A toast to beer, from Plato to Frank Zappa

A review of Beer: A Global History. Reading about it is second in pleasure only to drinking it

16 August 2014

9:00 AM

16 August 2014

9:00 AM

‘He was a wise man who invented beer,’ said Plato, although I imagine he had changed his mind by the following morning. Beer: A Global History (Reaktion, £9.99, Spectator Bookshop, £9.49) is the latest addition to ‘The Edible Series’, following Cake, Caviar, Offal, Wine, Soup and, rather shockingly, Hot Dog into the catalogue.

As reading about food and drink is second only in pleasure to consuming it, this might be one of the most ingenious publishing ideas of all time. Gavin D. Smith, author of several books ‘on drink-related topics’, traces brewing history from the neolithic peoples of Asia Minor to beer’s current pre-eminence: global consumption has increased every year for 25 years in a row.

Ancient Babylonian brewers, if their beer was deemed of inferior quality, would be sentenced to death by drowning. Elizabeth I was a devoted ale drinker and ‘supposedly could outdrink any man in her court’. Ale was sold at the Globe Theatre and used to douse the flames when it burned down.

In among the beer stories, beer songs and beer recipes, Smith also provides many excellent photos of glasses of beer. As Frank Zappa said, ‘You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.’ As do I after finishing this splendid little book.

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  • Freedom

    Beer is wonderful for the soul but bad for the gut. Which is why these days I’m drinking Cava.

  • Kitty MLB

    G K Chesterton said : Let a man walk ten miles steadily on a hot summer’s day along a dusty road and he’ll soon discover why beer was invented.
    And James Joyce said: The sacred pint alone can unbind the tongue.
    Oh come on boys, you’re making it sound like the nectar of the Gods- which I’d like to
    point out is wine. Of which I am fond of A chilled white wine in the summer and an
    earthy red during the winter, and I’m quite partial to the odd G&T.
    But quite honestly if your very thirsty a big glass of water with Ice and a slice of lime
    or maybe a pimms. Although I like cold light Italian beer, the dark warm stuff beloved
    of England – I really don’t get.
    And Mr Joyce may find that it’s alcohol in general that unbinds the tongue, regardless
    of what that alcohol may be.