Book review

Stuck in the past

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1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die
General editor Adrian Tierney-Jones
Pier 9

For the first few years of my beer geekery, I had to rely on the local library’s copy of this book. I’d borrowed it at least three times and each time I’d flick through the book, counting up how many of the beers I’d had. And always being chuffed that it was more than last time. And also noting how more of the brewery names were familiar to me.

So when I saw the updated version of the book appear in a new release catalogue, I made damned sure I requested a review copy (one of the sideline gigs at work is that I review books from time to time).

Now I have my own copy. And the first thing I did was count up how many beers I’d had – 96 this time around. Four more off the tonne. The I flicked through the book, stopping here and there to read the short entries that give a little bit of history about the beers. I reckon that’s how the book is best used; rather than read it from cover to cover, you just flip through, look for a beer bottle that seems intriguing and then read about it.

While I’m quite happy to have my own copy of the book now, I have to say I’m a bit disappointed with the Australian beers that have made the list. I get that this isn’t a list of the best beers in the world, but rather are chosen for other reasons. According to Tierney-Jones’ introduction these include being ‘‘superb examples of brewing craftsmanship’’, ‘‘are wonderful to taste’’ or ‘‘represent brewing innovation and imagination’’.

Now, be honest. Does that sound like James Squire to you? I don’t reckon so, yet there are three Jamie S beers on the list – the golden ale, pilsner and amber ale. The golden ale I get, because it’s an Australian take on the style but that’s where I draw the JS line. There are only 29 Australian beers here and to devote three of those spots to an entry-level craft brewery seems a bit much.

Of those 29 beers more than half of them come from just six breweries. Perhaps I’m being a tad cynical here but it doesn’t seem the Australian contributors (who are behind this website which features a lot of very mainstream beers and not much else) really stretched themselves in the research phase. It feels like they got samples from a handful of breweries and just picked a few from each rather than considerably broadening their horizons. For instance, there is not a single beer from Holgate, Bridge Road or Temple. Now, I reckon I’d be safe in saying that anyone who knows anything about beer would expect at least one beer from one of those breweries to appear on the list. But they don’t.

In fact just one new Australian beer make the list (Feral’s Hop Hog) compared to the last edition a couple of years ago (but three have been cut – Burleigh Brewing’s Hef, 3 Ravens White and Baron’s Blackwattle ale). That just a single new beer has been added is bizarre – in the last few years, the Australian beer scene made great leaps forward but you wouldn’t know it from the selection here.

Instead, it feels stuck in the past, a feeling amplified by the fact that a number of the photos show Australian beers with outdated labels. The Coopers Extra Vintage is from 2007 – you can read the label – and Mountain Goat is shown with that terrible label that always reminded me of an energy drink. The James Squire labels are from a couple of years ago, as are the two labels from Cascade.

Stone & Wood make the list – but not for the beer you’d expect. Yep, the all-conquering Pacific Ale gets overlooked in favour of their pale lager. That’s right – the beer that has become an icon in Australian craft beer circles, that finishes in the top three of every list of the country’s best beers is not on the list.

While these issues with the Australian beers won’t stop me from enjoying the book – because I tend to pay more attention to the entries from other countries – it is a bit of a disappointment. It implies the Australian beer scene has been standing still, when that is certainly not the case.

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3 replies »

  1. Wow, I must say this news disappoints me

    I have the previous version of this book (it’s what my blog is based on!!) and I always thought that the Australian section was a little lacking. I pictured any new editions to include some of our craft powerhouses, like the Pacific Ale, the Holgate Temptress and the Feral Hop Hog. To find out that no new beers have been added, and three have been axed?! Upsetting. It really doesn’t reflect Australia’s growing beer scene accurately at all. Such a shame

    • It’s a great resource to use to try and find beers from around the world. But when it comes to Australian beers, I really find it lacking.
      To be fair, there is one new Australian beer – Hop Hog (I’ve added than into the text) but still, the overall list simply does not reflect the sizeable changes happening in the Australian beer scene.

  2. Doesn’t surprise me in the least. Australia on a whole is completely ignorant of the great craft beer scene that’s starting to emerge.

    And ‘entry level craft brewery’ is being far too nice to James Squires. They’re a macro brewery masquerading as a craft brewery, pure and simple.

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