Mark Mcdermott's Reviews > Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer

Brew Britannia by Jessica Boak
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bookshelves: beer-books

American beer fans have become well-versed in the history of the craft beer movement here in the States. This book offers a perspective from the other side of the pond.
The book's very title is a rebuttal to a 1973 book, The Death of the English Pub, in which Christopher Hutt bemoaned the rapid consolidation of small British breweries under huge corporations, and the shrinking numbers of pubs offering anything different than Watney's. However, this book's story starts back in the early 60s, when a small group of men associated to promote the old fashioned pub and its cask beer, eventually naming themselves the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). Though at first looked upon as another of those British eccentrics dedicated to "preserving" bits of English life (and earning a sort of mention in the Kinks' "Village Green Preservation Society"), CAMRA succeeded in putting a focus on a disappearing piece of British society, at a time when it was still possible to retrieve it.
CAMRA's good beer guides and beer festivals did influence the brewing industry, which tried to answer with their erzatz "real ale" brands. It also attracted a new generation of brewers, some homebrewers with cobbled equipment, others refugees from brewery consolidation and downsizing. Among the people in this new scene was Terry Jones of Monty Python, who funded the startup of Penrhos Brewing (1977-1983).
The book can become hard to follow, tracking, as it does, the comings and goings of brewers and beer-centered pubs and restaurants. It also tracks down the influence that changed the British beer palate, from German lagers and extreme Belgian brews, to the revival of the IPA style, influenced by American exemplars like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Goose island IPA.
The book also notes how CAMRA was in danger of disappearing from relevance, as it stuck to its standard that the only "real ale" was gravity-dispensed from a wooden cask, instead of carbonated and sold in bottles of steel kegs. Perhaps the biggest influence on the current British beer scene, as cited in the book, was Scotland's BrewDog, whose "Beer for Punks" courted controversies with regulators and thumbed its nose at CAMRA, yet also funded public stock offerings that let it expand production and build their own series of pubs and restaurants.
An engaging an informative book, which perhaps could benefit by more descriptions of some of the favorite beers of its history. But an excellent perspective on how the craft beer movement grew in Europe.

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Reading Progress

June 20, 2016 – Started Reading
January 16, 2017 – Finished Reading
January 20, 2017 – Shelved
January 20, 2017 – Shelved as: beer-books

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