Platinum Pints 2010-15: Best Beer Book Writer

platwe are half a decade into… the decade. The twenty-tens. Time to reflect and to reflect on a longer time span than the annual keek. Have their been arcs to trace? Have past achievements been already lost? That’s what the Platinum Pint awards are for. To think about what we have received to this point and where we stand as a result.

As I might have foreshadowed, the winner of the award for the best writer of books 2010-15 is Pete Brown. During that span, his three books Hops and Glory, Shakespeare’s Local and World’s Best Ciders: Taste, Tradition, and Terroir have stood as the standard for inventive, daring, interesting and well-written drinks related texts. They also represent an era which may well be over. This past year was dry. We have to be honest. It was such a dip in beer book diversity that when I mentioned this, Stan tweeted about a book about making home brew very quickly. I love Stan’s sense of humour.

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Pete entered the decade riding a high. His third book Hops and Glory had been out for half a year. In December 2009, he won the British Guild of Beer Writers’ Award for Best Writer 2009. I had my eye on Pete. I reviewed his first book Man walks into a Pub in 2003 when most beer communicators were still in elementary school. I interviewed him in 2006 when his followup Three Sheets to the Wind came out. They were good but gave a sense that there was more to come that was better. One thing they did establish was that an insider could write as an insider and also that one could travel the world exploring beer without being a junket parrot. Better still, his books were being published by a proper generalist publisher, Macmillan.

When Hops and Glory came out, I was blown away. I reviewed it over a number of posts. What immediately struck me was the daring. The guy was actually doing something, exploring. And he was doing it in a pretty weird way. His plan was to take a cask of IPA from Britain to India by ship to retrace the origins of the beer. Fabulous. And he failed. Or at least the cask did (spoilers… literally… and I suppose too late for me to mention… oh, well…) But by not actually achieving the physical outcome he imagined he rightly claimed a greater good. He describes the British Empire, shipping routes and shipping methods as well as Georgian culture. He took beer, lifted above itself as subject matter, then drew us a picture of how the beer fits into its own broader history while illustrating the foibles of human existence – and did so effectively as I described:

Anyway, the point is that for 237 to 306, Brown takes us into his internal experience – into the doldrums of the sailing ship and then into the small heart of darkness that is the international shipping trade today – by seemingly forgetting to slip back into the history. It’s a good technique. It weighs a bit, wears a bit. But it still takes us along as if to say “it’s alright, Al, no need for you to ever go on a container ship from Brazil to India all alone for five weeks… I’ve done it… don’t bother.” Thanks Pete. I won’t. It’s off my to do list.

The book set the standard for those that followed. Beer books now needed to be filled with humour, invention and place the theme in context. His next book Shakespeare’s Local ran with all that while staying in one spot – the George Inn of Southwark. With a history going back hundreds of years farther back than India Pale Ale, the opportunity was ripe. He dove deeper again into his topic. I pointed out that the history was detailed, that it would be useful to know who Simon de Montfort was and maybe why Englishmen became more mobile in the 1400s bolstering inns like the George. The fact was we were being presented with beer as a subject worth something other than an introductory nod. I found this inspiring. I had dreams of much the same for the research Craig and I were undertaking with the Albany Ale Project even if not necessarily is the same medium. Pete’s books inspired the idea that there was more to know and more to discuss. I was left with the desire for more at the end of Shakespeare’s Local. More illustrations, a greater library of such histories. In response, I’ve published two histories¬†chasing his example and, since then, have undertaken much more research that I intend to continue in the years to come. The past is, after all, good beer’s future.

The very next year, Pete came out with a new book and took a 90 degree turn with World’s Best Cider. Well, not really a turn as he announced in 2010 that cider and perry were officially on his radar. But when he published this book, he did a very interesting thing – he killed off all hope that anyone would write another as well. It is such a complete text for the first comprehensive global guide that none would be needed until the industry grew to a next level. And that opportunity appears to be off the cards given that the mass market for cider has, to put it kindly, leveled off. Again, I found the effect was somewhat shocking:

The next thing I thought was “oh, my… cider porn.” Never encountered cider porn before but, then again, never met an atlas of cider before either. Which is what this is. Think of all those beer books with the same “what beer is section,” the longer “all sorts of beer section categorized one way or another section” and the “food and beer” section. Then take away the beer, cut the food section and add fermented apple juice. That is what this is. Except… there isn’t another. Is there?

There isn’t. As Jeff uniquely and entirely graciously acknowledged yesterday. And there hasn’t been a set of three books by one author in good beer that have touched these three not only in the decade but, as far as I am concerned, in my experience. Not that they are comprehensive. That is the point. Each in their own way take a small part of the whole and drill down excellently. As a set, they illustrate how wonderfully drinks writing sits in the broader cultural context. These books gave us the impression that like good beer was on a roll.

It was not to be. The downside of the example these books of Pete Brown set is that, sadly, publishers have decided there is no market for such books and, if we are honest, sales likely drive that opinion. So we are left with the lower orders of the publishable and sales worthy, the style guides and pairing companions. Good for the authors, one supposes. But hardly something to look forward to repeating in the years to come. And Pete is self-publishing his next, his seventh book, What Are You Drinking? That is where we are mid-decade.

