The first of three new books from me is out now. Sort of.
My book on pubs is officially released on 18 August, but it's already been spotted in Foyles and Blackwells.
I was asked to do this book by the publisher - it was a scenario where they came up with the idea and had a shortlist of authors in mind for it. If I'd said no, they would have asked someone else. But I couldn't say no.
We all know the format of this kind of 'coffee table' book. It looks beautiful. It's not the kind of book you read from cover to cover. You pick it up and flip through it, lingering over the pictures. In some, the text is just there to put gaps between the pictures.
Like my and Bill's book on cider, I wanted to make this book more than that. It had to be beautiful, it had to be a book you want to buy as a present for anyone who loves pubs. But I also wanted the text to mean something, for it also to be a book you did want to read cover to cover.
So it's not a book that reviews pubs by the range of beers they have, what the food is like or whether they allow dogs. The internet is a far better place for that. The centre of this book for me are the fifty double page spread reviews of my favourite pubs.
It's seventy years ago this year since George Orwell wrote The Moon Under Water and said that the single thing that defines a great pub is its atmosphere. So I set myself the task of trying to review pubs by their atmosphere. It's a difficult task, because atmosphere is intangible, which is why few pub reviewers talk about what remains the single most important criterion by which we judge pubs.
As well as these top fifty, there are shorter listings of a further 250 pubs all across the UK, plus sections on pub history and pub culture. It's pub porn, basically. Researching the book last year was an absolute delight. Sometimes we spent all day driving to a particular pub that had been recommended, and we'd get there and it would be worth every minute of the journey. It was brilliant going to places like Liverpool, having tweeted that I'd be there, and finding a posse of people waiting for me so they could show me their favourite haunts. Five days with a list of recommendations across Somerset, Devon and Cornwall was utterly magical, and the comedown at the end, when we visited pub that was merely good as opposed to legendary, was startling.
There's a lot of doom and gloom talked about pubs at the moment, with good reason. For the last decade pubs have been put through the wringer. This book doesn't address that - it seeks to remind the reader why pubs matter so much in the first place.
The book is available for pre-order on Amazon and I imagine they'll be shipping in the next couple off days. If you're at the Great British Beer Festival today, I'm signing copies - unofficially - at the CAMRA bookstall at 3pm and 6pm.