The Beer Styles guide is based on Keith Florian Klemp's articles from past issues of All About Beer. Klemp's writing is not so much about technical style guidelines, but about the history and geography, the "personality" of the beer. To quote from Julie Johnson's introduction:
Keith Klemp's articles have always approached beer styles as evolving narratives that weave together natural resources, shifting cultures and changing technologies. The stories are less about original gravity and appropriate levels of bitterness, and more about how geology, agronomy, culture and history give rise to beers of different characters that we later come to term "styles."
The articles in this issue are grouped by the origin of the styles. Three broad categories are presented; Styles from the German-Czech Tradition, Styles from the Belgian-French Tradition, and Styles from the British Tradition. These are further broken down into a total of 21 style families. This taxonomy provides an easy way to understand the origins of the wide variety of beer we have today.
While I've not yet devoured the entire issue, I am thoroughly enjoying the read so far. This approach to beer styles is more interesting than reading about IBUs, OGs, FGs, SRMs, and other technical minutia. All of these details have their place, but to know where, why, and how a beer developed tells us so much more about the beer we enjoy. Brewing tradition and innovation are intrically woven into the culture and history of the region. Understand that and you understand the beer.
In addition to the historical information, the guide does include recommendations for serving temperatures, glassware and even food pairings. The guide also makes note of commercially available examples of the beer styles discussed. Going further than a simple list, each of the examples is accompanied by tasting notes and other information about the beer or brewery. This special issue is as informative as any reference book on beer.
If you aren't already a subscriber to All About Beer, then watch your local newsstand and pick up a copy of The Complete World of Beer Styles when you see it. (And you should subscribe.)
Update, December 16: See this post to win a free copy for yourself.