all that much.

Why Did A Brewer In Kingston In 1815 Want Rye?

kgazkbrh1The ad is from page 4 of the Kingston Gazette, 6 January 1816. You can see at the bottom that it was placed on 15 December 1815. So many questions. What were Messrs Robinson and Gillespie up to? Why is rye placed between barley and hops in the large font while oats sit down there with the peas? Also, is “strong beer” something separate, something identifiable to the Kingstonian a year after the war with America? You will recall that a few months later in April, Albany strong beer is for sale. It also comes just a month after Richard Smith’s notice for plain “beer” – so was “strong beer” something they had the taste for still, almost 40 years after having to flee from their central NY homes at the beginning of the American Revolution? And why is it not “ale” when described in the Kingston papers?

I just finished The Lion, the Eagle and Upper Canada by Jane Errington, a historian over at Royal Military College – they of the old school base ball. The book is well reviewed here but, short form, it’s an interesting view of early Upper Canada (1790s to 1820s) based in large part by review of early newspapers. In it, Errington suggests something of a window between the end of the War of 1812 in 1815 and, a few years later, a clampdown in trade and other contacts with the US towards the end of the decade. But even with her level of detail about the community, trade and industry, there is not much about beer itself. Meaning I am left unsure if beer was being traded within months of the end of a war, perhaps as a stop gap until local product restarted… if it was interrupted by the war… which is another question.

So, I was very happy to read in the comments that Steve Gates has published his history of brewing in the city and in the region. I couldn’t get out of the door to go get a copy but will tomorrow. Hopefully it will shed some light on what Robinson and Gillespie were up to.

A Commentary On The Oxford Companion To Beer

3014You may recall that I had a first look at The Oxford Companion to Beer a few weeks ago. Comments have flown here and elsewhere. I am convinced that the book will be a great focal point for discussion for years. I am also convinced that by definition is it not definitive. Why? Well, it is a collection of very short essays, that’s why. Which also means there should be lively discussion building upon each essay as well as the cross-referencing between them.

So, I have created a wiki called “OCBeerCommentary” in which I hope to create a commentary upon, a concordance of this great book. It is a group project hopefully but the rules are fairly strict or at least focused:

The purpose of this wiki is to collectively make comments, add annotation, identify errata and suggest further sources to the text of The Oxford Companion to Beer. Members are asked to avoid comment about the authors, the structure of the text or other extraneous matters. This wiki is a not for profit project that reviews the text pursuant under the concept of “fair dealing for the purpose of criticism or review” under Canadian copyright law.

The wiki is available to be read publicly but is only open for participation by approved members. There is not much in there yet so bear with us. Let me know in the comments if you are interested in adding errata, elaborations and commentary. Or email me at There should be links to your existing blog posts, an interview your have come across or whatever else helps expand understanding of this work. I expect this to be a slow project but one that aggregates commentary to make it more readily accessible. Who know? Some comments might interest the editors enough for inclusion in the inevitable second edition.

Pete Revives The Beer Blogging Ethics Question

We did this one in 2008 but it is good to visit this question repeatedly. Me? I like cash. Because, apparently, the people who run pubs, make beer and publish beer periodicals like it as well. There is an odd assumption that bloggers (and drinkers) participate out of “passion” – a catch all word for sucker far too often.

But there is a question in all of this. Go read Pete and tell us what you think… here or there.

How The Red Sox Might Have Collapsed Last Month

It was quite a thing to watch. Forget the numbers involved in the drop from first to playoff observer. It was clear something was wrong when Lester didn’t care enough to throw strikes in his last Yankee games. Today’s Boston Globe sets out one interpretation of what happened, based largely on anonymous interviews:

By all accounts, the 2011 Sox perished from a rash of relatively small indignities. For every player committed to the team’s conditioning program, there was a slacker. For every Sox regular who rose early on the road to take optional batting practice, there were others who never bothered. For every player who dedicated himself to the quest for a championship, there were too many distracted by petty personal issues.

Blame is placed on Francona’s health and marriage, too. But, a bit oddly, the most blame is placed on forcing a Saturday doubleheader against Oakland to avoid a hurricane coming through. Seems a bit of an odd thing to ditch a season over but the trio of Beckett, Lester, and Lackey are suggested to have done just that. Called a hatchet job, it’s probably not the whole story but the idea that a team of millionaires who only have to play a game could get this sour and uppity is amazing.

No wonder Epstein’s with the Cubs now.

In Kingston In November 1815 There Was Beer!


Beer for sale! Hallallujah!! BEER FOR SALE!!!

Remember what I suggested before? That where there is peace there is
beer? Well, on 27 November 1815, my town of Kingston was just nine months past the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent and five past the Battle of Waterloo. The proposed terms of Napoleon’s incarceration at St. Helena are announced in the same edition of the Kingston Gazette as was the reprimand of Major-General Proctor – the news oddly received care of an American paper… care of one from Montreal. Funny information and trade routes in those early post war days.

Where did the malt come from? Sure, Kingston was a key outpost bastion in the Empire, the guardian of the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence and Rideau but, still, who grew the grain that made the malt that made the beer? Was it a local 1815 crop or was it shipped from Britain or America? Where was it brewed? Notice that Richard Smith only calls it “beer” where a few months later he calls what he is selling Albany strong beer. Also, I don’t see another ad in the paper for beer. There are many fine things – fancy goods even. The front page of the 2 December 1815 issue includes notices offering Turkish opium, spices and sugars, China teas and and Port wine. The town had its need and apparently some issues for which it had supplies. But there was no other beer for sale.

It makes one consider that this may have been the first or at least an early shipment to make it to the town after the war. There very likely were beers in taverns but not necessarily. More drinks can be made from spirits and if you are transporting them up a river filled with rapids between here and Montreal, there is more bucks in batteaux that way. We learn from Roberts that punches and cocktails was the fashion, too. Taverns were posh. Not sure. But what ever it was about, beer was for sale. And it was worth letting people know.

The Oxford Companion To Beer Wiki Still Grows

3014I haven’t mentioned it since May, but the wiki grows. It’s alive. This observation in the section on the letter “C” is my favorite correction in the OCB wiki so far:

“cask” this entry states that “After filing, a plastic or wooden stopper called a shive is driven into the large bunghole on the belly, and a smaller one called a keystone is driven into the tap hole.” In fact the keystone is driven into the tap hole before filling as the cask would leak otherwise.

Brilliant!! Ed Wray picked out that one. Don’t know how I missed it. Ed’s been doing a wonderful job working away at correcting, amending and adding to the thousands of pages of entries. This, I understand, is Ed. He’s only up to D so far. Many have given up before that. Be strong, Ed. Martyn has been adding to the wiki today, too. W, P and S so far. And did you know the OCB has no entry for the worlds greatest selling beer? You do now.

Good work. 202 or 18.36% of the book’s entries have now been corrected. Is the burst of entries because it is the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend? Me, I am eating cold mac + cheese and watching Canadian three-down football myself. Because I am thankful for cold mac + cheese and Canadian three-down football. And Ed and Martyn.