Gift Idea #2: The Oxford Companion to Beer

Let’s get this straight from the very beginning: The Oxford Companion to Beer is not the sacred tome of beer writing and knowledge. It is not infallible, as has been ably demonstrated by numerous commentators, and represents a starting or jumping off point more than an end in and of itself. Some of the author assignments are, to be generous, curious.

(Full disclosure: I was asked by the Oxford University Press to assist them in the editorial vetting process for this book, which I did. I was also invited to contribute, which I did not.)

That said, however, most of the people who crack the spine of the OCB are going to be people with a passing to moderate interest in beer. They are not going to be scholars of the Martyn Cornell school, even if he were to have a school, and if they wind up erroneously believing that the Imperial pint bottle is “a popular size” in Britain, or misunderstanding the role and timing of the Anglo-Saxon involvement in brewing in that same land, the world of beer and brewing is unlikely to suffer as a result. (Although admittedly some of the mistakes are more troubling, especially those which perpetuate myths some of us imagined were well dead and buried.)

To put it all another way, I have in my personal library a copy of the Oxford Companion to Food, which I view as a great book. Sometimes I pull it off the shelf and just flip idly through it, discovering points of interest here and there, but never have I taken it down to read it entry by entry. (In fact, when looking for a specific reference, I’m more likely to turn to the Larouse Gastronomique.) This is how I imagine most people wil use the OCB.

And used in that fashion, it is a fine book. Often as I have perused it myself, I have found that one entry leads me to cross-reference to another, and then a third, and so on. It’s fun to read this way, and as such will make a splendid Christmas gift. Just make sure the person you give it to also knows about the Commentary wiki that has been established by Mr. McL for the good of all.

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