Gen X at 40

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Kevin -

Hi Alan stumbled across your site tonight. Looks great and its a great read, I noticed you had already linked to me which was surprising to say the least. Next time your in Downtown Toronto let me know, we'll have a beer.

Alan -

Sounds good. With Mel there we could have a good pint at the Embassy or some other spot.

Martyn Cornell -

Thank you for giving me the luxury to respond at length to some well-meant criticism, a privilege authors almost never get.

First, I would say that the two Peters and I were trying to do rather different jobs in our takes on the history of British beer brewing and drinking: mine was meant to be much more specifically about the brewers and the beers they brewed, rather than a concentration on the social context in which beer was made and drunk. That is why you will find plenty of stuff in my book not only about the beers of the past, their likely strengths and tastes, but stuff on the rise and fall of the pub brewer, the crises that hit the family brewers in the 20th century and so on that you won't find in Haydon or Brown, and much less in my book about pubs. Theirs (particularly Haydon) are histories of pubs and drinking rather than beers, brewers and brewing. Both Haydon and Brown use their books for polemics about the state of the British beer and pub scene today: I wanted a pure history book. (I do the current analysis thing in another place, as editor of a yearly guide called Key Issues in the UK Pub and Bar Market.)

Second, I set out deliberately to ensure an accurate account, to destroy the dozens of myths that have encrusted the history of beer, with one chapter devoted to some of the worst errors. If I couldn't verify a story from original sources I wouldn't print it. You will see my version of the Great Meux Brewery Beer Flood of 1814 and Pete Brown's are rather different. He took his more spectacular account from Alan Eames's Secret Life of Beer, an American book that came out in 1995 (which, curiously, gives the wrong date for the flood, October 16 – it was October 17.) My facts came from contemporary issues of The Times newspaper and the Gentleman's Magazine. Where Eames got his version from I don't know, but none of the stuff about people being crushed in the rush for free beer, riots in a nearby hospital and the collapse of the floor at a temporary morgue appear in any British sources that I have been able to trace, either contemporary or more recent. There's an old journalistic joke about never letting the facts get in the way of a good story – unfortunately, a history book can't take that line.

Third I am proud that there is a mass of genuine, verifiable material in Beer: The Story of the Pint that has simply never appeared before in any book about brewing history (and certainly doesn't appear in Haydon or Brown): to mention just a few, Atrectus the brewer and the Vindolanda tablets; Henry VIII and his mobile breweries; John Leeson, the first brewer to rise to the aristocracy; street porters; the true nature of the beers exported to India from Britain (which included, contrary to popular belief, masses of porter alongside the pale ale); and the first histories of two important British beer styles, Burton Ale and AK.

Incidentally, I was aware of the Wind in the Willows reference to Burton Ale. In my original draft (cut from the final edition) I pointed out that in Arthur Rackham's illustrations to Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s tale, his drawing of the Christmas homecoming scene shows the bottles that Ratty found in Mole’s cellar bear labels that carried the red diamond of Bass Burton ale (as opposed to the red triangle of the pale ale labels). Bass No 1 barley wine still carries the same red diamond ?

Alan -

Thanks, Martyn, very much for commenting on my review. I was frustrated in what I wrote in that I both knew I knew less than you and a proper job would have been a very long piece - espcially knowing you might come back and have a read - a bit like returning before the judge who you appealed from.

One thing I very much liked about your work was the feeling that where I was reading a different version of a story that I was reading it for a purpose, that you had better information. I am 5 hours drive from my copy of your book this Sunday morning but I can recall the satisfactory descriptions of the early history of porter, for example, - which is one of the most myth ridden parts of English ale history as well as, as you point out, the India trade. I did miss a focus on mild which is an equally foggy topic in the literature: in the latest issue of <i>Brew Your OWn</i>, there is a article on mild which is so contradictory and so lightly written, my reaction is to dismiss it entirely.

I have a question for you. Many of the books like yours I have read are based on access to private brewery histories. Do you think a difference in the quality of history we seen in these books is based on access to these private brewery histories? Unfortunately, too many authors rely on other earlier authors rather than primary sources. Also, did you look at the massive legal reports series called <i>English Reports</i>? As a research lawyer, I often thought there would be a mass of incidental material on the brewing industry in that hundred-plus volume work, given the large percentage of total industrial output represented by brewing.

Again, if I have not said it firmly enough, buy this book if you like brewing. Buy the others, too, but as Martyn has just said, the focus is different as they all are from the others.