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What Are You Drinking?

A journey into the four ingredients of beer by Pete Brown

This book is fully funded, but you can still support it!


The Synopsis

Beer is the most popular alcoholic drink on the planet, but very few people have any idea what it is made of. We all know that wine is made by fermenting pressed juice from grapes, and cider comes from pressing apples. But what about beer?

Beer is traditionally made from four natural ingredients: malted barley, hops, yeast and water, and each of these has an incredible story to tell.

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 will tell the full story behind the amazing role that each of these fantastic four has to play. It will 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. It will explore the origins of fermentation, the lost age of hallucinogenic gruit beers, and the evolution of modern hop varieties that now challenge wine grapes in the extent to which 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 Excerpt

In any walk of life, whatever your career, there are certain places you hope your job might take you. When I worked in advertising I always dreamed that a global ad agency might decide I was the only person who could help out on a special three-month project in New York, and fly me over there and put me up in an apartment until I’d delivered… I’m not sure what, the fantasy gets vague at that point. If you’re a lower league footballer, I’m sure you dream of playing at Wembley or even Old Trafford one day, and it’s a dishonest restaurant critic who claims they’ve never hoped to be sent to Noma or El Bulli to offer their unique perspective.

As a beer writer, I’m waiting patiently for my invitation for an all-expenses-paid trip to the hop farms of the Yakima Valley in Washington State. It hasn’t happened yet. But it will. This is where the hops are grown that changed everything. These hops began the American craft beer revolution, bringing with them a new palate of flavours that, over three decades later, remain the secret weapon in the fight to change the preconceptions of people who think they don’t like beer. These hops make people say things like, “Oh. Oh, I didn’t know beer could taste like that. Oh, that’s different. That’s not what I expected at all. I still don’t like beer, but I love this.”

Hops grow in temperate climates around the world. Like people, when they travel they change some aspects of themselves to fit in. American hops are widescreen and loud, occasionally brash and overbearing, but always exciting. The aroma and flavour they give to beer points to the horizon and encourages brewers and drinkers to go bigger, to reach for more. By contrast, European hops are more reserved. English hops are earthy and rustic, redolent of rainy autumn rather than stunning fall, the smell of loam and damp country lanes overhung by dripping trees. Their continental counterparts are balanced and refined. They might not seem that interesting to you, but if they don’t that’s because you don’t have the right breeding and class. The classic varieties are even referred to as ‘noble hops’. They don’t have to explain themselves to the uncultured.

It’s summer 2012, and an email arrives inviting me on a visit to some hop farms. There’s no transatlantic travel involved, but it will still involve getting on a plane. Greene King is brewing a new beer using hops grown in Slovenia. The head brewer is going out to inspect the farms he’s buying from, and the brewery thought some trade journalists might be interested in going along for the ride.

At this point, I’m not sure what to expect from Slovenia, being entirely and shamefully ignorant of anything to do with it. I always used to get it mixed up with Slovakia, which is unforgivable really, even though both are high in the rankings of nations that consume a lot of beer per capita. Both outstrip the UK, and Slovenia is ahead of the US, narrowly missing out on the top ten. It’s no Germany or Czech Republic, but Slovenia is a country with beer in its soul.

As we come in to land, the first thing that surprises me about Slovenia is its beauty. Again, I’m revealing my ignorance here, but for people who grew up in the 1980s, any former Soviet Bloc country remains grim and grey in the imagination. Such preconceptions have been instantly blown away for anyone who has holidayed in places like Montenegro or Croatia and found a relatively unspoilt Mediterranean paradise, but I never have.

Slovenia has only the tiniest strip of coastline, thanks to the Italian border creeping along and stealing it, a narrow sliver that seems to tell a story of blatant and shameless land-grabbing when you look at it on the map. But it doesn’t need the sea: Slovenia sits just south of the Alps, and much of it is mountainous and forested, dotted with lakes, fairy-tale castles and breath-taking views that rival any other Alpine tourism hotspot. The whole country seems tinged with an ozone-rich azure freshness. These mountain ranges are dense with rivers running through broad, pretty valleys that are perfect for either agriculture or sitting back and gazing at with a cold beer in your hand.

