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Journal Home > Archive > Issue Contents > Brew. Hist., 116, pp. 39-43

Book Reviews

A History of Beer and Brewing. by Ian S Hornsey.

Pp. xvi + 742, illus., index. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2003. £39.95. ISBN: 085404- 630-5.

Popular general histories of brewing have been a bit like London buses of late. You wait for ages (well since 1975 anyway1) and nothing appears, and then three come along nose to tail. First we had some largely trivial jottings by a former brewery marketing man2, then a more informed account by an established writer on beer3, now this hefty tome from Ian Hornsey. All three books were published over a period of six months at the end of 2003. Dr Hornsey's was the last to appear and is the most detailed if not the most lively of the three. Hornsey, is a sometime lecturer in microbiology and botany at what is Anglia Polytechnic University in Cambridge, who will be better known to BHS members as brewer at, and cofounder of, the Nethergate brewery in Clare, Suffolk. This is his second book on brewing; the first, a text-book4, came out in 1999 following his retirement from Nethergate.

The emphasis of this history of brewing is primarily on the evolution of beer styles and the development of brewing practice, but social and economic aspects of the trade are far from neglected. The account covers some 8000 years, charting the change in the role of beer from cult social drink through essential element of diet, and now branded recreational beverage. A distinctive feature of the book is the use of the thick bundles of extracts taken from early brewing literature. Hornsey quotes at length from many texts on brewing from the 17th to the 19th century and has the first-hand knowledge to appreciate and explain their significance to evolving practice. To that extent the work acts as a source book as well as a history, although more rigorous documentation would have further enhanced its usefulness in both respects.

Not surprisingly in view of the author's background, the influence of science on practice receives due attention. Thus, Pasteur features prominently, the work of James Prescott Joule on thermodynamics while carrying out his day job at the family brewery is discussed at length, and the post Second World War explosion of activity in brewing research is (not entirely accurately) outlined. But the real strength of the book is in its coverage of brewing in antiquity and the beer styles of Mediaeval Europe. These chapters take up nearly half the book and in them Hornsey sifts the historical evidence with skill and care to give a comprehensive picture of pre-industrial brewing. The more recent past is less consistently covered and the geographical span of the book becomes increasingly restricted to a history of brewing in Britain. One gets the impression that the author rather runs out of steam by the time he reaches the 20th century - perhaps understandably, having by then written nearly 600 pages. But Hornsey still manages to give us a flavour of the changes in beer styles and production methods, the growth in scientific understanding of the brewing process, the altered drinking habits and the radical restructuring of the industry over the last 100 years or so. In all, a welcome addition to the beer enthusiast's library and a point of contact for a wider readership.


H.S.Corran. A History of Brewing. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1975.


Pete Brown. Man walks into a pub. A sociable history of beer. London: Macmillan, 2003.


Martyn Cornell. Beer: The Story Of The Pint. London: Headline, 2003.


I.S. Hornsey. Brewing. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry, 1999.

Ray Anderson


Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History. An International Encyclopedia. by Jack S Blocker Jr., David M Fahey and Ian R Tyrell, editors.

Pp xlv + 758., illus., index, 2 volumes. Santa Barbara: ABC CLIO, 2003. $185 print, $200 ebook, $290 both. ISBN 1-57607-833-7 book and ISBN 1-57607-834-5 ebook.

This is not really a review, more a means of making members aware of the existence of a potential resource. As I have written a dozen of the articles in the encyclopaedia it would hardly be appropriate for me to review it. So instead here are some extracts from the publisher's blurb to give an idea of the contents:

“Readers will learn about attitudes toward alcohol in various countries and religions, traditional drinking occasions and rituals, and cultural images of drinking and temperance. Features include:

This unique resource collects the work of some 170 scholars……Now, readers have a one- stop reference that covers national and cultural borders and gathers perspectives of producers, prohibitionists and scholars.” The only comments I would make, are:

  1. Typical of books on drink which originate in the US, the encyclopaedia has rather more to say on temperance than BHS members are likely to want to know.
  2. Despite a brave attempt at being ‘international’, the content of the encyclopaedia has a predominantly Anglo-American slant. When categorised by geographical area one third of entries are about the British Isles and another third about US/Canada.
  3. About 10% of the entries are specifically related to beer or breweries, with many other references in articles on countries, religions, cultural aspects of drink etc.
  4. Few, if any, BHS members will want to buy the book at the exorbitant asking price, which is I am afraid typical of academic texts, but it may be possible to get a look at it through the library service.