There you have it. The first Platinum Pints 2010-15 announced goes to Pete Brown as Best Beer Book Writer of the half decade. Next? Who knows. Maybe best experience. Whatever that means.

Your 2015-16 US Craft Brewery Dance Card

These are troubled times. One does not know what and who to hate or cheer on. Craft is either dying or transforming into something new and glorious. So you need some help. Click on the image for a bigger version. This is your cheat sheet. A notepad to carry with you at all times to make sure you know what you are supposed to think. You need to know what you need to reject.

* – no one really believes they are actually craft.
** – Actually Canadian, Belgian or something else but not ultimately US owned.
$ – sold out to big evil hateful brewing or money interests.
$$ – absolutely took big evil hateful brewing interests to the cleaner but still sold out.
+ – branch plant owner therefore just a small version of big multi-national brewing.
++ – just so big that it makes no sense to think of them as craft in any real way.
? – only allowed in craft so others could be retained in craft.
?$?$ – looking and hoping.

That’s just a start on my list. I probably missed a bunch. Let me know. If you click here you can get your own dance card to review, consider and annotate. Just make sure you use the dry-wipe ink feature on your browser so you can update this on a regular basis.

Ben Jonson And The Devil Tavern Rules, 1624

In 1939, Percy Simpson published his article “Ben Jonson and the Devil Tavern” in The Modern Language Review, Vol. 34, No. 3. Jonson lived from 1572 to 1637, a poet and playwright whose early career overlapped with Shakespeare. The Apollo was the room at the Devil and Saint Dunstan tavern near the north end of Middle Temple Lane in London, on Fleet Street near Temple Bar – the City gate of the Knights Templar. You can see the location on this map from Jonson’s time.

The Devil was where Jonson and his literary contemporaries Herrick, Carew and others met, subject to this code that Jonson wrote. They are described as Leges Convivales by Simpson – the laws of conviviality.The name of the room itself is an allusion from Plutarch, a reference to an excellent room of hospitality. Excellent. The more saintly congregation of St. Dunstans still gather, though a bit back from the road since the 1830s.

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The Spectator: A Peek At London Society 1711-1715

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Martyn made a very important observation the other day in the comments:

…coming-of-age ales were certainly being brewed then, and such brewings look to have increased over the next 40 or more years, though that may just be an artifact of the increasing number of newspapers being published.

We are slaves to records. As I have noted before, I am very irritated by records. It is not just that I am subject to the decisions of what gets scanned from the pool of records. I am dependent on what was recorded in the first place. It is important to appreciate that it is astoundingly good to be able to find newspaper ads from New York in the 1750s not just because the newspapers are that old but because, in as real a sense, they are that new.

Newspapers only come into being in the sense we know them today in the first half of the 1700s and, really, at the latter end of that era. One of the best of the early English periodicals considered a daily newspaper was, as any one who studied English Lit should know, The Spectator published by Steele and Addison in the first half of the 1710s, the point where last of the Stuarts under Queen Anne meets the first of the Georgians. Through The Spectatorthey explored Enlightenment values as well as meaning of their toy, the possibilities of the medium. Fortunately, we can explore their explorations as the entire thing has been put on line at Project Gutenberg with an extremely handy key work topical index. As with resources like the scans of New York newspapers I have been digging through in the last two months or the searchable databases of the law cases found in the English Reports or the proceedings of the Old Bailey online, we are both grateful for and limited by the work of the good people who select which records to scan for public use.

Unlike those other databases, however, The Spectator was not particularly geared to the tastes or describing the habits of the beer-drinking end of contemporary society. The dedication to the first issue of the journal to The Right Honourable John Lord Sommers, Baron Of Evesham states that it “endeavours to Cultivate and Polish Human Life, by promoting Virtue and Knowledge, and by recommending whatsoever may be either Useful or Ornamental to Society.” Still – and as something of a great-grandparent to Tom and Bob a century later – there was an interest in describing the world of London which lay before them even as they evoked classical poetry in the search for a higher ethical lens through which to view it. In doing so, they did make some observations of the beery life. In issue no. 436 from Monday, July 21, 1712 we read about a visit to…

… a Place of no small Renown for the Gallantry of the lower Order of Britons, namely, to the Bear-Garden at Hockley in the Hole1; where (as a whitish brown Paper, put into my Hands in the Street, informed me) there was to be a Tryal of Skill to be exhibited between two Masters of the Noble Science of Defence, at two of the Clock precisely.

