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What's new?

What's new?
Pledges for my new beer book - Miracle Brew - are now closed. Book is out 1st June and available for pre-order here.
I've been accused of attacking cask ale. Here's what I actually wrote - decide for yourselves.
News about my next books!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Why CAMRA's Pub of the Year should be yours too

On Tuesday the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) announced that the winner of its National Pub of the Year competition was the Salutation Inn in Gloucestershire. After visiting last October, I completely concur.

What makes the perfect pub? It's the subject of one of my favourite ever pieces of writing. In fact you could write a very good book about it. (Perhaps even more than one - watch this space).

There are, of course, many potential factors. But usually, at the heart of it, are the people who run it. The best local breweries, most stunning views or finest Victorian architecture count for nothing if the people in charge are just going through the motions.

It's not easy running a pub. You have to be great with people, and you have to be prepared to work long hours. To really shine, you either need the energy of youth, or the budget for a team to supply it. And the part that doesn't get talked about often enough - it's a business. You have to be a really good businessman - an exceptional entrepreneur. You need to always be looking for that new idea that will appeal to people and give them reasons to cross the threshold. Oh yes, and you've got to be really good at keeping beer in perfect condition.

Peter Tiley ticks all these boxes, and one final one - he absolutely loves what he does.

I met him when he invited me down to the Sally as part of the Apple Day celebrations last year. It's the kind of pub you don't want to leave. I wrote about that visit here, in my column for the Publican's Morning Advertiser.

Congratulations Pete and all at the Sally.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Announcing my next beer book: "What are you drinking?" No really, do you know?

Following my announcement last night about my new crowdfunded beer book project, we go live today - and here's the idea I'm working on.

Beer is many things.

It’s often cold, always wet, usually refreshing. It’s democratic, straightforward and accessible, but can also be complex and challenging. It can be blond, brown, red or black, strong or weak, light and spritzy, creamy and zesty, rich and fruity, chocolatey, coffee-like, spicy, piney, citrusy, caramelised, sour, or even salty.

Beer’s unique balance of exciting diversity and easy-going approachability have made it the most widely drunk alcoholic beverage on the planet. Only water and tea are more popular. In the twenty-first century, the global craft beer revolution is spreading beer’s astonishing palate of flavours and styles to people who previously thought it could only be fizzy and tasteless.

But behind all the excitement around the renaissance of the world’s most popular alcoholic drink lies an extraordinary fact: very few beer drinkers have much of an idea of what their beverage is made of.

Do you?

We all know that wine is made by fermenting pressed juice from grapes, and cider comes from doing something similar to apples. But what creates the flavour and texture of beer? Do you know what makes it that colour, or where the alcohol comes from? What creates that inimitable heady rush on the nose or that crisp, dry finish at the back of the throat?

For all its straightforwardness, beer is a complex drink. The typical drinker might mumble vaguely about hops without having any clear idea of what hops are, or they may even talk about ‘chemicals’.

And that’s a shame, because each of the four main ingredients of beer has an incredible story. 

'What Are You Drinking?'* is a journey into the four main ingredients of beer. The book will tell their stories and uncover the little miracles in malted barley, hops, yeast and water, and how each of these contributes to the massive miracle that is beer. 

Mixing travel writing, nature writing, history and memoir, this book picks up four natural ingredients that are usually only ever discussed in technical brewing manuals and takes them for a spin through time and across continents.
From the lambic breweries of Belgium, where beer is fermented with wild yeasts drawn down from the air around the brewery, to the aquifers below Burton-on-Trent, where the brewing water is rumoured to contain life-giving qualities, this book won’t just describe what each ingredient is; it will tell the full story behind how and why it came to be in beer and why that matters. 

It's a story that's aimed at the general reader and curious drinker, but even brewers and hardcore beer fans will find facts and stories they didn't know, or at least have them presenting in a refreshing new light.

'What Are You Drinking' will explain why hops grown in different parts of the world have such dramatically different flavours; it will give an eye-witness account of how the process of malting changes a humble barley grain into so much more, and will explain as much about the behaviour of yeast as you can handle without a degree in biochemistry.

We'll travel from the surreal madness of drink-sodden hop-blessings in the Czech Republic, to Bamberg in the heart of Bavaria, where malt smoked over an open flame creates beer that tastes like liquid bacon, and to the hop harvest in the Yakima Valley in the Pacific North West of the United States. We'll explore the history of our understanding of fermentation, the lost age of hallucinogenic gruit beers, and the evolution of modern hop varieties that now challenge grapes in terms of how they are discussed and revered.