Note: versions of this review have appeared in Microbiology Today and in Ambix, the Journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry.

Ray Anderson


The Town & Country Brewery Book or Every Man His Own Brewer and Cellerman, Maltster and Hop Merchant, by W Brande, Maltster and Brewer.

A 2003 reprint of a c.1830 book. ISBN 0 9718073 2 9 Published by Raudins Publishing. 220mm x 150mm; b & w no illus; hardback.

This is a modern reproduction of a 19th century book. The original was written, according to the Author, because: “There are not brewery recipes of sufficient extent, with directions sufficiently varied to answer the same views as in cookery, to entitle any other work hitherto extant to the appellation of a brewer book”.

His aim, in modern slang, was “to do a Delia” for his 1830s contemporaries. He goes on to say, “The art and mysteries of the brewhouse are fully and clearly explained”, he reassures us. But from our vantage point some 170 years later, we can see that accuracy in ingredients and temperatures left things far from “clearly explained”. Terms like “scalding hot to the back of the hand” and “let it now stand until you can just bear your finger in it”. And “run 10 bushels of malt leisurely through it”. But as that last quotes shows, accurate measurements were starting to show themselves and the book is liberally spread with references to tablespoons, bushels, pounds and degrees. That's what makes this book a fascinating read – the unfair and unjust comparisons between the 21st century and 1830.

However, in a time of national and global brands, it is sobering to reflect upon the beer types we have lost. There are recipes included for Scurvy-grass ale, Dorchester Beer, Norfolk Beer, Rochester Beer and Nottingham sparkling ale. There is even “An Old Welsh Woman's method”.

This book reflects a lifetime's experience in brewing, gained I would imagine, from trial and error and listening. For its time it was as technical and expansive as any on-line documentation and technical manual of our day. All in all a fine presentation of a book who's intentions are honourable. It should be used as a reference point in the technical evolution of brewing.

Ken Smith


The New Imbiber – a bi-monthly magazine

24 pp; A5; b & w illus; softback; £1.50

This handy little periodical revives the slot previously occupied by The Imbiber, which ceased publication somewhat suddenly in Autumn 2003.

As the new editor says, news of new brews and new breweries is more rapidly presented via the internet. He feels that the role of the magazine has altered somewhat. How it manages these changes and how its content reflect what readers needs only time will tell. Currently its contents are as you might expect. There are pub photos, pub crawls, brewery news and the changes to the beers – both adds and deletes. Pretty much all I might want to know about he changes in the new brewery scene.

Personally, I found it a valuable read and well worth the cover price for its information content alone. I think the editor need not worry about the internet replacing them. This little book can be carted about and read anywhere. It is useful to have on the road and takes up little space. The internet, even in these days of portable computing, has not got that handy.

Ken Smith


British Brewing by Gavin D Smith

Published by Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0 7509 3376 3; 144 pp; 170mm x 245mm; b & w illus; softback; £12.99

This is another in the popular picture book series that looks at the country in old photographs. This edition takes as its theme the trade of the brewer and uses images to tell us the story of how it was back then. There is a history of beer but it covers much of what we know already.

The style is mainly pictorial with captions. However, the author takes the opportunity to use this format well and many of them are very detailed and comprehensive.

I was disappointed in the book despite it being on a topic very dear to my heart. There was nothing new to see. I have several of the photos in my own collection and many other have already been used by authors who's books you will probably already have in your collections. It is nice to have them in one spot. We've even used some in them in our own books, namely Essex Northants. I was particularly disappointed to find that the rear cover was identical to the cover photo used by Helen Osborn in her history of Young's – even down to the sepia tint.

So if you already own and enjoyed Ian Peaty's English Breweries in Old Photographs, then treat this as volume 2. You will have to ignore the fact they some of the images used by Ian reappear in this volume.

Ken Smith


Copyright © 2004 the Brewery History Society