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 beerblog@gmail.com. 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.

One thought on “A Commentary On The Oxford Companion To Beer”

  1. [Original comments…]

    Maureen Ogle – October 15, 2011 10:42 AM
    What a great idea! Is technology cool, or is technology cool?

    Michael Cowbourne – October 15, 2011 10:58 AM
    This could be very interesting and a useful idea

    Alan – October 15, 2011 11:46 AM
    Thanks for the ups. I fear it will be not interesting and useless like “A Good Beer Blog’s Map Of Many Anecdotes” over there to the left but let’s see what it does.

    First hitch seems to be the membership approval button seems stuck.

    Stan Hieronymus – October 15, 2011 4:22 PM
    “A Good Beer Blog’s Map Of Many Anecdotes”

    I had forgotten about that. Was never able to interact – so OCBeer is already off to a better start.

    Zak – October 15, 2011 5:54 PM
    Great idea, Alan.

    Martyn Cornell – October 16, 2011 11:19 AM
    Excellent work, mate. Now all I need is my copy to arrive.

    Bailey – October 16, 2011 3:15 PM
    Great idea and particularly pleased to note the ground rule re: criticism of individual authors. Even though many (most?) of us are amateurs, it never hurts to keep it professional.

    Alan – October 16, 2011 3:30 PM
    Being a professional, I am not too keen on the word myself. I was just aiming for somewhere between nice and not getting myself sued.

    Jeff Alworth – October 17, 2011 2:42 AM
    I’ve just received my copy and will endeavor to post a few comments at the blog. So far the main thing I’ve noticed is that the selection of American craft breweries deemed worthy for inclusion are an idiosyncratic lot. The largest three get a mention, as expected, but then Deschutes, with no distribution in New York, does not. Nor does Widmer, but Redhook, with a brewery in New Hampshire, does. Bell’s, nein. Harpoon, a Red Sox brewery (and the ninth largest), nyet. Stone, Full Sail, West Coast breweries both, nada. Alaskan, forget about it. But Rogue, way down at 25–distribution in NY!–oui. And I also see that the 16th largest American craft brewery was also deemed worthy of inclusion: Brooklyn, the editor’s own.

    You may add these facts to the wiki.

    Jeff Alworth – October 17, 2011 2:48 AM
    Also, having clicked around the wiki a bit, I’d say it would be useful to add a sentence or two more context on each entry. You have to be very deep into the ongoing discussions of beery arcana to grasp the context of some of these fragments.

    Alan – October 17, 2011 8:50 AM
    Wow. I never noticed all those absences – though some of the inclusions made me wonder. I was looking for the Vermont Brew Pub, a very influential establishment but was please Geary made it.

    I hear you on the context. The wiki has a life of its own so I expect it will flesh out naturally. I will send you an invite.

    Ethan – October 17, 2011 12:51 PM
    You are on to something there, and a wiki is precisely the right format: very cool. I doubt I’ll uncover much of real substance to add, but I’d love to be able to look through it at least.

    re. criteria for brewery inclusion… Doubt we’ll uncover what it was beyond the editor’s preferences; same will probably apply to personalities. One weirdness I noted was that both Pyramid and Magic Hat have entries which correctly note that they are now owned by North American Breweries, but NAB itself has no entry. hm.

    Greg – October 17, 2011 5:35 PM
    Excellent idea, Alan, and I agree with everyone that it’s the right format. I love that my first random click included a reference to Hop n’ Gator. I also agree with Jeff that, if it’s to be a true crowdsourced resource, a bit more expository text will be needed for some entries.

    Alan – October 17, 2011 5:53 PM
    I just read that same entry, Greg, and really am not sure if I ever have a “Pink Champale” – though have to nominate it for the craptastic beer name of all time.

    jesskidden – October 18, 2011 8:34 AM
    “Pink Champale” was apparently flavored with grenadine. Michael Jackson’s first Simon & Schuster Pocket Guide (1986) said “…Champale comes in versions flavoured with citrus fruits and grenadine, but owes more to novelty than tradition.”

    I don’t recall the citrus ones, but I thought there was also a “Golden Champale” that was apple-flavored. That same year as MJ’s note, Heileman bought the brand and, apparently, Pabst still markets it in some regions.