If you’re going to do that – and I recommend you do – there are two main brands to choose from: Union and Laško. Bitter rivals for over a century, they squeezed almost everyone else out of the market. Each produces a perfectly decent pilsner and a dark lager as well as soft drinks and radlers (shandy). With few product differences between the two, loyalty to one brand or the other became as much a badge of allegiance as your choice of team in a city with two rival football clubs.

In the early noughties, global giant Interbrew (now A-B Inbev) came sniffing around Union on its path to buying its way to global beer domination. Desperate to keep these twin national treasures in Slovenian hands, the Slovenian government gifted Union to Laško, creating a monopoly with a market share of over 80 per cent. Invariably, drinkers of either brand claim the beers are not as good as they used to be. But for an Englishman, the accent softening the ‘s’ in Laško creates an inevitable preference, if only for lame jokes about ‘going out on the Lashko.’


The Author

Pete Brown is one of the UK’s most respected beer writers. Over the last twelve years he’s written five and a half books about beer, pubs and cider and why they matter. He also writes one of the UK’s most widely read drinks blogs, and many articles for mainstream and beer trade press titles. He’s on the BBC Radio 4 Food Programme quite a lot, and judges the Food and Farming Awards and Great Taste Awards. He has twice been named Beer Writer of the Year, and with Bill Bradshaw he won the Drink Book of the Year award in the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Food and Drink Awards. His books have been translated into over two languages.

Questions & Answers

John Porter John Porter asked:

Can you give a more detailed description of the shed's contents?

Pete Brown Pete Brown replied:

The shed is going to be a conversation space between my and (mainly) subscribers as the book progresses. I'm going to share some thoughts behind the book, and as I do some of the trips that I haven't taken yet I'll do some exclusive diary extracts. I always take about three times as many notes for a book as I end up using. This will be like getting the DVD extras before the DVD comes out, and there'll be news about illustrations, cover art etc. I might even share a Spotify playlist! Every now and then there'll be a post that's accessible to the public, but most of the content will be available to subscribers only. And it'll be two-way - so long as the questions about pH and chromatographic spectrums don't get too heavy.

Do you have a rough idea for when the launch party might be?

Unbound Unbound replied:

Hi Martin,

Thanks for getting in touch. The launch party will be when we have finished copies of the book. At the moment, as the book is still in the crowdfundung stages, we cannot say when this will be. Once the book is funded then we can add it to our publishing schedule and will have a clearer idea of when the launch party will be. We'll be sure to let all supporters of this level know in good time. I hope this helps.

Best wishes,

Caitlin - Unbound Community Coordinator

Damon Taylor Damon Taylor asked:

Hi Pete, are yoo taking pledges from outside the UK? and if so, how will it work with shipping of the hard-copy books (don't mind paying for shipping, I just want a copy!). Cheers!

Unbound Unbound replied:

Hi Damon,

Thanks for getting in touch. We do indeed ship books overseas and there is a shipping cost which is added during the payment process. I hope this helps and thanks for supporting Unbound!

Best wishes,

Caitlin - Unbound Community Coordinator

Brian Taylor Brian Taylor asked:

Can I amend the pledge to a higher amount at a subsequent date (ie £20 then £30 = £50 or will it be taken as 2x £20 and 1 x £10 pledge if I were to do that?

Unbound Unbound replied:

Hi Brian,

Thanks for getting in touch. Yes you can, but we need to do this manually. Please can you contact with your request and someone will sort this for you.

Best wishes,

Caitlin - Unbound Community Coordinator

Barry Raynes Barry Raynes asked:

What does the brewery consultancy entail?

Pete Brown Pete Brown replied:

Hi Barry,

For a brewer, it can be shaped to whatever suits. Given my background as a marketing strategist and brand consultant and my in-depth knowledge of the beer market, particularly cask ale and craft beer, I can help brewers with consumer understanding and insight, brand positioning, overall marketing strategy and communications strategy, through to range development and portfolio strategy - what kind of beers to brew and so on. Really, from a broad range of stuff, we can talk about how a day of my time is best used. It might be to answer a particular marketing problem, or just to have an overall look at the beer market and trends within it.

This is something I've done for big corporate brewers, regional brewers and small family brewers and I can provide references and examples.

We could discuss specific requirements off-line - either via unbound or the contact form on my bog - before you have to decide whether or not to pledge for it.



Owen Wacker Owen Wacker asked:

Hi Pete - I love your writing and definitely want to invest in this book but I did wonder what's going to be different about this book than others on the same subject, other than your own take on it?

