Last week, I wrote about a number of different memoirs and travelogues from the world of beer. This week, we’re moving from people’s personal lives with beer to general guides to the world of beer.
Let’s be honest – most folks that visit RateBeer and the Hop Press and read beer blogs know more than your average publican about beer. A good number are even experts, be it self-described or professionally accredited. Still, a good refresher doesn’t hurt and there’s always at least a little more to learn about beer. Hopefully, these books provide some new knowledge, a new perspective, or at least add a couple more beers to your “I gotta try that” lists.
Under the big tent of “beer guides”, I’ll mention a couple different types of books – comprehensive guides to beer styles, beer history, the brewing process and drinking beer; checklist books of the world’s best beers or brews everyone has to try; and books on the history of craft brewing.
First off, let’s look at some of the “bucket list” books – checklists of beers to have before you die. 300 Beers to Try Before You Die! by British beer writer Roger Protz is a classic example of one of these lists. Protz offers a picture of every beer, along with information about the style, the beer’s strength, and beer and brewery history. An additional nice touch is a space for tasting notes for each beer – one further bit of encouragement to seek out the beer. The book lists brews from around the world, but (luckily) tends more towards easily attainable domestics and imports than super-rare beers. While everyone’s list of beers to try, desert island beers, and most wanted brews is different, Protz’s book gives a nice, broad and – most importantly – doable checklist.
If you’d like to peruse a different (or simply longer) checklist, there are two more “before you die” lists coming out early next year. If your tastes tend toward the funky, sour or Trappist, Tim Webb and Joris Pattyn‘s 100 Belgian Beers to Try Before You Die! comes out next April. In March, 1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die comes out from Universe books, a publisher that has a history of putting out gorgeous, well-researched guides.
For a seasonal take on the beer guide, Don Russell’s Christmas Beer is a must-read. The centerpiece of the book is a list of the “50 Best Christmas Beers” in the world. While any list like this is entirely subjective, enough of my favorites – Troegs’ Mad Elf, Alaskan Winter Ale, and Sam Smith’s Winter Welcome, to name a few – make the list to keep me happy. With each of the 50 listings, Russell includes a clever description of the beer and why it made the list, along with vital info about the beer’s style, ABV, place of origin and even suggested food pairings. Around this central list, the book is padded with trivia about Christmas beer traditions, winter brews around the world, beer-soaked holiday recipes and an incredibly extensive list of Chrismas beers beyond the 50 best.
Easily my favorite beer guide from the last few years is The Naked Pint. The authors, serious beer-crush-candidates Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune, really know their suds. The book, subtitled An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer, covers enough information that it could easily be split into four books. Roughly speaking, the topics are beer education (the nitty-gritty this is what beer is, what’s in it and how beer is made), a style handbook, a beer at home section – what glassware to buy, how to host a beer tasting and beer/food pairings and recipes – and a robust little “how to homebrew” section.
Although there’s plenty more to be said about each topic than could be fit into the book, none of the sections feel undeveloped or unfinished. There’s just enough information in each section to leave you comfortable with a beer style or brewing technique, but never enough to drive you to wander ahead to the next section before you finish. The Naked Pint is frequently hilarious, and a great reminder that one thing that separates the world of beer from wine is that we don’t take ourselves quite as seriously. Flirty, friendly and enthusiastic, the writing makes it easy to plow through the book in one or two sittings.
He Said Beer, She Said Wine by Sam Calagione and Marnie Old, pits beer and wine against each other in a food pairing / dinner party battle royale. This isn’t the first book by Calagione I’ve mentioned, and the man’s writing chops show through again in this excellent guide. Marnie is no slouch either, and makes a case for wine that even this beer-lover found appealing. The book has examples of specific beers and wines to pair with almost any food you can think of, along with guidelines for style and flavor if that particular libation isn’t available in your area. Part cookbook, part drink guide, and part history lesson, He Said Beer, She Said Wine is an awesome book to have in your kitchen, and fun to leaf through when trying to come up with a meal to pair with a drink (or vice-versa).
While the other books on this list can be read in the comfort of your home, Good Beer Guide to New England practically demands that you go out and tour the breweries of the Northeast. This book discusses every New England brewery and brewpub in detail, along with discussion of the location’s history and interviews with founders and brewmasters. Crouch is obviously an enthusiastic beer-lover, and this combines with his experience as a journalist for an entertaining and well-written read. Although he can be a bit generous with his reviews of beers and breweries, this book is an indispensable resource for beer-lovers in New England, or for those planning a trip to the region at some point.
Finally, if you want a comprehensive textbook to beer, you have to find a copy of Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer. Mosher squeezes 10,000 years of worldwide history into the front end of his book, follow by a detailed look at where good and bad flavors come from in beer, along with why and how we taste beer the way we do. Yeast, malt, hops, water, recipe creation and even packaging all get meaty chapters, full of enough charts, graphs and tables to make any beer geek drool. After teaching you exactly how to taste a beer, Mosher devotes the second half of the book to encyclopedic listings of every beer style, complete with general characteristics of the style and quintessential examples. Everything is topped off with pointers on beer / food pairings and tips on hosting a beer tasting. Not only is Tasting Beer the essential comprehensive guide to craft beer, but it’s a necessity to have on-hand for the times you can’t think of the answer to a beer question. Trust me – the answer is in this book.
With travelogues, memoirs and beer guides outlines, you’re well on your way to some sagging shelves. Next week, it’s time to look at the books aimed at homebrewers – from the absolute beginner to people about ready to go pro. In the meantime, let’s hear about the best beer guides that I missed in the comments.
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