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In defence of the Oxford Companion to Beer (sort of….well, not really)…….

Oct 25, 2011

The much heralded arrival of ‘the only beer book you’ll ever need‘, AKA ‘The Oxford Companion to Beer‘, has been characterized by some well respected folk (including a number of contributors to the book itself) systematically defrocking the work by exposing factual error, after factual error, after factual error. It should be noted that in at least one case, the book has still not yet undergone a nit-picky, line by line analysis (rather it has only been subject to some randomly chosen extracts) but even casual observations have yielded some apparently alarming and significant errors – goodness knows what will happen once these people get into the reviews in a more serious way!

I have not yet seen a copy of the book and frankly even if I had, in many areas (especially those in the historical sections of the book) I would feel entirely under-qualified to criticize many entries anyway, BUT what I will say is this; as an experienced author, with a number of commercially available publications under my belt, I know that no matter HOW carefully manuscripts are reviewed, re-reviewed and reviewed again, errors, omissions and basically what amount to ‘cock-ups’, inevitably occur.

As most of the readers of this blog know I’m not exactly shy to point out deficiencies and inaccuracies in any beer related commentary, but looking at this from the other side (i.e., that of an author), I feel compelled to point out that even the most well intended writings can fall foul of these problems. Even with very intelligent writers and well researched & carefully complied data, these errors cannot always be avoided and there are many reasons for this. One of the most common is the commercial pressure of bringing a work to market – here’s a newsflash, sometimes in the interests of generating some cash, corners are cut!

My final comment would be in defense of the criticisms. It may be that commercial pressures are NOT to blame, and that the work is (in part) poorly researched, shoddy, rushed, written by people who don’t know what they are talking about or brought to press without sufficient editorial control. I suspect that the errors in the book (which seem to be mounting by the minute), can probably be attributed to some combination of the reasons above and some of the natural screw-ups which effect the publication of books in general. The errors will sometimes fall into the ‘inevitable’ category (authors excused) but in some cases they will fall into the ‘incompetent’ categories (authors to blame), but in most cases (especially the historical ones), people with a greater beer knowledge (and greater knowledge of the writers) than me, will have to make those categorization calls.


  1. Traquairlover

    Not to defend stupid mistakes that appear in any book, but however they appear, it is often the case that they occur in first editions but are then edited out of subsequent versions. I won’t be surprised if many of the things that are currently being cited aren’t fixed in the second edition. Assuming of course it survives to that point.

  2. Barm

    The more I look at this book the more I’m convinced that you’re right. It feels rushed. It’s inconsistent and in parts very poorly copy-edited. I cannot help feeling that it was printed before it was really finished, just to get it on the market in time for Christmas.

  3. Ding

    My copy arrived today and I found a couple of odd things, plus one blatant error without even trying. I’ve joined the OCBeerCommentary Wiki to record my thoughts.


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