Beer has a story that stretches back to ancient history, reaches into nearly every country on earth, and, in the last couple of decades or so, has entered an incredible new chapter that celebrates standing traditions, resurrects a few nearly forgotten ones, and forges ahead into new territory. That’s a lot to keep up with, but the third edition of “World Atlas of Beer” manages to boil the current state of brews down into a 272-page, handsome hardcover volume.
Inside this award-winning work is a curated list of the essential beers and beer places throughout the planet, broken down by region, country, or even city—from Albania to Zimbabwe, from Addis Ababa to Zagreb. Scattered throughout are useful and fascinating elements: A beer tour map of Tokyo and Australia’s Ovens River Valley, profiles of notable breweries and brewmasters, notes on Dutch beer bar etiquette and Amazonian-wood aging, a look at the state of hops, and explanations of the particular origins of different styles. There’s also guidance for buying, pouring, pairing, storing, and more. Whether you’re traveling around the world or the import section of your local liquor store, this compendium will guide your journey.
The two authors are both masters in the field of beer writing: Stephen Beaumont, based in Toronto, Canada, has a career spanning more than three decades with 14 other books and hundreds of beer and beverage articles to his name. Tim Webb, who lives in Bristol, England, has been at this for 40 years, authoring seven books, including eight editions of “Good Beer Guide Belgium,” and serving six years on the board of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), where he ran Britain’s national beer fest.
I had the chance to ask Stephen Beaumont a few questions over email about their latest edition, how it came to be, and where it’s gone with the latest update.
The Epoch Times: How long did it take you and Tim to compile the first edition? How much travel was involved?
Stephen Beaumont: We began our research in 2010 and published the first edition in 2012. Each one is a colossal project, so we basically begin researching the next edition as soon as we finish the current one! Prior to the pandemic, Tim and I both traveled more-or-less constantly—my typical year sees me on the road for a combined total of three to four months—and funnily enough we seem to meet up on the road more often than we do in each other’s home countries.
For the very first Atlas, we spent about an hour on the phone dividing up the world before we even got going. Over the years since, that division has changed depending on where one of us might travel before the other.
The Epoch Times: How often do you need to update and what determines that?
Mr. Beaumont: We update on a fairly regular four-year basis, which is the result of discussions between the two of us and the publisher. This year’s is a bit different because publication was delayed in North America, but the upside is that the gap allowed us to update for the effects of the pandemic well into this year. When we started on this Atlas, we realized that we would pretty much need to reinvent the book, so aside from a few bits and pieces, [the third edition] is pretty much an all-original work.
The Epoch Times: What has changed since the first edition—both in the book and in the beer world?
Mr. Beaumont: Well, obviously a lot has changed even before COVID. That first edition highlighted somewhere around 35 countries, while this new one covers over 120! So there is a LOT more info than was contained in the last edition.
When I started going to Mexico to investigate their nascent craft beer scene in 2012, it was possible to taste something from virtually every craft brewery in the country over the course of just a couple of days. In the new Atlas, we are pleased to report that the number of breweries in the country has likely eclipsed 1,000 and their output is growing exponentially year-to-year. More importantly, they are among the world’s most creative brewers and make Mexico one of the most exciting beer scenes in the world today, perhaps the most exciting.
Take, for instance, the Mexican Imperial Stout, a style born in Mexico but adopted by a multitude of American craft brewers, almost none of whom are able to infuse classic mole flavors into strong beer as skillfully as do the Mexican originators. When I asked one Mexican brewer about the style, he opined that most Mexican craft brewers have moved along to new challenges, such as conditioning IPAs in tequila or mezcal barrels or fermenting with indigenous yeasts, but that when the Americans are ready to come down and learn, Mexican brewers will be more than happy to show them how the style is done properly.
The Epoch Times: What surprised you in your research?
Mr. Beaumont: There are always surprises when putting this book together, whether it’s an archaic style that has been resurrected somewhere or a curious bit of info that one of us has uncovered. A couple of interesting things that come to mind in this edition are how the pandemic made Argentinian breweries more profitable by forcing them to can rather than keg their beers, and how the emerging beer power in Europe in terms of brewery numbers is France!
I was quite taken by the new Brazilian beer style known as the Catharina Sour. At its essence a fruited kettle sour, the Brazilian take is fuller-bodied than most North American equivalents, with an astonishingly fresh fruitiness that often comes from unique Amazonian fruits, or combinations of flavors, such as pineapple and mint, which seem somewhat suspect, but complement each other wonderfully in the beer.
The Epoch Times: How does one boil down such a massive topic into one book? Were there some difficult choices made?
Mr. Beaumont: Honestly, we could have made this book two or three times its size, so much has gone on in beer globally over the last five years. But we write economically in order to cram in as much useful information as possible, a process Tim has referred to as “writing in haiku.”
The Epoch Times: If you were forced to choose a favorite destination, what would it be and why?
Mr. Beaumont: Obviously, I’ve had a lot of time to think about that over the past year-and-a-half! The problem is that I will think one day about how much I’d love to get back to Germany, then read something online that reminds me of how dynamic and exciting the beer scene is today in Mexico or Brazil, and then get an email from Matt Kirkegaard in Australia telling me about something new and thrilling there or an invitation to judge beers in Belgium that gets my travel juices flowing. Basically, I just want to get back on the road tasting beers and talking with brewers and bartenders and fellow beer writers. There’s nothing like it!
“World Atlas of Beer, 3rd edition” is published by Octopus Books and will be released on November 2, 2021, in hardcover and eBook.