    If I ever had a Pink Champale, I have (thankfully) forgotten it. Now, the same brewery’s Black Horse Ale? I still miss that beer – sometimes…

    Alan – October 18, 2011 9:12 AM
    There is a Black Horse ale out of Newfoundland that, at least 20 years ago, was a vestigial pale mild.

    Gary Gillman – October 18, 2011 9:45 AM
    I remember Champale too, and it shows there were flavoured beers before the craft era. Pink Champale came in, according to Wikipedia, in 1977, too early to be influenced by craft brewery developments. The original, non-flavoured malt liquor began in 1939. Probably the flavoured one was a spin-off of so-called pop wines which were very popular then. I don’t think I’ve ever tried it but numerous varieties are still made per Wikipedia again.

    Like Jess said, the Black Horse Ale was excellent. There were two in the States at the time as I recall, one from Fred Koch in Dunkirk, NY and the other this brewery In Trenton, New Jersey. One of them always tasted to me like white talc! I am pretty sure that was the Dunkirk one, and I much preferred the other, from NJ. The Canadian one seemed different again but I don’t remember it now.


    Gary Gillman – October 18, 2011 9:50 AM
    By the way there were other flavoured beers (a few) in America before the craft era, I recall Jim Robertson reviewing some in his late 1970’s Connoisseurs Guide To Beer. I’ll try to find one or two as illustrative examples. Robertson was a pioneer beer writer and I liked the way he could encapsulate a beer in a few sentences. My all time favourite: his statement that a noted Trappist ale reminded him of his Aunt Beenie’s root beer :).


    Ethan – October 18, 2011 12:03 PM

    Can the wiki add something that I think would be good for The Companion to have: an index by author?

    Alan – October 18, 2011 2:12 PM
    That’s a good idea. And who shall help me mill the wheat?

    ethan – October 18, 2011 10:58 PM
    It could be crowdsourced I am sure, though I haven’t the technical skillz to set that up.

    Alan – October 18, 2011 11:10 PM
    I can set it up… Just being all “getting over this damn cold” tonight. Should be able to load in the 166 names fairly quickly. Then, as you say, folk can load in entries. Troy just reminded us of a very useful Canadian beer book’s tenth anniversary. It’s only downside was there was no index at all.

    Bailey – October 19, 2011 8:34 AM
    OK, we’ve got one — the entry on English Hops in the Oxford Companion says Henry VIII banned them, but not according to Martyn Cornell in this sourced, thoroughly researched article.

    Can we have a login to the wiki?

    Alan – October 19, 2011 9:14 AM
    It’s coming to an inbox near you…

    Gary Gillman – October 19, 2011 9:30 AM
    Alan, just continuing the (very small) pre-craft era collection of flavoured beers in the U.S., one beer Robertson mentioned was Burgundy Brau, which per the can had a special ingredient (not identified), he said it was reddish-dark and tasted tannic, so wine may have been added. Another, from the same brewery I think in PA, was called Rose Ale (nice name), and he said it had a fruit-punch-like taste, implying that a natural flavour of some kind might be added.

    Many of his reviews of malt liquors (many still with us) speak of apple or other fruity tastes, but this was likely in most cases a production characteristic, not from addition of fruit or other non-cereals or hops flavours.

    So, a small group. I would think there were a few others, perhaps flavoured with lemon or lime. While very small, it does show that there was a niche for Pink Champale and similar beers which diverged partly from the standard beer palate. History has justified this with the success of Blue Moon, Shock Top and other fruity wheat beers.


    Alan – October 19, 2011 10:33 AM
    Yet… it still makes me feel yikkie.

    Omar Buhidma – October 19, 2011 11:16 AM

    I’ve been slowly and sporadically making my way through my copy of the OCB. While I’ve not yet begun picking nits, I expect the urge at any time. I’d appreciate a login to your wiki so I can make those observations to a more receptive audience than my girlfriend


    Alan – October 19, 2011 1:19 PM
    HI Omar. Can you send me an email to beerblog@gmail.com and we’ll get that done.

    Gary Gillman – October 19, 2011 4:07 PM
    Alan, I should mention also Hop ‘n Gator, a blend of Gatorade and beer, devised by the gent who invented Gatorade. It came out around 1970. I recall that a Pennsylvania brewery tried to revive it some years ago – again a connection between flavored beers and PA – but I believe none is on the market today.

    Internet checks also suggest that Lone Star in Texas also put out a lemon- and grapefruit-flavored beers in the 70’s, perhaps influenced by practice in Mexico.

