How to Build a Beer Book Library
There is a certain comfort and security that comes with a shelf or bedside table piled high with books; a tangible sense of knowledge available for your consumption. That feeling is even more satisfying, I've found, when it's pile of books on beer and brewing, and when you know that they are best enjoyed along with a freshly poured pint.
And while buying books on beers proves to be as gratifying as picking up a few more bottles from the shop, I've also found that it's a hobby easily justified: all in the name of education, right? Here are a few great beer books, from the classics to the brand new releases, to stock on your shelves.
Beer Books for Beginners
Randy Mosher's Tasting Beer is the definitive beginner's guide to beer, perfect for drinkers who have had their interest piqued by good beer and want to learn more. In a clear and accessible voice, Mosher covers it all, from basic beer history to the brewing process to best serving practices and food pairing recommendations, while giving the reader/drinker a comprehensive understanding of what beer even is, how it's made and how to taste it. It was the first beer book I ever bought and I still refer to it nearly three years later.
A new classic is Joshua M. Bernstein's The Complete Beer Course. The knowledgeable and witty Bernstein (author of the also excellent Brewed Awakening: Behind the Beers and Brewers Leading the World's Craft Brewing Revolution) is exactly the kind of guy you'd want to walk you through 12 tasting courses, suggesting beers, explaining the history behind styles and including short brewery profiles and interesting tidbits on the side. It has the heft of a coffee table book with an engaging layout and design to match, but one you're likely to pick up and actually read the whole way through.
It would be wrong not to include a book (or two) by Michael Jackson, whose beer writing was the beginning of a beer educations for many. Michael Jackson's Beer Companion and Michael Jackson's Great Beers of Belgium are two of the best: thorough, informed and enjoyable reading, and they provide a more global beer and brewing perspective. Beer Companion covers a broad range of styles, with history and recommendations for each, while Great Beers of Belgium focuses on Jackson's passion of Belgian beers and brewing, and could act as a travel guide for a Belgian beer excursion or simply as an introduction to Belgian styles.
Look out for: Beerology: Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Beer...Even More by Mirella Amato, which will be released on May 27. Amato is one of only seven Certified Master Cicerones in the world and her guide to beer breaks beer styles into Refreshing, Mellow, Striking, and Captivating and includes how-to's for beer cocktails, hosting beer parties and food and beer pairings.
Research and Getting Geeky
Remember being a kid in the pre-Wikipedia era, flipping open the encyclopedia and spending an hour or so reading random entries? The Oxford Companion to Beer, edited by Brooklyn Brewery's Garrett Oliver, is like that: nearly 1,000 glorious pages and more than 1,100 entries of beer knowledge that will teach you something new every time you open it. I've referenced it when I was first learning about Brettanomyces, to read up on the history of pilsner and to try to understand the difference between dry hopping and using a hopback.
The Brewers Publications' Brewing Elements series offers next-level beer geekdom, delving deep into technical knowledge of each ingredient in beer. While they may prove most useful for intermediate to advanced homebrewers and pro-brewers, they do give the more casual beer reader an understanding of just how much goes into, say, wastewater treatment or yeast culturing. Three of the four (Water by John Palmer and Colin Kaminski, For the Love of Hops by Stan Hieronymus and Yeast by Jamil Zainasheff and Chris White) are available now, and Malt by Bell's Brewery Director of Operations John Mallett is due out in September.
Mitch Steele, the brewmaster for Stone Brewing Co., wrote the book on America's most beloved style, IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. It focuses on history, which is valuable considering the plethora of myths surrounding the style, but Steele also provides techniques for brewing IPA and its variations (double, American, black), and 48 IPA recipes from breweries across the country, including Russian River's Pliny the Elder. His blog on beer culture and brewing is also always a good read.
On the food side, Garrett Oliver's The Brewmaster's Table is a fun and approachable guide to pairing food with different beer styles, while Janet Fletcher's gorgeous Cheese & Beer focuses on that holy pairing. The American Craft Beer Cookbook by John Holl is a beer geek's cookbook, with 155 recipes from brewpubs and breweries across the country and for the vegetarians, there is Lucy Saunders' Dinner in the Beer Garden.
Look out for: American Sour Beer, a new reference and processes book on sour beers for homebrewers and wild beer lovers, to be released this July by Brewers Publication. It's by Michael Tonsmeire, AKA 'The Mad Fermentationist', and the "flavor developer" for San Diego's Modern Times Beer whose writing on homebrewing, especially the sour and wild stuff, has gained a following over the years.
And although I haven't had a chance to get ahold of it yet, I'm eager to read Vintage Beer, a new release by Patrick Dawson on cellaring and aging beer, and learn more about what beers will improve if you tuck them away for a year or two.
A Little History
For context on how the modern beer industry came to be, historian Maureen Ogle's Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer, covers 150 years of American beer history with a focus on the early lager brewers while Tom Acitelli's The Audacity of Hops looks closer at the craft beer revolution, starting with Fritz Maytag buying San Francisco's Anchor Brewing in 1965 and Jack McAuliffe's bootstrapped New Albion Brewing Company. Journalist William Knoedelseder tells the story of America's most well-known brewery in Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer
British writer Pete Brown also has a series of beer history and culture books, including Man Walks Into a Pub: A Sociable History of Beer and the travelogue-meets-history-book, Hops and Glory: One Man's Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire about the IPA.
Look out for: The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers Is Transforming the World's Favorite Drink recently released by Brooklyn Brewery co-founder Steve Hindy. Hindy promises an insider's account of the modern craft beer revolution.
Handy Homebrewing Books
Dedicated homebrewers are a knowledge-ravenous bunch, always looking to improve techniques or geek out on brew-systems and equipment. Thus, the number of books on homebrewing, which range from the style-specific to clone brew recipes, seems to far exceed any other category of beer books.
The best place to start is with the two bibles, if you will, of homebrewing: How to Brew by John Palmer and the slightly more laid back The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian. Both are solid investments and will walk the beginning homebrewer through the first batch, from the ingredient shopping list to packaging and bottling.
After brewing a few all-grain batches, your next book purchase should probably be Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels, founder and director of the Cicerone Certification Program, and Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher. These books help with recipe creation and development of all styles of beer; Designing Great Beers is based on classic beer styles while Radical Brewing riffs and bends styles and features sections on non-traditional grains and ingredients. Homebrewers considering brewing Belgian styles should seek out Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow, which covers wild-fermented Belgian styles, Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski, and Brew Like a Monk by Stan Hieronymus.
Look out for: Ron Pattinson, brewing historian and author of the excellent beer blog, Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, recently released The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer: Rediscovered Recipes for Classic Brews Dating from 1800 to 1965. With the help of this book, you're able to brew a 1910 Fuller's Porter or an 1832 Truman XXXX Mild, like Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project did in the collaboration with Pattinson. The book also includes introductory chapters on ingredients and brewing techniques from 1800 to 1965 as well as a look at the history and evolution of the featured British beer styles.