Pete Brown Pete Brown replied:

Hi Owen,

The only books I'm aware of that deal specifically with hops, barley, yeast and water in detail are the excellent 'Brewing Elements' series by the American Brewers' Association. They go into lots of technical detail and are really aimed at professional brewers. My book will tell the story of these ingredients for the general, curious beer drinker. I'm going to be visiting maltings, tasting Burton well water as it comes out of the ground, seeing the yeast propagators where Emil Hansen first isolated single strain brewing yeasts, and brewing green hops beers. As far as I know, it will be the first book to go behind beer in this way and really get up close to the stories of the ingredients that make it. And you're right, it will be my take on the subject - the historical aspects of Hops & Glory and Man Walks into a Pub combined with the travel elements of Hops... and Three Sheets to the Wind, plus a new (for me) element of natural history writing. Hopefully the full extract above gives a pretty good idea of how that all looks together.



Cath Evans Cath Evans asked:

I have a couple of friends who would love this book. Can you tell me how I go about ordering more than one copy? And would it be possible to put both their names in the back of the book?

Many thanks

Unbound Unbound replied:

Hi Cath,

Thanks for getting in touch. We have now created a 'Drink with a friend' level which has 2 copies of the book included. If you pledge at this level you can also add two names in the back of the book. If you're interested in buying more than 2 copies please contact us via and we can work something out for you.

Best wishes,

Caitlin - Community Coordinator

I would love to get the hardback as a gitf for a relative who is fond of both drinking and brewing beer - but I don't need a copy for myself. Is there any way I could get his name in the book instead of mine? I can't afford the 'drink with a friend' option, especially as I don't want the book myself. Otherwise I suppose I'd have to wait till it's published but I might miss the publication date!

Thanks, Liz

Unbound Unbound replied:

Hi Liz,

Thanks for getting in touch. You can indeed add someone else's name in the back of the book. Once you have pledged you can do this in your account page and information on how to do this is on our FAQ page: You can also either have the book sent to your own address or straight to your friend. Just set the address before completing your pledge (you can always update this later.)

If there is anything else we can help you with please get in touch via

Best wishes,

Caitlin - Community Coordinator

Jorge Garzon Jorge Garzon asked:

Hi, do you have any estimation about when the book is going to be published? Thanks

Pete Brown Pete Brown replied:

Hi Jorge,

I'm still writing the book - have been all over Europe and the US researching it these past few months and still have visits to make to the Czech Republic, Germany and Australia in 2016. We're looking at issuing copies to subscribers before Christmas 2016, then publishing publicly a couple of months after that.

The Rewards

All supporters get their name printed in every edition of the book. All levels include immediate access to the author's shed.

E-book edition, access to the author's shed and your name in the back of the book
📖 Pledge $15 95 pledges
1st edition hardback, e-book edition, access to the author's shed and your name in the back of the book
📖 Pledge $25 358 pledges
Signed and dedicated 1st edition hardback, e-book edition, access to the shed and your name in the back of the book
📖 Pledge $65 61 pledges
Launch Party
Two tickets to the launch party, plus 1st edition hardback, e-book edition, access to the shed and your name in the back of the book
📖 Pledge $150 19 pledges
Drink with a friend
Two copies of the 1st edition hardback, e-book edition, access to the author's shed and two names in the back of the book
📖 Pledge $50 8 pledges
Lunch And Beer Tasting
Lunch, and beer of course, with the author at a central London location, plus signed 1st edition hardback, e-book edition, access to the shed and your name in the back of the book
📖 Pledge $185 2 pledges
Guided Beer Tasting
I will come to your pub or venue for a guided beer tasting for you and up to three friends, plus a signed 1st edition hardback, e-book edition, access to the author's shed and your name in the back of the book
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Consultancy For Your Brewery
With my background in advertising and brand consultancy and my in-depth knowledge of the market as a writer, I provide a unique combination of skills to offer brewers, drinks marketers, and their agencies. I’ve worked with a wide range of brands including Heineken, Stella Artois, Young’s, Robinson’s, Magner’s, Guinness and Marston’s, as well as advertising, brand strategy and design agencies in London, Europe, Africa and the USA.
Your pub or brewery's name and logo listed as a Patron at the front of the book, plus 20 signed copies for you to share with your clients and friends