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

One thought on “Garrett Oliver on The Oxford Companion to Beer”

  1. [Original comments…]

    braukerl – October 24, 2011 8:34 PM!/braukerl
    The only major UK brewery that I am aware of that uses true 568ml bottles is Sam Smiths. There may be others but it has NOT “remained” a popular size. Various Cider makers have taken to using this size recently but only within the last few years. The overwhelming majority of bottled beer in the UK is sold in 330 and 500 ml containers.

    Maybe its petty to point this out but its also CORRECT and i’d take one ‘inconsiderate’ but correct Cornell over any ten unctuous Olivers.

    Barm – October 24, 2011 8:40 PM
    From his readiness to make statements at the drop of a hat that can be proven completely false with a minimum of effort, I suspect I know who this “top UK beer writer” is.

    It’s clear that it’s wrong to impugn Mr Oliver as having acted in bad faith. Evidently the problem is that he is too trusting. A praiseworthy quality in many respects, but not desirable in an editor.

    Sam T – October 24, 2011 9:22 PM
    Well it’s good to hear Mr. Oliver’s take and admission of some errors. As a brewer that uses centennial more than any other hop (and it is one of the largest grown crops in the US now), I do find it a little ridiculous that the team who did hops could simply forget about its existence.

    When it comes to disputing historical interpretation, I see some genuine academic bickering between Oliver and Cornell, but I have a feeling much of the problem truly lies with the primary writers on those subjects in question.

    Martyn Cornell – October 24, 2011 10:19 PM
    I never expected Garrett to be happy about my expression of my fears at finding worrying errors in a very brief perusal of a few bits of the OCB currently available on the web. But to declare that “Mr. Cornell, in essence, refers to me as a dupe, a cretin and a liar, piloting a project populated by lazy idiots” is a polemic too far. Those are entirely his words. They are certainly not mine.

    He continues: “All this about a person whom he has not met or had so much as a conversation with”. Actually, I’ve met Garrett at least twice, and had conversations with him each time. But I’m sure he meets thousands of people every year, and I doubt there’s anything that made me stand out amid the huge number of other bearded beer buffs he has talked to.

    It worries me that he attacks me as “the blogger Martyn Cornell”. I’ve written two books about the history of British brewing and the history of British beer styles, which have involved many years of research – that’s my bona fides – and I’d like to hope I have a reputation as a beer historian rather than a blogger. I sent Garrett a copy of Beer The Story of the Pint when it came out in 2003, but never received an acknowledgement: I wonder if he ever received it.

    I’ll make only a brief refutation here of Garrett’s attacks on my own statements: the OCB says the Anglo-Saxons “colonized Britain in the 4th century AD”, not “made numerous incursions into”. You won’t find any scholars saying there was “colonisation” until the 5th century.

    For Garrett to defend a claim that “Mead and spontaneously fermented cider would have been the predominant alcoholic drinks” in pre-Saxon England, by insisting that “OK, there’s no evidence, but they MUST have been” suggests a lack of understanding of the rules of history writing. Rule number two (after “get your facts right”) is “don’t assume”. There’s almost no evidence for mead-making in pre-Saxon Britain, and none for cider making. Just because you think they ought to have been making mead and cider, you can’t write as if they were without the facts to show it. On the other hand there IS a lot of evidence of Roman-era ale-brewing, as I showed in BTSOTP.

    Rule number three is “don’t make assertions without evidence” – and despite Garrett’s fine rant accusing me of being there at the time, you cannot, and must not write that the rise of India pale ale was “unlikely” without saying WHY it was unlikely, and offering facts to back up that assertion. That’s fundamental to historical scholarship.

    Oh, and “pint bottles popular” – I have searched and found mention of just TWO British beers currently available in 568ml bottles, against a handful at 550ml (almost all from Sam Smith’s) and hundreds – hundreds – in 500ml bottles. There appear, in fact to be more ciders available in the UK in pint bottles than beers.

    To see myths I pointed up eight years ago in Beer The Story of the Pint repeated as fact in the OCB infuriates me. Really, I felt like banging my head on the wall when I started dipping into the OCB on the web. So did this result in “The most intemperate and inconsiderate thing I have ever seen a member of the beer community say about any of his peers”? Man, you clearly haven’t read what Ron says about Horst. Is shouting loudly “Helloo – we appear to have a potentially serious problem here” intemperate and inconsiderate? Well, at least I’ve got some attention turned on the subject of possible historical errors in the OCB.

    I recognise that a huge amount of work went into the OCBs’s production, and those involved are bound to be defensive when somebody expresses negative sentiments. I would be defensive myself. I only hope that the defensiveness does not get in the way of properly analysing claims of error, rather than pushing them aside with polemical non-rebuttals.

    Craig – October 24, 2011 10:36 PM
    Hmm… I’m on the fence about this one. On the one hand, It was commendable for him to contact you, Alan—and I’d imagine a pretty cool moment for you when you opened the email. He obviously is looking out for the best interest of beer and brewing, right or wrong in his efforts with the OCB.

