Amber, Gold & Black: The History of Britain's Great Beers Hardcover – Jun 1 2010
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Even though I thought I knew most things about beer and brewing (and I've even written a book about beer myself - The Home Brewer's Recipe Database), I learned several new (to me) facts from reading this book. If asked, I'd have assumed that "Burton Ale" was a strong pale ale such as Inde Coope Burton Ale but this book shows that I'd have been wrong. Not only is Burton Ale a stronger, darker brew than any pale ale but I've actually drank several examples of the style and thoroughly enjoyed them!
Martyn also dispels some often-repeated myths about the origins of Porter, IPA and other styles. This is very refreshing (pun intended). It is perhaps not surprising that many changes in brewing practice were driven by changes in government tax legislation.
The chapter on use of herbs in brewing is fascinating - I never realised how many of the weeds growing my garden contained hallucinogens! These probably added to the experience of drinking ales brewing using them during history. Brewers probably didn't stop brewing with herbs because of any issues with beer quality - it was because it was banned by the government. Hops were taxed, herbs weren't.
Although this book is focussed on British brewing history, there are some connection with other country's beers. Commercial examples of some styles have survived outside the UK even when they have become extinct in the parent country.
This book has been a huge inspiration for brewing my own beers with a better informed knowledge of the history of brewing that allows me to not only develop new recipes but also a story behind the recipe. I'm sure that this is going to become one of the most useful books in my brewing library and I'll refer to it frequently while thinking up recipe designs. I'm sure that this book will be of interest to anyone interested in beer and its history, even if they aren't a brewer. Highly recommended.
As a professional brewer myself, I'm happy to report that he's included enough technical information (i.e. gravities, etc.) to make the book very useful. At the same time, the information is just put out there and a layman can either skim past it, or use it as a general comparison.
Any home-brewer who has an interest in English ales should definitely look into it; and I'm hoping that it will help to champion a wide range of British beers that are currently falling below the radar for many as the United States (and others: Brew Dog & Mikkeler, for example) push towards and promote bigger and bolder, more overwhelming ales and lagers.
More importantly, he writes quite well and it reads smoothly, and without side-treks. He takes the reader down a clear track, covering all of the bases (some of which I was even unaware of - wheat beer, chapter 10!). It's easy and entertaining to the point that almost anyone who has any interest in beer might find it worthwhile.
In conclusion, I'll bow my head and take a moment of silence before I write this as I knew Michael myself, but I feel that Martyn Cornell has taken the baton that Michael Jackson handed him and he's running with it. Check out his blog as well - there's even more crazy stuff there!
I do not rate beers, not make them, but I love learning about various ideas and stories. This book is a definite reference material guide that you can read a chapter at a time, and ultimately learn about the basic mechanics of beers we drink.
Cornell is one of the key beer writers of our time and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend spending the $10 on book that you can refer back to when required. I referenced this book in writing my own e-book on Craft Beer Trends.