Stephen Beaumont is one of his generations greatest beer writers. And he just so happens to be Canadian. Starting out in 1994 with The Great Canadian Beer Guide, one of the first beer books I ever read (if you stumble upon a copy, pick it up for me), Beaumont has now authored or co-authored over ten books. Two of his newest are the revised and expanded World Atlas of Beer (2016) and the pocket guide Best Beers (2017), both co-authored with Tim Webb.
I was more than pleasantly surprised when I found out that the book launch for Best Beers was happening at The Drake in downtown Victoria on an evening I wasn’t scheduled to work. It is very rare to be able to shake hands with a writer you respect as much as I do Beaumont.
Best Beers is technically the third version of 2013’s Pocket Beer Guide. If you own the original version don’t hesitate to pick up the newest version as Best Beers is such a different book that it does justify the name change. In the original, Beaumont and Webb, with the help of a team of international beer experts, looked at a cross section of the most important breweries in each country at the time. They included a star rating for each brewery’s most important beer with a brief description. However, with the massive growth of the number of breweries worldwide, as Beaumont explained at the book launch, such an approach today would create such a huge book that it couldn’t be considered “pocket”. The new book is much better for it’s increased focus, which does away with the star ratings since all the beers featured “are at the top of their class” (p.8). It also allows for more in depth tasting notes, which in the first version could be as short as one word. Best Beers is an indispensable resource for those who want to hunt the crème de la crème of beers.
Another revised Beaumont and Webb book, The World Atlas of Beer, is equally of deserving of your attention, even if you have the previous version. The world of beer in between the years of 2012 and 2016 changed so much that it demanded a follow up. The beer landscape of certain countries, such as Canada, Iceland, Ireland and others, have changed so much that large portions of the book have been rewritten or expanded. Much of the book, even in countries with long brewing traditions such as the Czech Republic, deals specifically with the recent past since it is only then that so much has changed.
Another book, National Geographic Atlas of Beer, was recently released and although a fine book, definitely lacked in specific beer recommendations, outside of noting some historically important breweries and then a single recommendation for each beer style. For instance, the two Canadian beers suggestions are Postmark Raspberry and Unibroue La Fin Du Monde. This lack of beer advice might seem like the case in the newest version of the World Atlas as well, which has done away with the beer recommendations that ran along the bottom of each page in the original. However, fear not, as the authors have heavily peppered suggestions throughout the text, making them easy to find once you are actually reading. The price point between the two atlases should also be noted, $34 Canadian for the better book while National Geographics Atlas cover price is $50 Canadian.
Beaumont and Webb don’t shy shy away from making their presence known in the World Atlas. As Webb writes in his forward, “If enthusiasm breaks through our reportage occasionally, we ask your forgiveness.” No forgiveness needed as far as I‘m concerned, as the well-informed authorial asides are some of the best parts. As an example, the brief discussion on what the hell Guinness is doing lately, ends with, “We sense the limits of understanding oft found in the corporate mind, plus an allergy to live yeast.” This is exactly the kind of thing I love in my beer books. Best Beers has similar insights embedded, such as the short chapter on beer trends. Either way, the World Atlas of Beer is one second edition of a book you should definitely seek out as it is a deep, well-informed book about all things beer and its current situation around the globe.
Speaking of all things beer, if food/beer pairings or cooking with beer is an interest of yours, then definitely check out Beaumont’s Beer and Food Companion or the Beerbistro Cookbook, which are both written with the care and understanding that Beaumont applies to all his books.
I envy the beer fan who has yet to discover the books and writing of Stephen Beaumont. He is a national treasure. For those of you who may own earlier versions of his books I highly recommend updating at the soonest possible moment. Both the World Atlas of Beer and Best Beers are two of the most important beer books published in the last few years and your bookshelf will not be complete without them.