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Here come the beer books (and reviews)

The next several days here will be all mostly about beer books. I’ve got a stack — some from last fall that I didn’t write about because we were out of the country — I should tell you about before the holiday shopping season arrives. In fact, with holiday beers about to arrive in stores I think I’ll start with Don Russell’s Christmas Beer tomorrow.

First a few thoughts provoked by Jeff Alworth, who begins his review of the most recent beer book to find its way on to the shelves at Barnes & Noble (but not our local Borders so far) this way:

There’s something a little cheeky about writing a world guide to beer. The act suggests hubris: that a person of modest age might really have attained the experience to put himself forth as an expert of the caliber to comment on all the world’s beers. That is the purview of another Brit, right? And herein is the second layer of hubris; in the post-Jackson age, who really has the cojones to step in and take his place? Well, apparently Ben McFarland has the cheek, because he’s put out a book called World’s Best Beers: One Thousand Craft Brews from Cask to Glass.

Alworth has nice things to say about the book but you might leave with the impression that McFarland is a youngster (“just his second book”) who saw the opportunity to market a book “familiar to those who know Michael Jackson’s oeuvre.” The thing is McFarland is 33, only two years younger than Jackson was when his second book, The World Guide to Beer, was published. He’s twice been chosen Britain’s Beer Writer of the Year, once when Jackson was on the judging panel.

So I dropped him a note with the straight-out loaded question: Do you view yourself stepping in to take Michael Jackson’s place?

He replied (this is the short version, because it seems people who write books have a lot to say):

“No. I don’t. In terms of beer writing, Michael Jackson had to carry his enormous cajones around in a wheelbarrow. They were THAT big. He was the original beer writer and the best. He inspired many to drink more beer and, indeed, write about it and for that reason, with so many exalting the joys of beer, there will never be another like him.

“Setting out in life with the ambition of becoming the next ‘someone else’ is an extremely daft thing to do. Whilst I often asked Jacko for advice and am forever thumbing his books, I don’t see myself picking up his professional wheelbarrow.”

Exactly. There will never be another like him. However we got two great beer books this year, Tasting Beer and Hops and Glory, that Jackson never would have written but certainly would have enjoyed.

Jackson was a journalist first, like McFarland is today. When you think about it writing a world guide in 1977, when beer information was a little harder to come by, was pretty dang cheeky. That he did is one of the reasons why it’s easier to find today.


One Response to Here come the beer books (and reviews)

  1. Jeff Alworth October 23, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    Just to be clear, I certainly didn’t write that McFarland set out to take Jackson’s place. But it’s impossible to miss the connection: this is the first major book to survey world beers in the post-Jackson era. It has added resonance because McFarland’s a Brit.

    And for what it’s worth, I don’t think it does McFarland any harm to be mentioned in the same paragraph with MJ. I say all of this because, as you did note, my review of the book was favorable.

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