I picked up Joshua Bernstein's new book back-side up. A few names caught my eye. Advance praise from Garrett Oliver, Jim Koch, Charlie Papazian, Stephen Beaumont, and Maureen Ogle? That's a helluva strong group of names to have behind you.
Curiosity piqued, I flipped the book over to reveal an attractive cover advertising that this, The Complete Beer Course, promised to take the reader "from novice to expert in twelve tasting classes." This is an attractive idea: rather than flipping through textbook-like pages of history and jargon, the book promised to guide the reader through beer learnin' by way of guided tastings.
After a short introduction giving a personal look into the author's background and a description of his intentions, the book begins with "Class 1: The Beer Essentials." The contents of this first meaty chapter are obligatory in any beginner's beer guide: a rundown on beer's primary ingredients, how the beverage is produced, and the manner in which it should be consumed. Fairly straight forward.
The following 10 classes continue to be less tasting-focused than the cover implies, but are thorough and educational nonetheless. The reader is exposed to the full range of beer styles an avid drinker is likely to encounter (including some less-discussed oddities like wheat wines and white IPAs), complete with well-researched historical background and commercial examples to try. The final class, "Bringing it All Home," applies the preceding information to beer and food pairing and aging before the book closes with a glossary of potentially-confusing terminology.
Peppered amongst the book's 300 or so pages are ample informational insets, features on festivals and events, and brewery profiles. Packed with punny headlines and colorful adjectives and analogies, this is a book that carries a lot of personality. It seems Bernstein was determined to buck the cold tone of existing books that cover similar ground, and to that end, he was successful. The sections on pairing and aging bring in recognizable industry voices (Chef Adam Dulye and "Dr." Bill Sysak, respectively) to weigh in, and the author includes several references to his wife's drinking preferences and the lineage of his super-cute dog.
The book has a decidedly patriotic tilt—many of the beers recommended seem to be consciously chosen for their American origin and every one of the 8 breweries profiled within are from the US. That's not a knock on Bernstein by any means—the author clearly knows his audience, and these are the brands his readers are most likely to encounter at their local bottle shop. But maybe we need a second edition that includes exciting breweries from beyond the US?
This is a book intended to educate true beer beginners, but there's plenty here for the more experienced drinker as well, and the information is as accurate as it is approachable. Similar in content to Randy Mosher's Tasting Beer, Bernstein's Complete Beer Course offers a more casual, updated look at some of the more eclectic beer styles that have sprung up in the past few years. Though it won't supplant Tasting Beer as my go-to recommendation for new beer drinkers, this is a nice addition to any beer geek's collection.
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