    That being said, the airing of grievances on your blog or the wiki, rather than on Martyn’s own site, may not have been the best choice. If he wished to address the wiki and your concerns, then by all means his approach was terrific—and proactive. In defending himself, through you, he missed one point. Martyn doesn’t ever name him directly in his post and he most certainly never calls him a dupe, a cretin or a liar. He should have taken his issues to Martyn directly, and sent him an email as well.

    Alan – October 24, 2011 11:00 PM
    I suck up to Martyn, too.

    Craig – October 24, 2011 11:10 PM
    Always the mediator and never the bride, huh?

    Alan – October 24, 2011 11:15 PM
    Or, as we like to say around our house, just a sucker with no self esteem…

    Chris – October 24, 2011 11:43 PM
    Agreed, in that Martyn criticizing the content of the “Oxford Companion to Beer,” Oliver has mistakenly inferred that it is a criticism of him directly. Oliver’s stretching of Martyn’s comments, so as far as to suggest he “in essence, refers to me as a dupe, a cretin and a liar, piloting a project populated by lazy idiots,” is childish, and uncalled for.

    The part about IPA’s unlikely rise got me, as well. Garrett had a charming response for it, but offered no explanation as to why the word “unlikely” appears in the text without hard evidence for the claim. Martyn never said it was “likely,” just that there’s no reason to believe it was “unlikely.”

    There’s no doubt there’s plenty that the book has right, but I see no fault in criticizing what isn’t right, for the betterment of future volumes and of the shape of beer history. Attention to detail is paramount. The difference between “incursions into” and “colonized” might appear to be minimal at first glance. But it isn’t. That’s what proper historical writing is all about.

    Bailey – October 25, 2011 4:51 AM
    First two sentences of Mr Oliver’s statement are great.

    Think it’s a PR fail after that.

    Ethan – October 25, 2011 11:26 AM
    Nice Offspring reference there, Alan.

    I heasitate to jump into this, but… this sentence from Garrett’s interview seems to me to be the crux of the issue: “any wise person will approach attempts at perfection with at least an ounce of humility”

    I think he got a bit needlessly defensve, but then again, who’s demonstrating the most humility here? Getting beer history “right” is important, but we should all remember that the impact of getting it “wrong” is, well, let’s face it, of critical importance to few, and has very little impact on the brewer, toiling away in her brewery, trying to make yummy beer for a living. I am sure he’s speaking metphoricaly, but for Martyn to say he’s “pounding his head against the wall” over the inacuracies strikes me as being a little too far down the rabbit hole.

    Alan – October 25, 2011 11:35 AM
    Well, the word that springs to my mind is collegiality. Stan asks some very good questions in his post of yesterday but for me I wonder why this has triggered such strength of opinion. I am not one for speaking of community but if we are interested in beer knowledge, is there not a need for patience and self-awareness. B+B, too, asked about the absence of the circle of love in all this.

    Stan Hieronymus – October 25, 2011 11:50 AM
    Ethan – The way this book has been scrutinized should terrify anybody writing a book about beer. To me, getting the history right – or at least not getting it wrong – looks easy compared to the science (because what we understand about brewing continues to evolve).

    What we’re seeing from Ron and Martyn (and certainly jesskidden in the wiki) is that information was available, with sources cited.

    And I’d argue that getting it right is just as important for individual brewers. Consider it your family history.

    Craig – October 25, 2011 12:03 PM
    Yes and no Ethan. To a brewer, those historical inacuracies might simply be unimportant, but a historian might see it differently. Professionalism is professionalism. Disseminating misinformation—especially when the correct information is fairly easily accquired—brings down the standards of the that industry. You (and I use the royal you) may not care when the the Angles, Saxons and Jutes arrived in Britain, but if the information is incorrect, it’s still incorrect.

    Taking the “nobody’s perfect” approach to editing a volume of this nature is a bit of a cop out. Take an extreme example, what if I were writing or editing a book on the holocaust and I noted that 5 million Jews were killed between 1933 and 1945. The specific number isn’t actually known—the point is a lot were killed, right?

    In reality, although the final number is not known, it is known that over 5,860,000 Jews were killed and the accepted rounded number is six million. Omitting that 860,000+ number, omits nearly a million innocent lives—that’s why getting your sh*t straight in a volumous, heavily distributed and widly read publication is important.

    Craig – October 25, 2011 12:03 PM
    Sorry that got a little heavy, but I was making a point!

    Alan – October 25, 2011 12:07 PM
    Just to confirm, Craig you are employed in a museum setting where this level of accuracy is a normal part of your daily diet, right?

    Bailey – October 25, 2011 12:21 PM
    I suspect that if someone had taken an hour to cross-check against the myths listed on Martyn’s blog under false ale quotes, and then perhaps spend another hour browsing Ron’s blog, the big, glaring alarm-bell errors (IPA, porter, Henry VIII, mild is dumbed down porter, etc.) would have been corrected; the ensuing criticism would have been slower to emerge; more temperate; and less widespread.

