Monday 14 April 2014
Craft Beer: The 100 Best Breweries in the World
I really enjoyed reading Craig Heap and Chris Hall's first bookazine (a hybrid term I'm not entirely comfortable with) 'Craft Beer: The 365 Best Beers in the World' so when they emailed me to tell me they'd been commissioned for a second issue and they wanted me to be involved it took me a nanosecond to respond with a resounding HELL YES.
Total Ales was coming up to its second birthday, the thought of writing professionally was a pipe dream and yet here was an offer in my inbox to do just that. It was only after the adrenaline had left my system that I realised I had to write around 20000 words in just over a month on top of my full time job. I thought at the time that it didn't seem like too much work, after all my blog posts regularly exceed 1500 words. Luckily I had two weeks off over the Christmas break to really knuckle down and try and produce some of the best beer writing I was able to. At this point I really had no idea of the enormity of the task in hand.
Chris and Craig had also recruited fellow beer writers Ruari O'Toole and Leigh Linley. A year ago I had already met Chris a couple of times before as he also lives in London but we cemented our friendship at the 2013 European Beer Bloggers Conference where I had also met Craig and Leigh for the first time. I shall never forget that sweltering night in the Hanging Bat when the four of us and fellow attendee Gavin Frost could take no more beer and so were skulling ice cold gin and tonics in an effort to subdue the heat. Little did I know the future importance of that drunken evening in Edinburgh.
Planning started with a series of Skype meetings, first we hashed out the 100 breweries that would earn the 'best' title and make it into the mag. We could quite easily do another edition called 'The 100 Best Breweries' with a totally different set of 100 brewers but after much debate the final one hundred were chosen and locked in. We wanted the mag to provide a broad view of brewing around the world and not focus too heavily on one country, we also wanted it to be accessible and appeal to newcomers and hardened beer geeks alike and so we tailored the list in an attempt to create a universal appeal. The bulk of the mag would be split between what we saw as the five major brewing nations, Chris took Belgium, Craig the Czech Republic, Ruari got Germany and I got the USA. We had split the UK between the five of us with Leigh presiding over his area of expertise, Yorkshire. We then divided the rest of the world between us and I notably took on the task of tackling Mikkeller amongst others.
Each major section would showcase 16 breweries and choosing just 16 was almost impossible. I feel that the breweries we chose for each country are those that best represent their nation at this very point in time but there are many others I would of liked to have included. Breweries such as Crooked Stave, Hair of the Dog, Hill Farmstead, The Alchemist, Three Floyds and New Belgium are some notable absentees in the US section but I wanted to choose breweries that for the most part are accessible and with an exception being Russian River, have beers that are at least occasionally obtainable in the UK. I worried that we'd gone for too many Californian brewers and not enough from the North West or East Coast. I thought that Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn and Anchor had been done to death and didn't need another article telling their story but after my research I realised that no list of the 100 greatest breweries in the world would be complete without them and their incredible stories.
I started close to home with my article on Beavertown, a brewery I felt I already knew inside out and could recall the taste of their beers instantly. Then it dawned on me that I couldn't afford to make a single mistake and so every fact was painstakingly researched and checked. I was restricted to 300 words per brewery bar a couple chosen for longer features and this was another challenge entirely. I'm used to writing lengthy, stream-of-consciousness style blog posts but now I had to be sharper and more succinct than I'd ever been. 300 words felt like 3000 with two thirds of the time spent on each piece allocated to research and editing.
This would be fine, I thought, I had those two weeks off over Christmas but what I didn't realise at the time was that Christmas would get in the way of having any spare time to write. I was back at work on the second of January with much of the writing still to be done so essentially I was working two full time jobs at this point. It was challenging, exhausting but also exhilarating, I relished the challenge and spending so much time on a subject I loved. Eventually the January 11th deadline approached with a handful of articles still to have the finishing touches administered but thankfully we were not put under any pressure from the publisher and so had a couple more days to finish getting everything done.
Then was the waiting game. I had poured my heart and soul into around 30 articles that I felt were very different to my blog. I was constantly worried they would be rejected and that my writing was not good enough as we hardly heard from the publisher. We had no control over the layout or look of the finished product, we just sent words into the ether, hoping they'd come out on the other side looking half decent.
Then we reached the 27th of March, the date the magazine was due to hit the shops and... nothing. By this point I had convinced myself that it would never see the light of day but then I flicked on to Instagram only to see someone had the mag and had tagged me in the photo they'd taken of their copy. The magazine was out! I couldn't believe it, I was desperate to pick up a copy and see how it looked but it was days before I was able to find one. Eventually, I wandered into W.H. Smith in Kings Cross station and saw it on the shelf, I bought it, wandered out into the Station and felt a little like Charlie Bucket as he was about to open a Wonka Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow delight, praying that a golden ticket was inside the wrapper.
My hands were physically shaking with anticipation, I opened the cover and saw our five grinning faces on the first page. Then I delved deeper and discovered a beautifully laid out, easy to read beer magazine that I become increasingly proud of each time I flick through it. I genuinely think, despite similar style beer publications being available, that this is something both new and old fans of our favourite drink will enjoy. I particularly enjoyed reading the German and Czech sections as this is a real beery blind spot for me and I found it easy to navigate and very informative. I also like that because it's the work of five different authors each section has its own unique flavour so it doesn't become stagnant or boring. A tenner might seem steep for a magazine but it's pretty much ad free bar a couple of pages pushing other bookazines from Future, our publisher so it's a full on 168 page romp through some of the best breweries in the world.
If you've managed to pick up a copy, I'd love to hear what you think! Do you agree with the breweries we've chosen? If not who would you have like to have seen included instead? Either way I hope you enjoy reading it, it was a real pleasure having a hand in its creation and I hope it's something I can do again soon.
You can find the magazine in good newsagents and large supermarkets, or order it online with free shipping here: http://www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk/bookazines/lifestyle-bookazines/craft-beer-the-100-best-breweries-In-The-world/
Original photography by Dianne Tanner. For those curious, the beer in the glass is Camden Town Brewery Hells Lager.