Before I review the Beer Lover’s Guide to Southern California available where fine books (about beer) are sold, I have two disclaimers. One general and one specific.
In general, guidebooks have two inherent flaws to them. First, they are quickly out of date and that is especially true of beer guidebooks. Even in slow but gaining speed, Los Angeles, breweries are opening faster than a blogger can visit and write about them let alone a book with a much longer lead time. And second, they invariably leave places out. Either due to space or personal preference. You can’t (as a reviewer) let either problem affect the overall review.
Specifically, I know and am friends with the author, Kristofor Barnes. So obviously, I will be a little more inclined to like the book. Especially since my blog is mentioned twice! That being said, as with anything that I review, I will pull no punches. If I don’t like something, I will point it out. No sugarcoating here.
That out of the way, here is my review…..
This guidebook is hefty. In both weight and in area covered. I am still in disbelief that the author visited sooo many breweries, not to mention the brewpubs and bars. It covers from north to south from Buellton all the way to San Diego. You certainly get your money’s worth in information as well. From the current brewers names to beers brewed to the vibe of each place. The layout is well done for the most part and easy to read which is a plus.
And not matter how well beer traveled you are. This book will have many, many, many places that you haven’t visited or tasted a single beer from. For me the San Diego sections were the most helpful because it is the area that I have visited the least. Now I feel like I have the intel needed to make my next trip south more successful.
But the two high points for me are the photography and the beer pick. Beer photography can get monotonous (just look at the wacky angles I use on this blog). But the photos here are crisp and visually interesting and with a nice variety of backdrops to them. More importantly the beer pick for each brewery are well chosen. In fact it is what I read first before going back to read from the beginning. Barnes hits on the flagships and IPA’s but he also spreads the love all the way around style-wise effortlessly. Some books can seem to be stretching to include a beer for the sake of variety but that isn’t the case here.
On the downside, there are a couple of odd chapter choices. Separating Lancaster out seems a bit odd for two breweries. And I am still puzzling over how the Glendale Tap is in one chapter and Golden Road and Eagle Rock in another even though all three are literally on the same boulevard. Also map related, I am still on the fence about the map accompanying each chapter. The orientation forces you to turn the book around like a manual iPad. I also think that most people will use their GPS on their smartphones for finding the beer and not a map in a book even if they have the book in the car. I would have gone with a map of the full area from north to south in the background and the specific area in the foreground with the logos of the chosen few instead of numbers and a key.
There also seemed duplication of effort as well. We are treated to handy and helpful reviews of, for instance, Downtown LA. All good. Loved the choices and descriptions. Then there was a Walking Tour section that basically retread the same ground. It would have been better to just give the walking directions with other additions of places that get summary attention as opposed to fuller coverage. I would rather see other underappreciated places like Melody Lounge or Bottle Rock mentioned then a second whack at Far Bar. No matter how much I like it.
The writing really shows that Barnes wears his heart and enthusiasm on his sleeve. That is both a major plus and a minor negative. You can tell that he loves the people, the places and the beers which is still what this craft beer movement needs in places like LA but a critical touch in San Diego is probably warranted to steer the beer traveler to the best of the best. You do have to read between the lines to see if one place is better than another. But I do prefer that to snarky or snobby.
Overall, I do think this is a must buy book. There is just too much good information in this Beer Lover’s Guide to pass up. And it is in one handy spot for easy reference.