Ever since they became too old to give me ties that I only wore on festive occasions when they were present, my now-grown children have given me books for Father’s Day. At first, the books were presented as surprise gifts; but after several times when they gave me books I’d already bought and read, they began asking me, “Do you have ….?” There weren’t any more surprises; but I did get some very good books to take to the lake for summer reading.

A few weeks ago, one of them, now a receiver as well as giver of Father’s Day gifts,  inquired if I’d heard of THE OXFORD COMPANION TO BEER. “Yes,” I replied. “I bought it as soon as it came out.” He got that “I’ll have to think of something else look” on his face and then asked what it was like and if I liked it.

My response was an emphatic yes. When I’d learned the book was coming out, I was doubly excited. First, I knew what excellent single volume reference books the Oxford Companions were. I’d regularly used several of them when I was studying English and history. Second, I was glad to learn that it was being edited by Garrett Oliver. The brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, he has created some of the finest microbrewed beers in the United States. And, equally important, he is an excellent writer. His THE BREWMASTER’S TABLE  was an elegantly written and very informative book that described the various beer syles and then suggested appropriate food pairings for them.

When I picked up THE OXFORD COMPANION at the bookstore, I immediately noticed how heavy it was — literally a weighty tome. It has over nine hundred double-columed pages, in print that isn’t all that big, and there are nearly twelve hundred entries, arranged alphabeticcally. The first is about abbey beers, the last about zymurgy (the chemestry and science of fermentation by yeast). In between, there are entries on the history of beer, beer in various countries, brief biographies of famous people in the field of brewing, studies of ingredients and brewing techniques, essays on beer and culture, and a host of other topics.

Some are very scientific. I haven’t spent much time reading the entries on the chemical aspects of beer and brewing. (Years after I’d graduated from college, my chemistry teacher told me that one of the happiest moments of his career occurred when he learned that I’d decided to become an English major.) I found the entries on hops quite amazing. Seventy-one different varieties are discussed. I hadn’t realized how each different strain of the plant and how it was used created such different results.

I certainly haven’t read THE OXFORD COMPANION TO BEER from cover to cover. But I use it constantly as a reference tool. During the day it’s on the desk in my office and, on some evenings, it sits on the end table beside my favourite chair. I browse through it, look up items that pop into my mind.

Sometimes I’ll pick a letter of the alphabet and flip through the pages, stopping to read something that looks interesting. The other night, I read the eight pages in the letter “J” section. There were brief biographies of Thomas Jefferson (who built a small brewery in his own manion), Michael Jackson (the celebrated beer writer whose books helped to popularize the growing craft beer movement), and Father Anselmus Judong (a Belgian monk who, in the late 19th century, played a major role in the development of Trappist brewing). Another article outlined the history and present culture of beer in Japan. There were, as well, entries about the use of juniper as an addive in beer, jetting (a process for removing air from beer bottles and cans), and J. W. Lees Brewery in Manchester.

The OXFORD COMPANION has enough browsing material to last past Father’s Day, through the summer and fall and into next winter. So, when my son came back later to ask if there was any other book I might like, I thanked him and told him I had enough reading material to last me until nearly Christmas.

“Oh, well,” he remarked. “I’ll find something else.”

I hope it’s not a tie.

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