Craft Beer: 100 Best Breweries in the World, published by Future Publishing and written by Chris Hall, Matt Curtis, Leigh Linley, Ruari O’Toole and Craig Heap recently hit the shelves. 100 Best Breweries. 100. Best. Let’s think about that for a moment.
What is a best brewery, exactly? What does it look like? Can you touch it? Would you know one if you saw one? Sure you would. Sit yourself down with a pen and paper, a few beers, and you could easily write a list of the best 100 breweries. That’s your list. Now show it to your friend, compare with his list. Suddenly bottles are being smashed against table edges, beer mats are being throwing like shurikens and there’s 100 best body pieces flying across the bar.
The original writing team was eight strong. Only five of us survived that initial putting together of the list. That was Day One of the project. Craft Wankers were quickly beginning to look like an endangered species. We knew we had to do something if we wanted to see it through. So we begged. We got on our hands and knees.
“Please, Mr Future Publishing, you gotta call it something else, like 100 Very Nice breweries!”
Mr Future leered down from behind his desk and spoke in that way 1930s gangsters do, “Nyah, boys! “Nice” don’t shift the copies, see! It’s gotta be “best”, see! You just write it, we knows what’s best for the publishing side!”
The division of Future Publishing that handled bookazines is now sadly out of business. At night I wonder if we killed them, with our relentless copy about obscure breweries in China that they then had to sub-edit and source imagery for. I heard a rumour they lost a photographer out in the Czech Republic. It’s a curious thing, print media, a lumbering beast with a slow turning circle. So slow, in fact, there are breweries that have come so far in such a short space of time that I questionif I would have put them forward had we done the project this month, instead of a few months ago.
Whatever the hell breweries are on it, it’s an interesting list. When Chris and I did “365 Best Beers”, we knew not everyone would agree with all of our choices. Still, when there’s 365 of them and you see one you don’t like, you can just shrug it off and move on.
Breweries, however, are a whole different kettle of hops. These are the gleaming, steaming furnaces of sweat and toil, where brewer’s dreams are poured into mash tuns and raw hope is fermented into liquid victory or bland defeat. Everyone has a brewery they love, that one brewery that never fails to turn out beers that always sing sweet songs to our tongues, and woe betide anyone who puts together a list of best breweries that doesn’t include it. (The opposite is also true, of course; we all have that one brewery we hate, who exist solely to assault our palates with beer that tastes like Satan’s froth, and woe betide anyone who puts together a ‘Best Breweries’ list that includes that brewery!)
So, if you read 100 Best Breweries, you’re going to react in one of three ways, probably:
1) “I love that brewery!” You like our choice. You love [insert brewery name here], you think [insert brewery beer here] is one of the best beers you’ve ever had. Go us, go you, and go [insert brewery name here]! High five.
2) “What?! You chose tweedle-dee brewery! But what about tweedle-dum brewery! They’re clearly far superior!” Before the red mist can settle you’re abusing us on Twitter for our crimes against beer. That’s cool (@craigheap by the way).
3) “Huh, never heard of that brewery”.
The third point is the most telling, I think. With over 1,100 breweries in the UK, and over 2,500 breweries in the US, let alone the untold thousands worldwide, compiling a list of 100 of the best breweries (that everyone can agree on?!) actually seems impossible when you take a step back.
Why not just do 100 Best UK breweries? Oh, the publisher intends for this to be sold in the US & UK? Okay, split the difference, 50 British and 50 American breweries? Oh, the publisher received angry calls at 4am from rowdy Australians the last time they did that (how did 365 Best Beers end up in Australia?) – fair enough. 100 Best Breweries from across the world it is then.
With the global scale as a template, it then came down to representation of significant beer drinking and producing nations. The main areas we drew from fell to Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain and the United States; after that, we began to cast our eye to hotspots and emerging regions. We discovered plenty of piping hot craft beer scenes that were achingly close but not quite there yet. If this bookazine-thingy had been written just a little later down the line you can bet that list would be radically different in order to reflect the evolving form of the global beer scene.
So forget the title. Relax. They’re just some very nice breweries. Together they form a sort of mosaic of the world beer scene – displaying where it has come from, where it is now, and where it’s going in the near future.
If an agonising, blow by blow account of how this sort of thing is put together interests you, then head over to Matt Curtis’ blog post, while Chris Hall’s post actually tells you more about what you can find inside it. It was a pleasure working alongside Matt, Ruari and Leigh, as well as returning to work with Chris, who also felt my relief at having some of the pressure taken off. That first project very nearly put me in the hospital…
100 Best Very Nice Breweries is available from WH Smiths and online. For the money you would do better with the print version, it may be a dying art form but that’s exactly what it looks like – art. But hey, I’m sure it looks great in hi-def on your iPads and whatnot. Finally, feel free to send in your own “Best 100 Breweries” lists – if we can all put down the broken bottles for just a moment, it can be quite a fun exercise while enjoying a few beers. Email them, post them here in the comments, or relentlessly bombard my Twitter stream – one Tweet per brewery – until I go mad. Better yet, drive past on a moped shouting through a megaphone like that dude from Modern Toss. It’s all good. Enjoy.