    Craig – October 25, 2011 12:56 PM
    In my department—the exhibitions department—we deal with the intrepretation of historical and scientific information. Sometimes the content of the exhibitions has the potential to be over the heads of our visitors—especially the science mucky-muck. So, that information needs to be conveyed in a way that everyone can understand. When explaining the content of an exhibt, there can be information (in both science and history) that is extemporanious to our theme. Sometimes it gets left out, or sometimes we compliment the exhibit with printed materials or online resources that delve further into a topic—the reality of an exhibit (and the OCB) is that we cannot include everything. That being said, we try very hard to present the most comprehensive and up-to-date information as possible. What our exhibit planners do is very similar to the role of editor-in-chief, they are the information wranglers. It is their job to take the content supplied by historians and scientist and make it understanable to a general audience (mainly families) while at the same time maintaining the accuracy of the research. Are we 100% perfect 100% of the time—not by a long shot. If we do err, we are fully aware that we will be called on it—and time take steps to correct the information.

    Incorrect information is one thing—mistakes happen and they happen to everyone. Simply printing information, without substantiating it, is quite another.

    Stan Hieronymus – October 25, 2011 1:53 PM
    Bailey – Appendix I of Beer: The Story of the Pint is titled “A short and entirely wrong history of beer.” It lists 39 myths. A good place to start.

    Ethan – October 25, 2011 2:02 PM
    Indeed, Craig, that’s kinda my point, isn’t it? In the general domain of “Historical Facts You Better Get Right,” I would definitely say that Number Of Nazi Holocaust Victims > whether Angles ‘incurred’ or ‘settled’ in the 4th century AD. Also, > anything else about the history of beer.

    Let’s not loose scope here. Wrong is wrong, sure, but if your dying thought is “I can’t believe people STILL think Hodgson invented IPA,” I think you might better have, I donno, a beer or something. Martyn and Ron are coming on way too strong with their fully valid and well-referenced criticisms, and risk being taken as jealous prats instead of serious historians with their commentaries.

    Barm – October 25, 2011 2:11 PM
    Ethan, you realize the criticisms voiced so far are just the tip of the iceberg?

    Why was OUP so eager to rush it out in time for Christmas that they went to press with this half-finished book?

    Ethan – October 25, 2011 2:17 PM
    @Stan- well, I really think that depends on the brewer’s intent. If you’re especially interested in re-creating an historical style–as best as one can really do that with modern malt and hop selections–then sure, you’ll need the kind of information Ron digs up. But part of the brewer’s art is to come up with new flavors, new combinations, and that might ultimately mean new styles, or at least, evolutions of old styles. So in that respect, I could consider history a hinderance rather than a help.

    Ethan – October 25, 2011 2:24 PM
    @Barm- Oh, I am sure the criticisms I am not hearing are even less measured and more pointed. Perhaps you can tell me/us whether the scientific/technical information is getting the same treatment somewhere; I haven’t seen it yet, but perhaps I simply read the wrong blogs. If it were, though… I admit, that would be a much graver concern to me. I would nonetheless hope that whatever technical flaws exist are being brought to light in a less personal & heated way (as befits a good scientific approach.)

    I think your point re. the timing of the release might indeed explain a lot. Big money is certainly at stake here… One reason Garrett Oliver has no choice but to try to address the criticisms and make a case for an evolving text, I suppose.

    Stan Hieronymus – October 25, 2011 2:48 PM
    Ethan – Getting off track, although I will arm wrestle you over the importance of getting history correct just as a matter of importance in life.

    My wife and I wrote a biography of an artist, Frank Applegate of Santa Fe, who also happened to be one of my great uncles. Heard a lot of great family stories from relatives who actually never, or barely, knew him. Many turned out to be incorrect, but for the family it was good to get the stories straight.

    And you allow “style” restrictions or “they did it this way in the old days” restrict your brewing creativity you have only yourself to blame.

    Craig – October 25, 2011 2:48 PM
    But the book isn’t about “Historical Facts You Better Get Right.” It is however, partially about “Historical Beer Facts” and OUP should have tried harder to get them right. This isn’t a conversation about general knowledge, this is a reference volume about beer—of which the contents of, will be taken as fact. If their were gross inconsistencies and innaccuracies in the scientific aspects of brewing in the book, wouldn’t that warrant critism, as well? I think someone might notice if the book said water boils at 250ºF. What’s the benefit to printing incorrect information—other than getting the book produced and on the shelves faster?

    I would imagine that you don’t want to see craft breweries start producing sub-standard beer, right? Ron and Martyn don’t want to see a prominent publisher of reference books and materials produce sub-standard products in their field either. Martyn has written a number of books trying to dispell some of these beer myths. The OUP sweeps in and reinforces them all over again. That’s like you guys brewing a batch of beer and having someone drop their cell phone in fermentation tanks—a lot of work down the drain. I don’t blame him for being pissed.

    There a reason most universities have banned source references of Wikipedia on term papers.

