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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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