Two books I return to again and again are The World Guide to Beer and Beer Companion, both by Michael Jackson. Comprehensive in scope and lyrical in style, they are classics and also still relevant now. But the world-reaching beer books needed updating to show how much and how fast beer continues to evolve.
Enter Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb with The World Atlas of Beer. It’s a sumptuous snapshot of the world of beer as it is today, taking the work of Michael Jackson and flinging it forward. It’s kept the history, the classic styles and beers, the photos of pouring a perfect pils, tables to help you pair beer and food better, the focus on different countries and close looks at important styles, and then the Atlas gives new insights into how beer is changing and how things are right now.
I like what Beaumont and Webb have done. They achieve a completeness of information by being concise, informative and current, their style is direct and simple by using a similar breezily informative tone that Jackson employed so wonderful, it’s an omniscient approach that’s carefully selected and the information they give us is delivered in a way which makes it easy to understand but it’s also truth-worthy and authoritative.
The joy of the book is in the way it looks, the maps, the beautiful photos – it’s a travel book as much as a ‘drink me’ book – as well as the actual information on the page which is insightful and interesting. Perhaps more than anything else, it makes me want to know more and while I want more on the pages in front of me (just more pages, more words, more beers), it also works like a gentle nudge out into the world where I can find these things out for myself: it gives a sip which you can chase and turn into a gulp.
One thing that feels evident is that this is the first of many evolutions of the Atlas. This one modernises what Michael Jackson wasn’t able to modernise himself. The next, I imagine, will jump it forward and put more attention on newer beer styles alongside classics – for example, biere de garde gets a spread but IPA, America’s most popular craft beer style, does not. Beer is always changing and evolving and the words written about it always need to be updated alongside the liquid – the Atlas has the ability to be that book which is always ‘current’.
The World Atlas of Beer is a reverential development of Michael Jackson’s books but it also does more than merely polishing up Jackson’s work – like reading The World Guide to Beer and then Beer Companion, the Atlas moves beer seamlessly forward with a new look at world beer. Everyone who likes beer should buy it.