    Craig – October 25, 2011 2:56 PM
    By the way Ethan, if you think that research critique and peer review, in the scientific community, isn’t as heated or as uncivil as this debate—I can assure you it is.

    Joe Stange – October 25, 2011 2:58 PM
    I don’t want to wade into the OCB debate except to say that I’ve really enjoyed flipping through it, but I’m also glad that we are seeing some renewed pressure for historical detail.

    Meanwhile, I love this bit…

    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.

    All right, guys and gals, fess up. Who was it? I will definitely buy your book.

    Ethan – October 25, 2011 3:47 PM
    Well, you make good points, Craig & Stan; and I certainly never disagreed with the general notion that getting things right is important-nor do I doubt (trusting fool I might be) that the OCB will ultimately fix whatever errors are presented unto it.

    But I maintain that insulting people just isn’t the way to do it, that some “errors” may be more subjective than they’re being presented as; and that beer history ought not become a rugby scrum. It might be the definitive reference book on the topic-or not- but the topic is still beer. Relax, don’t worry, have one.

    And yeah, I have certainly seen scientists get ugly. Thankfully, scientific progress is still made; I am sure the same will be true here.

    Jeff Alworth – October 25, 2011 3:56 PM
    What leaps out from the exchange between Martyn and Garrett is, I think, the essence of where we are in (god help me for saying this) “beer scholarship.” I don’t know Martyn’s academic background, but anyone who’s spent time in a graduate program recognizes what he does: it’s scholarship. Historians become historians because they have a deep conviction in understanding things as they were, not how we’ve been told they were or wish they were. It’s sort of like forensics–you have to be committed to the history, not the people with an investment in it. The way scholars talk about their work is usually direct–sometimes to the point of laceration–but the focus is on the work.

    Garrett is a brewer who has had the enormous fortune of living in a time when brewers are colleagues and friends, when industry connections are partners and friends, and when everyone is generally pleased as hell to be making and selling beer.

    I doubt that Oxford considered how this orientation might change the product, but Garrett reveals it when he writes “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 suspect Cornell doesn’t give a fig about conviviality or being a member of the “beer community” (words to cause Alan to grimace). He writes to get the history right and that’s where he places his attention. Anyway, that’s how most scholars work.

    Both Ron and Martyn have taken me to task on my blog, and of course it doesn’t feel good. I’ve also emailed privately with them and both have been quick to offer help and guidance. This is what I would expect–flinty fidelity to historical accuracy, but gentle support in other matters. One wishes someone with their orientation had been given the helm of OCB.

    On the other hand, it’s also worth acknowledging Oliver’s promise of revisions. Perhaps getting a flawed OCB to print was the price of getting a stellar one to print down the road.

    Kyle – October 25, 2011 6:24 PM
    In The Shallows, Nicholas Carr examines James Evans’ 2008 sociological study of academic articles written since 1945. What Evans found was a *decline* of citations in scholarly sources and a *contraction* of citing sources that first appeared in print. In other words, recent scholarship is biased toward online sources written relatively recently, with scholars unconsciously shying away from “marginalized” sources and tending to rely on “prevailing opinion.”

    I’m wondering if some of what Martyn and others have noticed with the OCB might be part of this larger trend (and many others that Carr trenchantly and prophetically writes about): that easy access to a mind-boggling amount of information might be leading – counterintuitively – to a more superficial analysis of it, or at least provide conditions for erratum to rise exponentially because of our search engine world.

    Gary Gillman – October 25, 2011 7:41 PM
    Interesting discussion. I’d like to read the whole book before deciding finally on its value. Based on portions I’ve read on google books, I think in general it’s excellent, a formidable first effort. No one values the contributions to beer historical scholarship made by Martyn and other authors and historians (e.g., Peter Mathias, Peter Clark, James Sumner, Pamela Sambrook, Ron Pattinson, Roger Protz, Ian Horsley, Ian Donnachie) more than I.

    I hope ultimately their findings and perspectives are included in the book where this has not already occurred. That will probably never happen to everyone’s satisfaction, since this is a book written by humans and no such endeavour can be perfect or take into account every position and argument, but I am sure future editions will reflect more of what should be said about beer history questions. At the same time, I’ve read numerous entries in the book which are well-written and accurate or accurate enough in my opinion given the nature of the Companion series, and its intended readership (which is broad).

    But based on some of the things Martyn has said, I think there is room for improvement, clearly. At the same time, I don’t agree with everything he said, e.g. the snippet he gave from the book of porter’s origin sounded fine to me and I’ve read (I believe) almost everything significant written in English about porter history. Some of this gets into the opinion/interpretation area and reasonable people can differ on these things.

    Garrett made some good points too I thought about how the Oxford Companion To Wine has evolved and one can see that something similar surely will probably happen to the OCB.


    Jim V. – October 25, 2011 8:36 PM
    I’m a journalist by trade, and as such, “accuracy” pure and simple will always be the deciding factor in my opinion on this kind of kerfuffle.

