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The Oxford Companion to Beer - Review

Beer Enthusiast's Encyclopedia

Edited by Garrett Oliver

(Oxford University Press, 2011)

The Oxford Companion to Beer, edited by Garrett Oliver

Edited by Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of The Brooklyn Brewery, and with a foreword by chef Tom Colicchio, The Oxford Companion to Beer contains contributions from 166 of the world's foremost beer experts writing about what they know best. This hefty, hardback encyclopedia numbering 960 pages is packed full of fascinating and informative entries on beer and beer-related subjects, as well as black-and-white and color illustrations. Featuring more than 1,100 articles ranging in length from just a single paragraph to multiple pages, the Companion covers topics from "abbey beers" to "zymurgy." Oliver himself shows his own mastery of beer lore in such general articles as those on "beer style," "flavor," "history of beer," "microbrewery" and "serving beer."

The general reader will appreciate the hundreds of articles on individual breweries ("Hook Norton Brewery"), beer styles ("altbier"), beer culture ("temperance") and regional surveys, whether by continent ("Africa"), country ("New Zealand") or state ("Hawaii"), as appropriate. Homebrewers and beer geeks, no doubt, will devour the articles on hop varieties ("Fuggle"), beer chemistry ("sterols") and brewing equipment ("roller mill"). If you ever wanted to know what kvass is, you'll learn that it is "a mildly alcoholic, lightly sour beer of Slavic origin, commonly made from rye bread or flour and flavored with mint or fruits." There are even articles relating to religion, such as those on the ancient Sumerian goddess Ninkasi, the twelfth century nun Hildegard von Bingen and the Cistercian order of monks.

Part of the fun of owning a book like The Oxford Companion to Beer is being able to idly flip the pages at random. If you turn to the W's, for example, you'll find a number of diverse entries. Begin with "George Washington." This brief sketch characterizes America's first president as an avid home brewer, one whose preferred beer style was porter. Then, continue on to "wassail" and you'll learn about a "Christmas custom in medieval England, which involved the consumption of copious amounts of hot ale." Finally, move on to "water," an elementary chemistry lesson about beer's principal ingredient. Articles are arranged alphabetically, signed by their respective authors and typically followed by bibliographical references. Numerous appendices in the back of the volume provide further listings of Beer Organizations, Beer Festivals and Beer Museums. The most comprehensive volume yet devoted to the subject, The Oxford Companion to Beer would make a valuable addition to any beer enthusiast's library.

Reviewed by Barnaby Hughes

(Updated: 01/11/13 BH)

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