The book purports to take the reader on an exploration of the cultural and technological differences between wine and beer. Charles Bamforth, the author, is the Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences at the University of California, Davis – and while he is up front about this, this does rather give you an idea about the bias the book might, and indeed, does, take.
I consider myself enthusiastic about both beer and wine: I run a wine education business, and while studying the Professional Certificate in Gastronomy wrote my final essay on stout and porter. When I lived in England I could often be found at beer (of the real ale type) festivals or in one of my locals, usually trying out something new. So I was really hoping for an even handed and relatively detailed investigation.
Unfortunately, this was not to be found and I suspect that my open minded approach to the book was lost on page xi (that’s right – in the preface): “… the decline of locally traditional values in a proud industry (the dearth of cask ale in London) …”. Bamforth arrives at this conclusion after a single day in London and a visit to two pubs. At the time this book was published (2008) I was still in the position of making relatively frequent trips to London and at no point did I struggle to find a decent selection of beers, or, indeed, a decent pint. Obviously, I was not wandering into any old High Street chain pub (although Wetherspoons are generally reliable for a good selection of well kept ales) but I was not doing any more research than I would do were I looking for a good restaurant for dinner.
It’s a shame that this type of glibness really pervades much of the book. There are sections which show potential: the chapter “The Healthfulness* of Wine and Beer” could have been really interesting but lacked the rigour and objectivity such an important subject needs and deserves.
Overall, I was disappointed by this book. I’m glad I read it (it’s not long!) but I did think it could have offered so much more.
* I loathe this word with a passion.