    In his opening response to the Cornell post, Oliver skirts the issue whenever possible. He picks and chooses which of the criticisms to attempt to refute, and seems to purposely misunderstand, misinterpret and miscast what Cornell has said, painting himself as a victim.

    Mr. Oliver, you’re the figurehead behind what is meant to be (and I don’t care when you claim it’s not) the definitive book on this subject. What single tome could realistically be expected to be MORE definitive? As such, it’s held to the highest standard—people are going to point out things that appear to be plain wrong. You don’t have to like it, but don’t be surprised by it. As it turns out, people who have dedicated their lives to history don’t like it when history is, you know…wrong.

    Mike Cleaver – October 25, 2011 8:46 PM
    I have the book, as yet unread. I am looking forward to reading it, but since Martyn pointed out some errors I am going to be looking for things that challenge what I have read before, and believe to be fact. It should be fun. IPA and Mild are two beers that are my favourite in terms of the mis-information that is out there, particularly on the interweb.

    Pete Brown – October 26, 2011 4:37 AM

    That’s my entry, and my choice of word, so allow me to explain. This explanation may also serve to highlight the differences between approaches to the history of beer.

    It’s one word tossed into a sentence. It’s a statement of opinion, to some extent, but one based on three years’ intensive research on the subject.

    So why do I believe the rise of IPA was ‘unlikely’?

    Because a style of beer that evolved for export in very small quantities (initially) is perfected in a landlocked town that, on first glance, is the last place you would think of as a national centre for brewing export beers. What no-one knows at the time is that the wells in this town just happen to contain mineral water that is perfect for brewing strong pale ales that are ideal for export. But the brewers there only start brewing these strong, export ales there, and ultimately discover this fact, on the basis of a chance conversation over dinner between one brewer who is probably about to go out of business, and a director of the East India Company.

    When this is happening, porter is the UK’s most popular beer. The brewers making it are the largest brewers in the UK, the first ‘industrial’ brewers to create beers on this scale. London is arguably the world centre of brewing and porter is its main product. (Feel free to chuck in anal comments from old brewing records here to suggest I’m ‘making this up’ – I’m basing my analysis on general hype around the time, mentions in contemporary records, cultural importance, the weight and balance of beer advertisements in newspapers, etc).

    Within a couple of decades, the small export beer from Burton on Trent becomes the most fashionable beer of the age (I’m not saying the biggest by volume – I’m saying the most fashionable, the most talked about – which you discover by looking at the world at large, rather than just at brewing records), exported to all corners of the British Empire, and hugely popular at home (albeit quite quickly in less hoppy, less strong versions than the export version – which is why some of those beloved brewing records suggest IPA wasn’t as strong or hoppy as we like to think – the domestic version wasn’t.) Burton becomes the most famous brewing town on the planet, and those huge London brewers have to open branches there to compete. Burton-based Bass soon becomes the largest brewer in the world. The beer is feted by royalty. Doctors are taking out press ads to endorse it as a cure for a wide array of ailments.

    And there’s no dramatic action that makes this happen – claims that IPA was exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851 are false. Sure, the railway connection to Burton made it possible, but all that did was facilitate distribution – think about it, it made transport of London porter to Burton on Trent just as easy as that of Burton IPA to London.

    The only single event that does propel IPA further into the public consciousness is an international scandal when a Frenchman uses a public lecture to accuse Burton brewers of using strychnine in their beers to get the bitterness.

    I’d say all of this makes it a pretty ‘unlikely’ and extraordinary story. I believe this is one reason why the story if the rise of IPA arouses such passion in people.

    What I’ve done here is look at the facts, and then as a writer I’ve gone and had an original thought. Sorry if this offends anyone.

    You may disagree with my thought, with my fact-based conclusion. You may argue that my analysis and interpretation of the facts is wrong. You may offer an alternative reading of the facts to argue that the rise of IPA was inevitable, and obvious. That’s the whole nature of historic discourse. But no one who wasn’t alive at the time can simply dismiss my assertion as ‘untrue’.

    I’ve looked art the facts, and I’ve drawn a conclusion, and I’ve expressed that conclusion. And you know what? That’s what historians do all the time, even proper ones. It’s why new books on Hitler, or Cromwell, or whatever, keep being written – new interpretations, that are often based on the same facts, put together in a different way, from a different perspective.

    All historians write subjectively and selectively. ALL of them. Even beer historians. For example, many new facts about the development of IPA that I revealed in my book Hops and Glory have been completely ignored by other beer historians, who have their own reasons for being subjective and selective.

    I didn’t explain the above fully in my OCB entry. That’s because there was a word limit, and this point was tangential to the flow of the main entry, and when you’re hoping people will read something you’ve written, it pays to try to make it readable and relevant. So I used a word that was different, provocative, to make people think, to try to help make my piece interesting. I guess my hope was that people would go ‘unlikely’? I’ve never thought of it as that before. Hmm… maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. But I would have thought that anyone with a working knowledge of the history of IPA would at least be able to see why I would think it unlikely, even if they disagreed with my reading of the facts.

