Beer The Book
Every now and then, people ask me how I got so into beer. The short answer is easy: I love to drink the stuff!
There’s a longer answer of course, which includes developing a passion for everything about brewing quality beer. But a central element in my beer education has also been reading beer-related books. I can’t get enough of them.
If you’ve got someone with a similar passion (maybe a better word would be obsession...) for beer, this is obviously the perfect time of year to take a tour of some of the best beer-related books out there. (Just remember to hide this column from that beer lover, so you can surprise them.)
An oft-repeated standby of beer literature is the “beer atlas” — a large, glossy coffee table spread that travels through some of the best beer the world has to offer. The genre was pioneered way back in 1977 by Michael Jackson (the British beer writer, not the creepy singer), but it’s been a few years since a quality example was released.
That changed this fall, when The World Atlas of Beer, co-written by Tim Webb and Canadian Stephen Beaumont, was released. Big, beautiful and informative, it travels the world, offering tasting notes for more than 500 craft beer to be found. (Sadly, Saskatchewan’s only entry is on Bushwakker’s Palliser Porter from Regina — stupidly omitting Paddock Wood.)
A book that offers a more general look at beer overall, rather than specific examples, is The Brewer’s Apprentice, written by Matt Allyn and Stone Brewing’s Greg Koch. Also attractive and accessible, it intersperses chapters on beer ingredients, processes and styles with profiles of some the U.S.’s most respected craft brewers.
If humorous stories about beer are more your speed, head straight for one of Pete Brown’s books. This British beer writer doesn’t aim to educate as much as entertain, although you’ll learn a few things in spite of yourself. Brown tells funny stories that glorify beer, and increases the public’s appreciation of both its value to civilization and drinking with your mates along the way. His books are both intelligent and wickedly fun. He has three out currently — Man Walks Into a Pub,Three Sheets to the Wind and Hops and Glory — and any of them would make a good gift.
When it comes to Canadian content, one thing that’s sadly lacking is an equivalent atlas for Canuck beer — but you could do worse than picking up Brew North by Ian Coutts, which is a gentle trip through Canada’s brewing history. There are more thorough books on Canadian beer history, but none is packaged as well to appeal to casual readers and beer aficionados alike.
If your favourite beer lover is thinking about getting into homebrewing, Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing is an absolute must. It’s the longtime bible of introductory homebrewing (and the one I cut my teeth on 20-plus years ago). It’s not a light read, but by the time you’re done, you’ll be completely ready not just for your first batch, but also ready to tackle intermediate and early advanced phases. First published in 1984, when homebrewing was in its infancy, the latest edition was published in 2003. If that sounds a bit daunting for your budding brewer, start them off with How to Brew by John Palmer, which takes you through the process a bit more slowly. It’s also a more up-to-date thanJoy, but not quite as thorough.
What if you have a beer fan also big into politics? The book for them is Fermenting Revolution by Mark O’Brien — it’s both an homage to the joys of beer and a treatise on how to use beer to change the world. From advancing environmental sustainability and enhancing local economies to undermining patriarchy, O’Brien links good craft beer with important political causes. Written in an upbeat, hopeful tone, it will motivate you to take action with beer to save the world, rather than drown your sorrows in it. How cool is that?
Finally, if you have an absolutely crazed, intense beer geek in your life, pony up for a copy of The Oxford Companion to Beer, edited by Brooklyn Brewing’s Garrett Oliver. Produced by the unparalleled Oxford University Press, Companion is the world’s first beer encyclopedia. Literally covering everything from Abbey Beer to zymurgy (the science of yeast fermentation), it has entries addressing beer history, brewing science, beer styles, important breweries and tons of other technical information. While it might not be perfect (there have been complaints about some historical and scientific inaccuracies), it remains the premier resource for the beer-loving equivalent of Big Bang’s Sheldon.
One last thing: obviously, you can find any of these books a mouse-click away, but please try your local bookstore first — even if you have to get them to special order it. If all else fails, then turn to online sources. But beer has always been a product that celebrates local, and we should buy our books in the same fashion.