    When you take a longer view of things, things like the white beers from the big breweries in North America aren’t really new, although one must acknowledge their origins are more directly Belgian than anything else.

    I love the nostalgia of these things, speaking of which I had a draft Narraganset in New York recently and it was just fine. Next time I have it I’ll reach for the Gatorade. 🙂


    jesskidden – October 20, 2011 12:31 PM
    I mentioned manyof those FMB’s Gary listed in the “Comments” sections of the Wiki for the Oxford Companion of Beer that Alan set up, in response to Keith Villa’s write-up on Coors. Villa, of course, is a MillerCoors brewmaster, best known as the creator of Blue Moon Belgian Ale.

    Hop ‘n’ Gator, Burgundy Brau and Rose Ale were all Pittsburgh (Iron City) Brewing Co. brands. Rose Ale, in particular, seemed aimed directly at Pink Champale’s market (so, yes, apparently it had one)- “A very special bubbly brew with artificial flavoring and artificial coloring. No preservatives. Serve chilled like Champagne” read the label.

    The original US Black Horse Ale was from Diamond Spring Brewing Co. in Lawrence, MA. In the late 1950’s they noticed that Carling-O’Keefe (which bought Dawes) had let the US trademark lapse and just took the brand over. Diamond Spring then made a deal to have both Fred Koch and Metropolis (Champale) also brew the beer. (Info based on interview with DS owner by Will Anderson in his _Beer New England_). Genesee was the last brewer of it, for a few years after they bought the Koch brands in the mid-1980’s. Who know who owns it now.

    Alan – October 20, 2011 1:15 PM
    Hardly worth the C-…


    jesskidden – October 20, 2011 2:40 PM
    re: Molson’s Black Horse. Yeah, I could see that. Apparently, at least judging by the number of ads found in US publications (which isn’t the best source, probably) of the ’40’s and ’50’s Dawes Black Horse Ale was a pretty popular export at one time.

    I don’t remember ever coming across Carling’s version but I know I was shocked the first time I had an Labatt India Pale in the 1970’s- “What is this, this…stuff?” it sure had no resemblance to the Ballantine India Pale Ale I drank in the US.

    A perplexing thing, for me, is here in the US how the few surviving ales of the pre-craft era continued to be “dumbed down” even as the craft era started. Didn’t any of those breweries catch on to what was happening?

    Ballantine XXX Ale from Pabst via Miller breweries is a disgrace. McSorley’s was ruined by Heileman and was recently reformulated by Pabst (with help from Southampton’s Markowski) as an “UK bitter” but it’s nothing like the original Rheingold/Ortleib/Schmidt era hoppy, golden ale. Rainier Ale (which I’ve only had once in the past 20 years) seemed nothing like it was in the 1970’s, etc. Ballantine IPA lost something with every new batch and every brewery move in the ’80’s and ’90’s until disappearing.

    Gary Gillman – October 20, 2011 10:05 PM
    I agree about Rainier Ale, I had some on the West Coast a few months ago, it was disappointing compared to what I remember from 25 years ago. It seemed less dark and quite thin.

    I still like Ballantine XXX though. The NJ Black Horse was great, much better than the Canadian one currently available IMO.


    Gary Gillman – October 20, 2011 10:38 PM
    Alan, just one more point in that I agree with Jess again regarding the decline in general of the mass production ales of North America. The best of them are right here in Canada, Labatt 50 (especially) and Keith’s IPA, but so many good-tasting ales of the 60’s and 70’s disappeared or the taste seems to have changed. It was a perfect opportunity, the craft rise, to re-invigorate them, to their specs of 50 years ago or more, but this wasn’t done from what I can see.

    The one bright spot in large-scale brewing is precisely the white beers, Blue Moon, etc. These are excellent products. Perhaps not at the top of the white ale heap, but very creditable IMO. I think the chance to sell something new gave the brewers license perhaps to be pretty faithful to the Belgian model.

    I’d guess these beers are better than any fruit-flavoured beer from the 60’s and 70’s, but still it is useful to look back because it shows the industry did occasionally in the old days try to do something different.

    People like a fruity tang in beer, I prefer it (generally) imparted naturally via top-fermentation though.


    Alan – October 20, 2011 11:10 PM
    Admission: I like Schock Top. At that price. 2.35 for 500 ml on a hot day, what is not to like.

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