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Archive | October, 2011

Writing about beer, fatal for the reputation

Back when you could crack wise when discussing The Oxford Companion to Beer I casually mentioned that it would be nice to find the tasting notes written more than 400 years ago by Heinrich Knaust.

His book — Fünff Bucher, von der Göttlichen und Edleen Gabe, der Philosphischen, hochtewren and wunderbaren Kunt Bier zu brawen, first published in 1573 — brought together much of what was understood about brewing at the time. According to Richard Unger in Beer in the Middle Ages he described about 150 beers from Germany in detail. I’ve only seen this one:

“The noble Hamburg beer is the queen of all other wheat, or white, beers, just as the Dantzic beer has the precedence and is queen of all the other barley, or red beers.”

I continue to hope that his work will show up in Google books, so occasionally do a new search. Which is why today I found this in Language and its Functions by Pieter Adrianus Verbung:

“He studied at Wittenbergunder Melanchton and Luther; at an early age he become headmaster of the Gymnasium of Cöllin (Berlin), turned later to jurisprudence, was the author of many words on theology, more philosophy and law, all of them with a polarizing tendency. he wrote lyric and dramatic poetry, inter alid so called ‘school drams,’ often with biblical content, in German and Latin. It was fatal for his reputation as a humanist that the only work of his to achieve fame was his so called beer book.” (Italics added for emphasis.)

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be beer writers.

Off topic, at least if the topic is beer

Amazon tells me I should be reading You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself, a title so long you can’t tweet it. It’s not published yet, but I put my request in at our local library and I’m already fifth in line.

I’m interested in the Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and it might even turn out to be related to beer.

As long as I’ve veered off topic, a few links:

* Tim Tebow, Converter of the Passes, at GRANTLAND.

This fine paragraph comes with an equally fine footnote (that’s second):

“In doing so, he has managed to take on outsize significance in the league despite largely failing to excel on the field and despite the fact that the NFL already reads culturally like the result of a right-wing blogger shotgunning a wine cooler and deciding to ‘make things fabulous.’”

The F-15 flyovers, the martial fanfares, the crisp green lawns, the body armor, the commercials in which giant whooshing branding irons burn the low APR of a Chevy Silverado directly onto the screen, etc. It’s as if the guy who invented Branson, Mo., looked at his work and said, “Screw this, I can do better.”

* Robert Parker Predicts the Future (of Wine), in Food & Wine. I like the last one: “Diversity will be the word.” OK, now I’m thinking about beer. I’m in favor of a beer world where the local choices include Strawberry Rhubarb Tart (related to a witbier and including the flavors in the name) and Zwickel (an unfiltered, traditional lager in the spirit of a helles). It is possible to appreciate the new without discarding the old.

* My favorite not snarky and not beer tweet of the day: “Beware: Journalists mixing with numbers! Know the differences between a margin and a ratio http://bit.ly/ua6W55.

* Bonus beer link: Beers Made By Walking Hike #7 at North Cheyenne Canyon. This is such a great idea.

* My favorite snarky and beer tweet (I hope I don’t regret adding this – so please remember New Beer Rule #5) of the day, from @robsterowski: “@D_I_N_G At this stage it wouldn’t surprise me if the entry on Brooklyn Brewery had mistakes in it.”

Waiting for the Oxford Companion to the Oxford Companions

You have any idea how many books Oxford University Press published in its “companion” series before it got around to beer?

A lot. Heck, The Oxford Companion to the Brontës is 640 pages. There’s The Oxford Companion to the American Musical: Theatre, Film, and Television and The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (1272 pages, but “the only book on the Supreme Court that a layman should ever need.”)

Most of the books that are part of the franchise must have been more popular when they were new, because it appears these days that beyond the top two on the list none of them outperforms the 100th best selling beer entry (Clone Brews, at this moment) on Amazon.

Those top two, of course, are the shiny, new The Oxford Companion to Beer and the third edition to The Companion to Wine, still selling briskly five years after it was published. I think we all expect the Beer Companion will have the same sort of legs, but that’s a topic for another day.

I own the wine book and recall the excitement within the wine blogosphere when it was released in 2006 (plus that Costco stocked a bunch as a price that beat Amazon). I occasionally hoist it off the shelf — either when I have a particular question or feel in need of exercise, given that it weighs half again as much as the hefty beer book — and I never think to question what I find. I certainly don’t remember it being scrutinized the same way as the Beer Companion.1

So I asked a few wine bloggers if I missed something. Mike Veseth, author of Wine Wars, wrote back:

I cannot remember any sharp criticisms when the Oxford Companion to Wine appeared. Certainly the release of the current edition was celebrated, not criticized. I suspect that this is because the OCW project is well established and has set the standard for comprehensive wine books.

I asked Jancis Robinson (editor of OCW) what she thought and she replied that, while there were no harsh critiques when the OCW was first released in 1994, she thinks there would be some today just because the times are different — more bloggers and social media forums where opinions are shared.

Yep, the Netscape browser was brand new in 1994 and Amazon didn’t exist. Nor did Rate Beer or Beer Advocate or any of the blogs on the right. But I’m still trying to figure out if that explains the all that has already been written about the Beer Companion.

Are the errors that grievous? Is it that those who really care about beer (and the facts related to beer) care than much more? Is beer (and beer history) that complicated, subjective to interpretation, lost in the ether?

As I was typing this post Alan McLeod added Garrett Oliver’s comments to OCBeerCommentary, and then Simon Johnson’s thoughtful conclusions popped up in my feed reader. (Yes, two Simon Johnson links inside of a week; no more, I promise.)

Go read them, because so far I’m long questions and short answers.

1 OCBeerCommentary provides both links to what has been written about the Beer Companion (see “general comments”) and comments that generally identify errata.

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