    Guess I was wrong.

    Alan – October 26, 2011 8:52 AM
    Thanks for that, Pete.

    Bailey – October 26, 2011 10:30 AM
    From the reactions people are having to the Companion, and their reactions to other people’s reactions, it seems there are a few camps emerging:

    (very roughly)

    Camp 1. who gives a shit? It’s only beer, dancing about architecture, have a brew, etc..
    Camp 2. history is about drawing (often qualified) conclusions with primary source evidence for each and there is no such thing as an unimportant detail. Grrr!
    Camp 3. of course history needs to be factual but let’s not get so hung up on detail that we can’t use intuition/common sense to fill in gaps and tell a compelling, readable story.

    Personally, I think I’m in Camp 2 — outside beer, I tend these days to prefer to read slightly dry, boring history (very slowly, with my brow furrowed) than the more narrative, novel-like popular form. I like footnotes, lots of them, for everything.

    So, as a matter of taste, I prefer the ‘anal’ approach of Martyn and Ron, even if their scholarly bluntness sometimes makes me uncomfortable, and that, I guess, is why I find some of the beer history in the Companion so unsatisfying. Some of what Pete says above does sound (to me at least) like a complaint that boring brewing records get in the way of his thesis re: the rise of IPA.

    Martyn Cornell – October 26, 2011 10:52 AM
    Pete, your comment above is an excellent justification of why it may be possible to suggest the rise of IPA was “unlikely”, and now you’ve written it I understand your thinking. But the whole explanation about WHY you think the rise of IPA was unlikely should have been in the OCB. Because what is in the OCB is a blank assertion with nothing to back it up, and if you’re writing about history you simply must not do that.

    Personally I’m not sure any change in public taste can be placed on a spectrum of likely to unlikely: it may be a category error to talk about “unlikely” changes in public taste. But that’s a completely different argument: let’s not go there now.

    Alan – October 26, 2011 11:30 AM
    Martyn, I thought Pete’s point was excellent and especially his point about the word count. The more I think about this the more I go back to an early thought I had that this is a summary document: “…pages and pages of brief dense entries…”

    I think one thing we are doing is grappling with what sort of book this is. I agree with you entirely that the the whole point of the why behind each fact should be there but then there would be at least another 1,000 pages of footnotes. I love footnotes myself. When I look at my desk right now, all the texts I rely upon in my professional technical writing are riddled with them to my delight. But this sort of book actually lacks the capacity to do that, I am going to suggest, by definition.

    Ethan – October 26, 2011 11:45 AM
    Having had some more time to think, a conversation offline with a freind, and a good night’s sleep, I’d add a few things to my position, though I stand by my previous assertions:

    1) Since I am a consumer, not a producer or discoverer, of beer history, I have to realize that it is far easier for me to have a laid-back attitude about it, and that is worth acknowledging. But then again, it is produced for consumption, and necessarily, there will always be more consumers than producers, so I think their/our position on it does matter. Still, I do totally understand Martyn and Ron’s frustration, if not their way of expressing it.

    2) I needed an authority just now on the definitive number of Trappist breweries–variously given as anywhere from 5 to 7–and found myself unsure whether to trust the entry in the OCB. So as a result of the conversations here and elsewhere on the inaccuracies in the book, I felt I needed to cross-reference with a number of other sources to see if I could draw a firm conclusion: this is a good thing, and I am glad about it.

    Pete Brown – October 26, 2011 1:34 PM
    Bailey – you might be right about my ‘complaint’, but as it’s a defence against an attack on my work, I feel perfectly justified.

    I’m not going to help things at all with my next thought, but I’m going to drop it like a bomb anyway and then retreat to my ivory tower to focus on writing my next book:

    There’s a big difference between the history of beer and the history of brewing.

    Right, bye!

    Gary Gillman – October 26, 2011 4:36 PM
    On categories, I like scholarly, antiquarian, survey-type, technical manuals, memoir, food-and-beer books, business histories, all of it. Obviously some I liked less than others, some I thought weren’t great value, but that would be my overall posture towards beer and brewing writing including their history.

    I have learned something interesting or useful from almost all beer books I’ve read including the 1000’s of extracts of books and other writings Google Books perusal has allowed.

    Sometimes a datum clicks in only after many years, e.g., I recall one 1970’s American book mentioned that Canadian ale was of a type called Canadian sparkling ale. Only many years later did I fully understand what that meant, but the seed was planted early. One early beer book or article quoted a brewer in Michigan, an early craft brewer, saying he liked his ale “fresh off the line”. That observation has helped to form my own tastes even though I know many styles rely on aging for their keynote character. Much later I learned that mild beer was new fresh beer and I said that’s what that brewer liked, mild beer. In the 1800’s he would not have enjoyed vatted porter unless the aged element was minimal perhaps. And so on.

    I’ve always felt too that even in scholarly writing, the persona of the writer comes through and this is what ultimately inclines me for or against – but usually for – a particular book. This is even so in encyclopedia-type books, because an editing hand has usually imparted a distinctive style or tone. And so it is not just what I can learn anew but the factor of getting into the style, the mindset of the author, that I like.

