A Brief Note on The Oxford Companion to Beer

First off, let me say that I have been far too busy of late, and too ill at present, to give The Oxford Companion to Beer the attention it deserves. So, in this post, I will not presume to offer a verdict as to whether it is good or bad, accurate or lacking. This is commentary on the commentary, pure and simple.

Latest to wade in is Roger Protz, a fine man and a pioneering and remarkably prolific beer writer. In The Publican’s Morning Advertiser, (UPDATE: The post has since been removed. See comment by Alan McLeod below.) he writes:

For beer lovers with a passion for style, this is more a treasure trove than an encyclopedia.


The Companion is hard to put down. Cross-referencing ensures a quick glance at one item will inexorably draw you into many other related sections. It’s a joy to read and has already widened my knowledge and appreciation of the subject.

Fair enough. As I said, I have not had the chance to indulge fully in the book and so have no opinion to counter Rogers. Or that of Pete Brown, at just-drinks.com, or Adrian Tierney-Jones, both of whom I number among the best beverage writers of my generation.

But then Roger continues:

In spite of this, the bloggerati have come piling in, damning the book and some saying it should be withdrawn. How they must wish they had been around in the 1930s when book-burning was in vogue.

(Martyn) Cornell expresses his thanks to a Canadian blogger, Alan McLeod, who has “started a repository for errors” in the Oxford Companion. What sad people. It’s an established fact in publishing that most encyclopedias and dictionaries contain errors that are corrected for subsequent editions. I’m told the Oxford Companion to Wine had around 1,000 errors in the first edition.

And now I must call foul! Every person mentioned thus far in this post, with the exception of McLeod, contributed to the book, including its perhaps harshest critic, Martyn Cornell. And while I understand fully the desire to defend a book the making of which one was involved in, I have a great problem with referring to those who would wish to correct the record as “sad people.” “Fastidious people,” perhaps, or even “sufferers of OCD,” if one wishes to go impolitic, but hardly “sad.”

This is a much different world that it was when The Oxford Companion to Wine was first published, with information, accurate and otherwise, at a person’s fingertips 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some of the errors Martyn has pointed out are minutia, I will admit even if he may not, but pointing them out as present in a book of this scholastic heft is commendable, I would think. And McLeod’s interest in establishing a wiki to help rectify the errors and omissions is a nothing if not a laudable pursuit, particularly since it is an unpaid one.

I’ve written it before and now I shall write it again: The dialogue that has followed the publication of The Oxford Companion to Beer marks, as does the book itself, the maturing of the craft brewing industry and those who follow it. The accolades and the criticism and the controversy are all good, and signs that we, the global community of beer aficionados, are finally on the right path. As a veteran writer in this field, Roger should recognize this.

14 Replies to “A Brief Note on The Oxford Companion to Beer”

  1. They seem to have removed foul Protz’s column from the web version. I had contacted the publisher about the item as a unfounded personal and incredibly offensive slur against my reputation. Still waiting on a reply but maybe that was it.

  2. Nothing to disagree with you on here, Steve. While I am a touch defensive given how my entries seem to have taking much of the brunt of the factual savaging, I’ve already said to Alan that I think his wiki is highly commendable. Even Garrett Oliver, who edited the first edition, welcomes it, as it surely makes the task of correcting errors in the second edition much more straightforward.

    Interesting point on how the debate following publication marks the maturing of the beer world – I’d hazard it has brought out much of the best – and worst – in this rapidly developing discipline.

    1. Adolescence is all about the best and worst, isn’t it, Pete? Well observed.

      BTW, I wouldn’t worry about getting defensive, if I were you. Hell, even Ron Pattinson says that you’re one of his favourite writers!

  3. I agree with your support and that of Garrett, Pete, which made Protz’s stunned suggestion that (he is such a tool) I am a Nazi sympathizer even more so bizarre. Further, much of what is going on at the wiki (5% entries have comment now) are additions and elaborations, not blunt refutations. Much more interesting that way.

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