A look at one of the the most influential books on beer from the past....


Whilst  systematically  going through my collection  of beer and brewing books recently at home for reference, I paused and backtracked a few inches pulling out a small unimposing looking book with a unassuming  title.

It had the musty smell of age hanging over it and the pages had turned yellow with time, but it was the content within that fired my interest once more as it had done so in the past.

Beer and Skittles by Richard Boston is one of those rare books that seems to crackle along with interesting facts, figures and information that keeps you captivated and intrigued, and  still remains bright reading today. 

It is perhaps Boston's  style  which is easy and fluid,  but punctuated  with opinion and humour,  that prevents the subject ever becoming dull and makes it so engaging.       

Richard was the columnist for the Guardian at a time when the brewing industry was facing it's biggest threat to tradition back in the  early 1970's,  and he regularly wrote on the changes being imposed on the consumer in the paper.  Beer and Skittles  was a collection of these thoughts put together as a single work,  and looking at it 34 years on,  although much has changed ( and many brewers disappeared ) it still remains a pertinent read.  

The fascinating thing is that  the book covered such a wide  variety  (and  quirky areas)  that benefited from his observations .  But, the crux of the book remained his distaste for the  'standardisation'  being imposed on the consumer  be it in  food, drink,  or even pub d├ęcor ,  and the destruction of  things people held dear in pursuit of  ' progress '.

His book acknowledged the unprecedented success of  CAMRA  at that time  as one the most successful consumer groups of its  type in history,  but tempered this with the comment that  'it  has sometimes  taken itself  too  seriously,  and  too  solemnly.  It has shown signs of confusing beer with religion  ( one of it's  leading members  used to speak of  'spreading the  gospel of CAMRA ).  Some individual members have emerged as bores of Olympic standards'.

The book however is much more than this and captures a time when few really knew what the future of the industry would hold. Crystal ball gazing 34 years on we can see that CAMRA has indeed succeeded and that the industry is still very much alive,  be it in a form never even foreseen at the time of Boston's work,  and has no mention,  the 'micro-brewer'.


Richard Boston died in 2006 but the book still remains a lasting testament  to his writing talent,  and although  long  since out of print is well worth searching for. 

Finally then  the last words go to Richard who in his indomitable style on areas such as food in pubs states that   ' In the view of most connoisseurs the best crisps now are  Walkers of  Thurmaston,  Leicester  ( long before they became a part of the multi national conglomerate of  today).  Their packets carry interesting facts culled from the Guinness Book of Records,  which make useful conversational talking point.   As I write the most recent packet of Walkers Crisps informs me that the largest dish in the world is roasted camel:  this is sometimes offered at Bedouin wedding feasts. To make it ,  all you have to do is stuff cooked eggs into fish,  the fish into cooked chickens,  the chickens into a whole roasted sheep, and the sheep into a camel'.   Ah!  exactly as I thought then Richard....and thank you.    


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