Wednesday 16 December 2009

McFarland's standard is turbid*

I've now finished Ben McFarland's The World's Best Beers. It's really opened my eyes to how much my international beer knowledge was behind the times. It's not good enough to have read Michael Jackson's stuff, things have moved on. I've got loads more beers I need to seek out now, and many from countries I wouldn't have expected. I was also pleased to see that Alley Kat's Olde Deuteronomy, made by my mate Brian Westcott, is rated as the best beer in Canada.

Beer tasting notes aside there are, as I pointed out earlier, a lot of factual errors in the book. I'm going to ignore the minor niggles, like not knowing his beer purity laws properly, so I've more time to rant on about the things that really got on my goat.

When talking about the (excellent) lambic brewery Cantillon he says: "Before white-coated boffins with spectacles, clipboards, pipettes and brains the size of Luxembourg discovered pasteurization in 1860, all beer was made using spontaneous fermentation". This really got me foaming at the mouth.

For starters, Pasteurization was not 'discovered' by some un-named stereotypical lab geeks. The bloke who invented it is actually quite well known and if you can't remember who he is the clue's in the name - Yes, that's right Pasteurization was invented by Louis Pasteur. The bigger point he seems to have missed entirely is that Pasteurization has nothing at all to do with pitching yeast into wort instead of waiting for spontaneous fermentation. Ben McFarland has clearly got confused at some point.

Pasteurization was invented in 1864, but by having a quick peek at what Horace Brown had to say we can see that it was in 1860 that Louis Pasteur concluded that it is living yeast cells which cause fermentation of wort to take place. Perhaps this is what Ben McFarland meant to say.

The other part that I can't resist ranting about was an article on Pilsner Urquell. The general tone of the article is like advertisement from the brewery about how wonderful and unchanged the beer is, which just doesn't fit in with my own experiences. I can't produce any scientific evidence for how Pilsner Urquell has changed but I do know I used to like it and now I don't. I also know it's now brewed under licence in other countries which isn't mentioned in the article.

When he says though that [Prior to Pilsner Urquell being brewed in 1842] "all beer was dark, cloudy and, more often than not, a little lousy." and "all beer was darker than a coal miner's worst nightmare" I do know for a fact this is rubbish, and so should he.

In the same article he mentions that the person who developed Pilsner Urquell studied the latest English malting techniques. I'm not quite sure what he thought brewers in Britain were doing with their pale malt if they weren't brewing with it (making horlicks?) but British brewers were making pale ales, such as India Pale Ales, long before pilsners were invented and a fellow beer blogger has gone on at great length about earlier pale ales here.

I did enjoy the book but as a hardened beer nerd the errors in it really stood out to me. If any other beer writers out there would like a professionally qualified brewer to check their work before publication I'll be happy to review it for my usual fee.

*This in fact a microbiologist's in-joke. I don't just do lavatory humour, I can do laboratory humour too!

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