    So I generally take a broad approach to it and due to this, there are few books that go wrong with me, very few. Perhaps the “so-many best beers” type has palled, because I’ve read so many.

    My favourite writer was and still is Michael Jackson, he had a big influence on me and I just liked the way he wrote, his voice. He was also a very accurate describer of palate, and accurate generally in his work.


    James Wright – October 27, 2011 2:29 AM
    In my book, calling someone else’s work a “dreadful disaster” does not count as constructive criticism.

    The essence of the criticism is spot on. The Oxford imprint conveys an enormous amount of authority so its power to spread misinformation masquerading as truth is indeed quite worrisome. However, to refer to this predicament as a “dreadful disaster” is to make light of the term disaster. There is no doubt that from an information integrity perspective one cannot imagine a worse fate for a reference book.That said, I believe both sides agree that in a work of this magnitude, inaccuracies will exist and ought to be corrected as soon as possible.

    Did the OCB miss a great opportunity to create the authoritative work on beer, squashing myths and folklore? Yes…so far anyway; but there is the practical component of limited resources and massive scope that makes such a work error prone. At some point you are releasing the book to citizen editors so that there can be revisions. That’s what 2nd and 3rd editions are for! Well that and to kill secondary textbook markets…but mostly the corrections thing. I hope there is spirited and vibrant debate about the content of the OCB articles and their accuracy but I am willing to bet it will be far less apocalyptic than Mr. Cornell suggests.

    To me, the much more troubling aspect is that there are two sides in the first place. I don’t expect everyone in the beer world to magically agree – and neither Mr. Oliver or Mr. Cornell are without fault – but when two prominent members of the beer community are trading jabs in public that hurts the whole community. People are debating semantics when, at the end of the day, two guys fired insults at one another rather than engaging in some sort of face-to-face interaction (if not in person, a video beer summit would suffice). I am sure that Mr. Oliver and Mr. Cornell could find common ground, or at least mutual respect, over a pint…or 6. To me, that this personal argument has escalated to such a level is the dreadful disaster.

    FlagonofAle – October 27, 2011 3:40 AM
    I can’t believe the level of drama with all of this. I’m even more surprised that Oliver was going to be surprised or offended that there would be criticism from beer blogs about what is supposed to be the ultimate reference on beer and brewing. Frankly, based on the highly personal, defensive screed he wrote where he completely misinterprets Cornell’s factual dispute as a personal attack just highlights the fact that for the most part he is a “beer celebrity” and apparently a bit of a diva as well. Clearly he was chosen for the book because he is famous rather than being famous for writing books. The basis of his argument on cider is that it *probably* happened? Jesus, OCB just lost any benefit of the doubt I might have been giving it.

    And of course then there’s Pete Brown the ego-driven tooth fairy of beer blogs across the globe magically appearing, also, to defend his status as beer celebrity (UK edition). More to the point, Burton was inevitably going to become a source of fantastic pale ales, and given the unsustainable gigantism cycle that porter brewing was going through at the time, it seems hardly a big leap or a surprise at all to think that porter would eventually collapse and that Burton would brew good pale beer.

    Alan – October 27, 2011 10:15 AM
    Nothing personal, FoA, but have you not just been the kettle calling the pot black? You say you see an unbelievable level of drama and then engage in ad hominem slaggery.

    But to your point, nothing is inevitable after the fact.

    Craig – October 27, 2011 10:34 AM
    It occurs to me that this volume should have been two volumes—the Oxford Companion to Brewing and the Oxford Companion to Beer. Pete’s last line sums it up.

    Bailey – October 27, 2011 10:59 AM
    Craig — or at least it could have been edited that way, jointly by a scientist and a historian.

    Alan – October 27, 2011 11:02 AM
    But then we would need the Oxford Companion to Draymen!

    No, I think Pete’s point is both insightful and yet slightly silly. And by saying that I do not mean to slag Pete. The whole wiki started in my mind as hoping to redeem myself for something I said about Pete in a comment at Stan’s about the OCB. While I think I still agree with what I said, I could have put it more kindly.

    There is no “big difference” between the history of beer and the history of brewing. They are on a continuum and offer two entry points to the same subject. Yet, which I think is really Pete’s point, the two modes of entry are equally valid.

    Craig – October 27, 2011 12:44 PM
    Yes Bailey! Kinda’…

    And not hat’s not quite what I meant, Alan. Putting together a two volume set—one of which deals with the art and science of brewing—that is peer reviewed by brewer’s, brewing scientist and brewing educators and editied by someone like Garret Oliver. While the other volume would be history of beer that is peer reviewed by beer writers and historians, and edited by someone of the like. The team assembled by OUP for the editing and review process of this book, was more akin to the volume that I first mentioned. Obviously they missed a few bases—perhaps the scope of the work is what got in the way.

    Alan – October 27, 2011 12:50 PM
    But the second volume already exists: Hornsey.

