Book review

Books, beer and breweries


The Oxford Companion to Beer
Edited by Garrett Oliver
Oxford University Press

The Breweries of Australia
Keith M Deutsher
Beer & Brewer Media

I’ve chosen to review these two books together because they’re both very much reference books. Both log their entries in alphabetical order, like an encyclopedia. Also like an encyclopedia, they’re better suited for dipping into here and there rather than reading cover to cover. And as someone who set out to read The Oxford Companion to Beer (OCB) cover to cover, I can attest to that fact.
If you see yourself as a serious beer lover then you have to have the OCB. That’s simply non-negotiable. It’s 868 pages of entries contain a true wealth of information; from beer history, to the backstory of famous breweries, the development of beer in various countries, the technical side of brewing, the styles, the marketing and promotion of it, the ingredients.
Truly it is an exhaustive list, with entries written by a range of people who are experts in their field. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find much they left out. And I can guarantee you’ll find out plenty of things you didn’t know before.
I’ve found there are two ways I use this book;
1) To check up on some beer fact or get some background while writing a beer column or blog posting.
2) Simply pulling it down from the shelf, opening it to a random page and reading an entry or two.
As for Breweries of Australia, the first point is relevant, but I’ve found the second isn’t. This book is more likely the sort you go to to find a specific fact rather than something you’d read a bit of here there for fun. Aside from overviews of each state’s breweries and a few essays at the back, the bulk of this book is alphabetical listings by cities and towns, under which the breweries are listed. Those listings include a good many breweries that are defunct and have been for more than a century. In some cases breweries have been included that were open for all of a year (while thoroughness is obviously what Deutsher was going for, I have to wonder about the value of including entries for breweries that opened and closed so quickly).
Also, while it is a book about breweries (as it clearly states on the cover) it would have been nice to have some detail about some of the more well-known beers they produced. Take Victoria Bitter, for example. A quick internet search says it was brewed by the Victoria Brewery, later taken over by CUB. Yet I can find no mention of VB in the entries for either brewery, indeed the only mention of VB I can recall was in the Northern Territory section, as a reference to it being the first label affixed to a Darwin Stubby.
So if you want to know the history of the actual breweries of Australia, this book will serve you well. Less so if you also want to know about the beers they produced.

4 replies »

  1. Just something to note…there have been a number of beer bloggers who have brought Oxford Companion to Beer to account for errors, unsubstantiated myths and spin by macro brewery businesses.

    So, read with care…and have a look at some of these for perspective:

    The Oxford Companion to Beer: a dreadful disaster?:

    (More related posts at: )

    OCBeerCommentary wiki blog:

  2. I’ve got the OBC on my shelf and have to admit that I’m yet to open it, strangley I feel a little intimidated by it, its just so big and I havent had any questions stump me recently that I needed to consult it for. That said it is a must have for the beer nerd, might have to crack a homebrew on the back step tomorrow evening and have a read

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