Book Review: Terry Foster, Beer Writer

Terry Foster is one of my favorite beer writers and the most interesting thing about him as a beer writer these days is he does not have a website. I don’t know how you can exist without a website these days. How else will all the Google bots be able to share your daily musings. Google bots…bots…Google…[Ed.: Giving author a good shake] Oh, right…there is no money and no audience in a website and others are doing it already so why bother. Good point.

I encountered Terry Foster as a home brewer. He is the author titles #1 and #5 in the Classic Beer Style Series published by the Association of Brewers, a US company promoting the homebrew industry. Pale Ale is the first in the series and Poer the fifth. These books are now over a decade old but recently I noticed that Foster has been writing articles for Brew Your Own magazine regularly as well. These sorts of writings as well as my years of one hundred gallons of output have convinced me that the appreaciation of beer is uniquely advanced by learning about and undertaking its production.

A number of the early homebrewing authors started me on that path and it would be my suggestion that Terry Foster is a continuation of that line of thinkers and writers about beer. In April 1963, month of my birth, the British Government ended the taxation of homebrewing under the Inland Revenue Act of 1880 which required records to be kept and a one ound license to be paid. As W.H.T. Tayleur states in his text Home Brewing & Wine-Making (Penguin, 1973) at page 15:

This legislation reminaed in force for eighty-three years, but although at first many thousands of private brewing licences were taken out the number of home brewers steadily declined over the years until by the middle of this century, and after shortages of the necessary ingredients caused by two world wars, hardly any of the few that were left bothered to take out licences.

By removing the need to license, the government created an industry and changed brewing, to my mind, for two reasons. First, self-trained home brewers became self-trained micro-brewers as the opportunities to make money with the skill became apparent. Second, consumers gained access to well-made home brews which were much cheaper and much tastier than the standardized industrial kegged beer the 1960s were foisting upon people. Without men like the 1960s authors C.J.J. Berry and Ken Shales as well as David Line in the 1970s, all writing primarily through Amateur Winemaker Publications, many a brew-pub or craft brewery on both sides of the atlantic would simply not exist.

C.J.J. Berry, Ken Shales and David Line

Foster is perhaps the last of this tradition of British home brewing writers – and not just because his slicked back hair, styled in common cause with them. His two books, Pale Ale and Porter each provide a history of the style, a description of the elements, a guide to making them and a discussion of the commercial examples. Like those earlier authors he provides the context of the style and also deconstructs the mystery of how the brews can be made. Context and technique are two things modern industrial commercial brewers would like to shield from their customers – they more they were to know about what is out there and what it costs, the less likely the concept of brand loyalty might hold the customer.

Foster’s recent articles in Brew Your Own magazine continue this tradition. I have copies of the following articles:

“Pale Ale”, BYO September 2003, page 30.
“Old Ales”, BYO, September 2004, page 27.
“Anchors Away – A History of Malt Extract: Part 1”, BYO October 2004, page 30.
“Let’s Get Rid of the Water – A History of Malt Extract: Part 2”, BYO, November 2004, page 34.

As is the mandate of the magazine, Foster provides context and technique, showing how historical styles can be recreated with confidence. For example, in the third article he discusses how the British Navy invented malt extract in an effort to provide beer to sailors as a necessary food while in the fourth he describes how later extracts were used to avoid the stupidities of prohibition.

Foster’s style is attractive in that he is a plain speaker. In a world of where reputation and brand is all important, he can write of Yuengling’s Pottsville Porter:

…this is in some sense a classic porter, although it is bottom-fermented. Unfortunately, although it has many adherents, I am not one of them as I find it a little disappointing.

Not only is he not looking for the next PR opportunity when he writes, he is a bit folksy while also well researched. He is a trained chemist and has been a professional brewer for over 40 years, according to his BYO bio. He is interested and as a result interesting.

2002 C.J.J. Berry Obituary

[Source not recorded]

It is as though a chapter has closed in the annals of the winemaking movement with the death of Mr. Cyril Berry in Spain on the morning of Friday, 8th November 2002.

Cyril was a wonderful man, as anyone who knew him well will endorse. Without doubt he did more for the winemaking fraternity than anyone else. In fact there probably would not have been the unison of so many winemakers in Great Britain and overseas had it not been for his energy and acumen.

After World War II, when sugar came off the ration, Cyril founded the Andover Circle, which still flourishes today and of which he was still a member. Then Cheltenham, Bournemouth, Harrow and Hertford Circles sprang to life and gradually the bubbles of wine spread all over the country. Clubs learnt about each others’ events through a little magazine which Cyril and his dear wife Peggy produced in the upstairs bedroom of their house in Andover. This was for sale to Clubs at 6 pence a copy.

Cyril had an ebullient personality and energy which not only embraced his family and social life but also gave him the courage at a mature age to give up his safe, professional life as Editor of a local Andover paper in order to concentrate on producing the Amateur Winemaker magazine on a National scale. He also wrote the best-ever selling winemaking book ‘First Steps in Winemaking.’ Not only was the title very clever and appealing but it gave people the chance to make wines from fruits, flowers and vegetables in an easily explained manner. Yes, the recipes were ‘country’ style, often using a lot of sugar, but they gave the encouragement necessary to try them out and, in those early days, it was THE book to own. When a chicken was really a treat to be eaten just at Christmas and a bottle of wine had to be sought out and afforded only once in a while, the idea of making one’s own wine was very attractive. No rows of wine in Supermarkets then.

The main names at that time which readily come to mind after Cyril were Cyril Lucas of Bournemouth, Ben Turner of Harrow, ‘Andy’ Andrews of Hertford; they and some others got together to form a nucleus to start the National Conferences. A little later, after a Conference in Brighton, the Amateur Winemakers National Guild of Judges was formed (now N.G.W.B.J.) In those very early days Cyril was asked to assess vast volumes of competition wine at one sitting, which he manfully attempted. No wonder the Judges Guild was formed!

Clubs proliferated and prospered, friendships all over the country were cemented, winemaking graduated from granny’s country brew to commercial quality counterparts, all in essence due to Cyril Berry’s original initiative and drive. Winemaking queries were answered, informative articles published and Club News kept everyone informed. Someone once sent in to the Winemaker a recipe for a Yorkshire Pudding wine as a joke (Jack Dixon I believe – now no longer with us) and to keep the joke going Cyril printed it. He was taken aback some months later, however, when a member of the Andover Circle asked him to taste just such a ‘wine’! Many books associated with wine and beer making evolved from Cyril’s printing presses until he eventually retired and bought a holiday flat in Nerja, Spain, so as to enjoy the winter sunshine.

Although Peggy, Gay and Natalie, their daughters, and the grandchildren, were the heart of Cyril’s life, he found time for other interests such as gardening, viticulture, music and painting. He even had time to be on the local Council and received the honour of being Mayor of Andover at one time.

He was a warm, friendly, very special person, who will never be forgotten by those who loved and admired him – always with a smile and a joke on his lips – truly the Father of the winemaking movement. Blessed he was to leave us, sitting having a pre-prandial drink in the Spanish sunshine, but our heartfelt sympathies must go to Peggy and his family for his passing and the abruptness of this sad farewell. May he rest in peace.