    FlagonofAle – October 27, 2011 1:54 PM
    Alan, fair point on the first. On the second, isn’t everything that’s happened inevitable after it happens? Maybe not. To avoid an argument on word usage, let me rephrase to explain that what I mean is that the rise of Burton and pale ale/IPA was not in any realistic scenario, “unlikely”. It was more than likely.

    Alan – October 27, 2011 2:16 PM
    [Thanks for that. Handsome is as handsome does and I do like civility… especially when discussing an apparent drop of civility!]

    Hmm… were pre-conditions for its success were well established? Inevitable, likely, probable, possible, unlikely, unexpected, out of the blue. That is the range, isn’t it? I am not sure which one I would tie my boat to but I am sure there is an argument for each.

    Jeff Alworth – October 27, 2011 3:34 PM
    Garrett comes in for some pretty harsh talk about his over-reaction to Martyn. Since I think Martyn is going to get the best of this argument based on the merits, I’d like to throw Garrett a bone on the tenor of things.

    People who haven’t spent much time messing around online are almost invariable shocked at what they see as a level of personal attack. Those who do spend a lot of time online–not only posting blogs, but engaging in comment threads–tend to have far thicker skin. Since it’s easy enough for an anonymous commenter to degrade the level of discourse, we all fall prey to using a sharper tone than I think is innate to our personalities. (Debacles ensue; as when I irritated Alan with attempted comedy–one example.)

    I think there’s a bit of a culture clash here. Garrett doesn’t have the same sense of how to interpret tone online, so he’s responded in a way the online folks receive as overly tetchy. I say give him a break. He spent four years assembling this thing, and it must feel like preparing for and climbing Everest. Yet when he gets to the top, there are a bunch of people throwing eggs at him. I think his response was overdone, but I also completely forgive him, recognize that we’ve all done the same thing online, and also recognize that it comes in defense not just of a frivolous little blog post, but a tome into which he’s invested massive elbow grease.

    He earned his response.

    Steve Gates – October 28, 2011 1:34 AM
    Good point Jeff, I’m sure it like defending perceived attacks on your child, it is your first instinct to counter attack and you are going for the soft underbelly with extreme prejudice. Egos are a funny thing and my minimal exposure to the academic set definitively proved that they all have one and many of them have a large one. I think these two fine gentlemen are shining examples of the veracity of my premise. Oh well, it’s only human.

    Pete Brown – October 28, 2011 10:13 AM
    Flagon of ale – “ego-driven tooth fairy?”


    Apart from resulting to cheap name calling as a method of argument, your refutation of my argument has no basis in fact whatsoever and answers none of the points I raised.

    I don’t know what I’ve done to upset you, apart from write about beer as well as I can and then step up to defend my work when it’s criticised, but really, get a grip, mate.

    Pete Brown – October 28, 2011 12:47 PM
    Flagon – now I’ve found out who you are, I’m genuinely bemused by your hostility and spitefulness. I’ve always been very admiring of your beers and have spoken very highly to others about what you do. Needless to say, I won’t be doing so any more.

    olllllo – October 28, 2011 1:58 PM
    Very late to this discussion, but it’s finally reached a point where I feel as though I have something to contribute and it follows the same trajectory as Jeff’s points about online discourse.

    Bear in mind I’m not taking sides, I’m just making an analogy about the tone of the conversation.

    All of this reminds me knowledgeable and mostly “trying to be helpful” homebrewers telling the professional brewer what’s wrong with their beer. Generally speaking, it’s a recipe for disaster and awkwardness when done in the public space of the taproom.

    Carry on

    FlagonofAle – October 31, 2011 2:35 AM
    Hm, I wonder who Pete Brown thinks I am. Out of pity for whichever poor guy is going to get retribution for my cranky attitude, I feel like I should say that I live in the US and do not work for a brewery in any way, so I think it’s unlikely you’ve tried my beers, Pete.

    However, your chiming in and threatening to with hold promoting someone’s beer based on this interaction does sort of prove my point.

    Alan – October 31, 2011 9:04 AM
    Very odd notice over at, as noticed by Stan. Trading halted? Canadians not under such conditions at

    Alan – October 31, 2011 11:01 AM
    Notice has now been removed from… just hours after being noticed.

    olllllo – November 10, 2011 5:20 PM
    I realize that this is digging up a thread and I don’t think it warrants my joining od the wiki, but I have to drop this gem off somewhere.

    Hoooley Cow New Republic.

    Alan – November 10, 2011 5:43 PM
    Excellent! I will pop it up over at the wiki.

    Dan – November 13, 2011 8:09 AM
    Late post about British beer bottles. 568mL pint bottles may have been quite popular once but they are certainly not these days. I seem to recall the reason most (if not almost all) british beers are sold in 500mL bottles was to come into line with standard EU sizing (see most German/Dutch beer bottles) i also seem to recall there was a bit of an uproar about the change within the British beer community. This is all from memory of course and absolutely not the result of scholarly research 🙂

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