I’m not used to reading things on a Kindle, but I had to go there for this one. Over £60 for a second hand copy on Amazon! Under a fiver on Kindle. Meh. Anyway … Martyn Cornell is a beer writer and blogger of high repute; he’s won multiple awards from The Guild Of British Beer Writers and his blog Zythophile is always a good read. This book is from 2008, so may not be up to date with all the craft trends, but that works well enough as Cornell can use distance to get a long term view of the rise and fall British beer styles and their history.
For much of the book, Cornell dredges through brewing history. Or British brewing history anyway. The back story of bitter/pale ale/india pale ale is murkier than it is often made out to be (everything seemed so much simpler in Pete Brown’s Hops And Glory): Cornell isn’t happy to go along with the myths (though he isn’t against a good story when the opportunity presents, so the book doesn’t get too dry). He delves through newspapers, advertisements, popular literature and (of course) brewery records and finds plenty of gold.
There are some niche topics – long forgotten herbal beers, honey beers, and heather beer (that had been revived with Williams Brothers’ Fraoch). Wood aged beers too had made a comeback with Innis & Gunn and an aborted (for tax reasons) Fuller’s aged Golden Pride getting a mention. I especially liked the chapter on Barley Wines and Old Ales, fitting my personal taste in beer. A chapter on British Wheat Beer goes in some odd directions, and a chapter on Lager that shines a light on big British brewing and technology.
I have seen a few good criticisms of this book: the lack of Scottish styles (although Scottish brewers do play a prominent role in the Lager chapter); a writing style that isn’t entirely clear – Cornell has plenty to say on the distinction between stout and porter, but I would be hard pushed to summarize it. There is occasionally a technical focus that feels out of place, leaving the book hanging between something more specialist and something more popular. Despite these faults, it’s well worth reading for anyone really interested in traditional English beer styles (both obscure and well known).