Along the way, we’ll meet and drink with a cast of characters who reveal the magic of beer, and celebrate the joy of drinking it. And, almost without noticing, we’ll learn the naked truth about the world’s greatest beverage.

The 'Brewing Elements' series of books published by the US Brewers' Association does cover these four ingredients, but they are strictly only for brewers and the most hardcore beer enthusiasts. (The one on water even comes with a health warning discouraging you from reading it unless you from reading it unless you are a trained brewer with at least a high school level of education in chemistry.) This will be the first time a whole book has been written about the components of beer in a way that will be interesting, educational and entertaining to the general reader who enjoys drinking beer, but had no idea how special it was - until now.

The book is now open for pledging at The book has its own page, where there's a video from me talking more about the ideas in the book, and an exclusive excerpt from one of the chapters I've already written, about a visit to the hop farms of Slovenia where I learned about the effects of terroir on hop aroma, and the effects of salami on the human body and soul. There you'll also see a range of different pledging options if you'd like to get involved. There's also a Q&A section where I'll answer any questions you have.

We need around 750 pledges in total. If you like the sound of this book, if you would like your name printed in the back of the book, and if you'd like a special edition of it that is unique to subscribers and will never be available anywhere else, pledge now. The quicker we meet the target, the sooner it will be published!

If you want to find out more about Unbound and how their hybrid model of crowdfunding and mainstream publishing works, see my previous blog post here

This is going to be an exciting adventure. Hope you'll hop onboard!

* The title is a work in progress. It might change if we can think of a better one.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

I'm writing a new beer book - and testing out a new approach to publishing

The publishing industry is in a state of flux, but new models are emerging - one of which allows me to write my first book about beer in six years. And you can get involved.

A great deal has changed since I had my first book published in 2003. The beer scene, obviously, has changed beyond recognition. And so has publishing. When Man Walks into a Pub came out, there were lots of bookshops but no smartphones, no kindles, and most people didn't know what a blog was.

Like everything else, publishing has now fragmented. And like many other careers, being a writer means you have to have several different projects on the go at any one time. The books I have published by mainstream publishers are moving further away from beer - and I hope to have confirmation of a new book in that direction in the next few weeks. But the only problem with this is that I do miss writing books about beer...

Which is why I was delighted just before Christmas when a chap called Jason Cooper, who commissioned and edited my first two beer books at Pan Macmillan, dropped me a line to tell me that he is now working for a new kind of publishing venture.

Unbound is a new concept that combines the best bits of crowdfunding and traditional publishing. It was founded by authors who wanted to establish a different way of creating books. The idea is that the author and publisher work together on every aspect of a book idea. We work out the costs of actually bringing the book to market, and we crowdfund that bit of it. So you can pledge £10 and get an e-book that has your name in the back; twenty quid gets you a unique hardback edition, available only to subscribers, and so on. As the pledge levels go up, you get bigger rewards.

But the really cool bit is that once the money is raised and the book is published, it goes into the market just like a normal book does. It gets distributed by Transworld, part of the biggest publishing group in the world, and appears in bookshops, on Amazon etc just like a book for any other publisher. So if you want to pledge to help make the book happen, at the very least you get a special edition with your name in that's different from the one in the shops. If you find the whole crowdfunding thing is not to your tastes, you can simply wait until the book comes out, and buy the normal edition as you would any other book.

It works best for authors who've already got a bit of a following who want to write something different from what their mainstream publisher is after. Unbound is publishing people like Raymond Briggs, Jonathan Meades and David Quantick, a lot of music, food and drink and business titles, and they've already done one title made it to last year's Booker longlist. You can check out the full range of books thing they do, see which ones have met their target and which are still open, and browse what different pledge levels get you, on the site here.

Beer books are perfect for the model. So tomorrow, my first beer book proposal since Hops & Glory will be going up on the Unbound website with an invitation for you to pledge and be part of it. It's an idea that I'm really excited about, a return to the territory and style of my first three books (although it doesn't involve me going to sea for three months) and has the additional benefit of me having learned a lot more about beer - and writing - in the intervening years.

Depending on how long it takes to make the pledge target, the book should be published some time in 2016 - there's still a bit of travel left for me to do this summer, though I have done a lot of it over the past few years.

I'll be revealing the idea and scope of the book on this blog tomorrow, and linking to the Unbound page where there will be a bit more detail, and a short excerpt from one of the chapters I've already written. I'll also be able to answer any questions you might have.

So see you back here Thursday pm. I hope you're going to like it.