I finished Nick Pashley’s Cheers!: A History of Beer in Canada sometime ago, but don’t assume the lag time of posting this review has anything to do with the quality of the book. If anything, the idea of trying to do justice to the wit and humour of Pashley has me somewhat intimidated. Perhaps it is best to start at the beginning.
I read Nick’s first book, Notes on a Beermat, around this time last year and was happy to have an intelligent, funny and engrossing book that talked about beer in a way that was relatable. The book was composed of observations and stories from a lifetime of drinking, slapped together in an incoherent way that somehow made sense. Because of this, I was a little hesitant when I found that Cheers! would involve research that was performed away from alcoholic beverages (sometimes). Luckily, the charm of Pashley’s writing still comes out as he traces the history of beer in Canada, including prohibition and the weird and wacky laws that ensued. It takes a skilled writer of non-fiction to combine their personal thoughts and experiences with the subject matter at hand.
My main criticism is that the book lags near the end, when Pashley tours around Canada and drinks regional brews from most provinces and territories. This section feels forced, like he undershot his page limit and needed some filler. Also, most of the beauty from his stories are how the everyday, unexpected experiences at a pub can be the most memorable or transformative (like having cask beer explained to you for the first time, which is as transformative as it gets for a beer geek). His adventure across Canada is, for the most part, forced to be distinct, when the reality is that the most interesting parts do not happen while drinking (every Canadian remembers the horrific Greyhound accident that happened a year or two back, which puts a perspective when travelling on a bus in Manitoba). Pashley went out looking for stories, found none but wrote about it anyway.
The book is still an excellent read and not just for beer drinkers. If you ever meet anyone who is really mad at the government regulated system set up in their province, this book will help them vent their anger. If you haven’t read either book, go run out to your local book store or library and rectify that situation. (Then read the book. Then tell me I was right.)
Holiday programming note: this will be the last post before Christmas. Go enjoy time with your family and stop being on the Internet. (If you can’t quit it, go read Stephen Beaumont’s holiday beer rules.)
Please don’t drink and drive.
There will probably be a glut of posts around the 26th or 27th, depending on how my liver recovers. I hope Santa is good to all the beer lovers out there. (My real wish is for some single-malt. Don’t let me down family!)