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4.7 out of 5 stars32
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on 2 October 2014
The British relationship with beer is a long and complicated one. It has been with us since man discovered that boiled grains could be flavoured with leaves and fermented if left out for a while. In the 20th century, as with so many things, beer went from being a localised product, via mergers and acquisitions, to being the product of conglomerates who industrialised the process and stripped it of its identity. Boak and Bailey have created a small history of British beer, its makers and drinkers over the past 50 or so years, from the founding of the Society for the Protection of Beers from the Wood, through the birth of CAMRA, the early microbreweries of the 80s and the growth of 'craft' brewing over the last ten years or so. It's well researched, nicely written and clearly the work of people who are interested in the culture and economic truths of beer in Britain.
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on 2 December 2015
This book has a bizarre effect on me that some pubs have too – it makes me nostalgic for a time I wasn’t around. In some cases, it’s also about things I do remember but was too young to experience like the Firkin pub chain started by David Bruce in chapter seven. I was old enough but unaware at the time of the origins of Thornbridge. I was ignorant of the mastery of publicity as practiced by Brewdog. This volume would easily be enjoyed by those who have no interest in beer as it charts a soap opera full of characters and intrigue.
It’s unusual to hear about the humans rather than the beer at the centre of the changes that took place from the 1970s. This book isn’t partisan and has no ulterior motive. It doesn’t try and sell the benefits of anything traditional, real or craft over anything else. It’s about the journalism and what happened, the people that got involved and their recollections. For example, Watney’s red Barrel is notorious in the vocal history of CAMRA. Ted Handel was in charge of Watney’s public affairs group but is fondly remembered by those that knew him. It’s refreshing that despite the dubious beer, he isn’t depicted as a tyrant. Tracking down some of the cast from the 1970’s, there’s often a feeling of a hangover from the night before - times when the rebels might have gone too far or been over-exploitative in hindsight. There was bad blood. Boak and Bailey have tried to interview as many of the cast as possible to present a balanced account of the inception of CAMRA but the book is about much more than that.
My favourite chapter is chapter eight: Taste the Difference because I read and write about beer’s feel, its aroma and its taste. This evidently used to be nobody’s passion. To the modern beer geek it’s quite disheartening to find that this most elemental attribute of beer – though it can verge on pretention, was until recently completely neglected. Pioneering brewer Sean Franklin relates that early descriptions of American hops were said to have a “cat’s pee quality”. Even worse, a technical journal described the Cascade hop’s aroma as mild “American!” The characteristics I take for granted from hops not to mention the qualities from the different malts roasted to varying degrees and the current popularity of using wild fermentation, Brett yeast, Saison yeast etc were all completely ignored. Taste and aroma didn’t seem to register at all until recently. I found this fascinating.
This book would be invaluable to a non-British audience as it tracks the parallel histories of “real ale” and “craft beer” in Britain. It explains CAMRA’s amazing success but also the next generation’s attempts to distance itself from it as it became dogmatic. The two terms – real ale and craft beer - though compatible (the former under the latter) still grate among many people and there is finally a concise history that explains the origins of this crepitus in Britain
There’s a poignant picture of the remaining members of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood and its 331 (mostly absent) members. It predates CAMRA and I wonder whether it might be prescient for the future of real ale fundamentalists. It illustrates the isolation of a faith over one type of beer and dispensation being innately superior to all others. It’s the final chapter and I read it in sepia with plodding piano notes in the background.
Some badly needed visuals come in at the end to describe things too detailed for words. There’s the Kelham Island Brewery family tree, a chronological list of breweries before the modern boom, achres of notes, a recommended bibliography and a hard working index. My only quibble with this work is with the grainy illustrations. They look like they took some graft to find but their production doesn’t live up to the work and quality that went into the text.
The book ends as beer starts to fulfil its potential, diversify (through breweries such as the Wild Beer Co) and come into the mainstream. Images and demographics change and branding becomes artwork. I hope Jessica and Ray write a follow-up to this book documenting what came after but I suspect it would now have to be in 5 or 10 - year volumes as it’s now kicking off everywhere and at once. “Yeah, people are gonna want to know... how it all went down” – said one of the cast of the sci-fi film Cloverfield but the quote comes to me as I look back through Brew Britannia. Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey have written an objective and thoroughly researched history.