It is not a boxing match. It is a duel, a sword fight, the challenger stating in accepting the opportunity that he was only “desiring a clear Stage and no Favour.” The space has a pit and galleries. It is packed with humanity, gawking and flinching with every slash and wound. There are no references to drinking but a footnote leads to a description of the venue:

Hockley-in-the-Hole, memorable for its Bear Garden, was on the outskirt of the town, by Clerkenwell Green; with Mutton Lane on the East and the fields on the West. By Town’s End Lane (called Coppice Row since the levelling of the coppice-crowned knoll over which it ran) through Pickled-Egg Walk (now Crawford’s Passage) one came to Hockley-in-the-Hole or Hockley Hole, now Ray Street. The leveller has been at work upon the eminences that surrounded it. In Hockley Hole, dealers in rags and old iron congregated. This gave it the name of Rag Street, euphonized into Ray Street since 1774. In the Spectator’s time its Bear Garden, upon the site of which there are now metal works, was a famous resort of the lowest classes. ‘You must go to Hockley-in-the-Hole, child, to learn valour,’ says Mr. Peachum to Filch in the Beggar’s Opera.

Ray Street still exists. Sounds very much like the area around London’s Golden Lane from about the same time. At the other end of the social scale and more often frequented by the regular readership of The Spectator was the club. In the recent post on Georgian mass drinking, I referenced the coming of age celebrations for the twenty-first birthday of Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham. Another thing he did on reaching that milestone, other than unleashing 10,000 hangovers, was to join clubs and in particular¬†White’s, the Jockey Club and the Royal Society. In issue No. 508 from Monday, October 13, 1712, The Spectator – which are described in general in issue no. 9 – dealt with a certain problem one found at these gatherings often held in otherwise public spaces, the Tavern Tyrant:

‘Upon all Meetings at Taverns, ’tis necessary some one of the Company should take it upon him to get all things in such order and readiness, as may contribute as much as possible to the Felicity of the Convention; such as hastening the Fire, getting a sufficient number of Candles, tasting the Wine with a judicious Smack, fixing the Supper, and being brisk for the Dispatch of it. Know then, that Dionysius went thro’ these Offices with an Air that seem’d to express a Satisfaction rather in serving the Publick, than in gratifying any particular Inclination of his own. We thought him a Person of an exquisite Palate, and therefore by consent beseeched him to be always our Proveditor; which Post, after he had handsomely denied, he could do no otherwise than accept. At first he made no other use of his Power, than in recommending such and such things to the Company, ever allowing these Points to be disputable; insomuch that I have often carried the Debate for Partridge, when his Majesty has given Intimation of the high Relish of Duck, but at the same time has chearfully submitted, and devour’d his Partridge with most gracious Resignation. This Submission on his side naturally produc’d the like on ours; of which he in a little time made such barbarous Advantage, as in all those Matters, which before seem’d indifferent to him, to issue out certain Edicts as uncontroulable and unalterable as the Laws of the Medes and Persians. He is by turns outragious, peevish, froward and jovial. He thinks it our Duty for the little Offices, as Proveditor, that in Return all Conversation is to be interrupted or promoted by his Inclination for or against the present Humour of the Company.

Dear God in Heaven, a prig of the highest order. A curator. A beer communicator. Who knew such things were suffered across the centuries? The publishers were clearly against such things and in issue no. 201 from Saturday, October 20, 1711 wrote about temperance at a point in history closer to the Puritans than the Victorians, setting the scene in this way:

It is of the last Importance to season the Passions of a Child with Devotion, which seldom dies in a Mind that has received an early Tincture of it… A State of Temperance, Sobriety, and Justice, without Devotion, is a cold, lifeless, insipid Condition of Virtue; and is rather to be styled Philosophy than Religion. Devotion opens the Mind to great Conceptions, and fills it with more sublime Ideas than any that are to be met with in the most exalted Science; and at the same time warms and agitates the Soul more than sensual Pleasure…

Interesting stuff, such putting of passion in its place – the emotions of a child. Thoughts on temperance as we understand it and which get fairly specific about drinking were further developed in issue no 195 from just a few days before on Saturday, October 13, 1711:

It is impossible to lay down any determinate Rule for Temperance, because what is Luxury in one may be Temperance in another; but there are few that have lived any time in the World, who are not Judges of their own Constitutions, so far as to know what Kinds and what Proportions of Food do best agree with them. Were I to consider my Readers as my Patients, and to prescribe such a Kind of Temperance as is accommodated to all Persons, and such as is particularly suitable to our Climate and Way of Living, I would copy the following Rules of a very eminent Physician. Make your whole Repast out of one Dish. If you indulge in a second, avoid drinking any thing Strong, till you have finished your Meal; at the same time abstain from all Sauces, or at least such as are not the most plain and simple. A Man could not be well guilty of Gluttony, if he stuck to these few obvious and easy Rules. In the first Case there would be no Variety of Tastes to sollicit his Palate, and occasion Excess; nor in the second any artificial Provocatives to relieve Satiety, and create a false Appetite. Were I to prescribe a Rule for Drinking, it should be form’d upon a Saying quoted by Sir William Temple; The first Glass for my self, the second for my Friends, the third for good Humour, and the fourth for mine Enemies. But because it is impossible for one who lives in the World to diet himself always in so Philosophical a manner, I think every Man should have his Days of Abstinence, according as his Constitution will permit.

Sensible advice. And, as you will note, one that is pretty much in line with the best sort of recommendations today. I will trawl through the many issues and see if I can come up with any more timely references. In the meantime, remember: the fourth for mine Enemies. Excellent advice.