Saturday, 21 November 2009

World's Best Beers by Ben McFarland

The lovely Lisa bought me this book recently. It's subtitled 1000 unmissable brews from Portland to Prague so I think seasoned beer nerds will know very well the type of book it is. I'm trying to read it from start to finish but I keep flicking forward to check out some of the beers he's included from around the world. It looks like a good selection and I'm sure it will give me some new ideas for beers to seek out.

The author has won Beer Writer of the Year twice, which is slightly embarrassingly for a beer nerd like me as I've never heard of the bloke before! If I'd won Beer Writer of the Year I'd be slightly embarrassed about parts of this book though. In the opening chapters the author displays a surprising lack of beer nerdiness technical and historical knowledge:

  • The opening line in the history section saying that beer is the oldest fermented drink in the world is straight out of wikipedia and clearly nonsense. The malting and mashing process required to get fermentable sugars from grains is a lot more involved than simply getting juice from a fruit. Recently another beer blogger comprehensively demolished the idea that beer could have been the first alcoholic drink. 

  • The box on International Bitterness Units (IBUs) says: "An IBU rating is a complex calculation that takes weight of hops, alpha acids, wort and alcohol strength into account". In fact IBUs are simply the amount of isomerised alpha acids present in the beer expressed in milligrams per litre i.e. 1mg/l of isomerise alpha acid = 1IBU. How many IBUs you'll get in a beer is complicated by factors like the weight of hops, their alpha acid percentage, the strength of the wort and the length of the boil but how the IBUs are calculated is not at all complicated.

  • In the section on mashing he says: "For less potent beers the mash is often sparged (sprayed with water) to achieve the right level of sugar content". It would be more accurate to say for just about every beer the mash is sparged.

  • In the yeast section lager yeast is called Saccharomyces carlsbergensis despite the fact it has been renamed several times in recent years and is currently called Saccharomyces pastorianus.
I could go on, in fact I probably will. There's nothing like using the internet to point out other peoples mistakes!

The better beer writers, perhaps not surprisingly, seem to have backgrounds in journalism and I would assume this is the case with Ben McFarland. When they start talking about technical stuff though they should really check their facts with someone who knows what they're talking about before publishing.


  1. Seen that book just the other week looked interesting. Ben Is also heavily featured in Beers of the world magazine writing on beer and food. Young bloke.

  2. I think Ben is a great writer. I've nearly bought this so many times. Payday soon so I'll pick it up. I can overlook a few inaccuracies as the book looks good.

  3. The beers from around the world part (which is about 70%) of the book looks excellent. I've currently got to Belgium and I can see there's loads I need to get hold of, things have definitely moved on in recent years. I can't wait until I get to the US section.

    I will have to rant on some more about his technical errors though ...