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on 24 June 2014
A thoroughly good read for anyone interested in the history of beer and brewing over the past 50 years. As a moderately active CAMRA member in my younger days it was interesting to read about the origins of CAMRA as a campaigning organisation. Tales of these early years are fleshed out with witty pen portraits of the people involved and of the people who have now taken forward 'craft brewing' in the UK. Recommended for anyone interested in beer in the UK.
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on 6 July 2014
A good read; I really enjoyed it. I don't consider myself a beer aficionado but you don't need to be to find this a fascinating read. I am interested in the 'craft' beer scene and this was a good introduction explaining how we got to where we are now. Starting about 50 years ago the book describes the formation of CAMRA and the subsequent developments in brewing in the UK that have led to the current 'craft' versus real ale controversy. What I think the book does particularly well is take what could be considered a rather dry historical account and bring it to life by describing the characters involved. The authors tease out the stories that have shaped brewing; I have learned a lot and found it an entertaining and informative read. Recommended for anyone who wants to know more about the UK beer scene.
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on 10 July 2015
An absolute must for those interested in and committed to British (and geographically wider) ales. A mix of history, social commentary, leavened with some technical detail, a bit of politics, and a lot of humour, this is a brilliant exposition of the fight back against 'the dark days', and the striving back to 'the light' for British beer.
Old enough to have been alive through the whole period covered, and been drinking during the majority of it, it comes close to feeling almost autobiographical: so many 'that's just how it was', 'I remember that' and 'spot on!' moments. There's also a follow up on Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog http://boakandbailey.com/2015/07/the-good-the-bad-the-murky-brew-britannia-one-year-on/ which takes the story another year forward.
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on 17 May 2015
An absolute belter of a book. I read the vast majority of it in one sitting. I would have finished it one go but they told me we had landed and I had to leave the plane. This book is nestled on my shelves next to Randy Mosher's Tasting Beer, Garrett Oliver's The Brewmaster's Table, Protz and AJT's Britain's Beer Revolution, The Oxford Companion to Beer, Italy Beer Country and many more classics. Or it will when the person I leant it to gives it back. Frankly if they don't I will shrug and buy another copy. The book is that good. Wished I made it to the signing - hey ho.
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on 26 December 2014
A fascinating and absorbing review of how British beer has developed since the dark days of the late 1960s. Impeccably researched, with pages of footnotes, yet an easy-to-read page-turner. The later chapters steer a careful course between CAMRA orthodoxy and the craft beer movement which as a60+ years old CAMRA member I found balanced and instructive even though i don't like craft beer much! -the authors show how the revolution of the late 60s/70s has become the new orthodoxy. Well done Jessica and Ray- if you have the slightest interest in beer buy this book!
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on 8 August 2014
This book is a fantastic journey through UK brewing, beers and brewers from the market conditions that created CAMRA to the craft beer scene of the present day. I've generally found that beer buffs tend to fall into one of two camps: the CAMRA clan or the Brewdog brigade and I think you'll find plenty to learn wherever your flavour passions lie.

It's impeccably researched but without being dry.

Thoroughly recommended.
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on 2 July 2014
Cracking read.

If you like beer, be it real ale or craft brews this explores it all with tact, class and decent detail. Some common misconceptions that I had or views I held through ignorance were cleared up through very good writing and concise explanations. It exactly paints the picture of the state of beer in Britain from 50 years ago to the present day in an informative and engaging way.

But this book!
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on 5 September 2014
A very comprehensive piece of research into the industry and its many characters. Like any good pub story it has humour and pathos, highs and lows and plenty of information. The interviews of the forefathers of the brewery revival in this country were particularly interesting and in some case amusing. This is an exhaustive work that will inform and entertain anyone interested in beer or brewing.
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