Let it now be said, straight up (coincidentally or not, that’s the way I like my whiskey) – I reveled in the digi-pages of Randy Mosher’s book, Tasting Beer: An Insiders Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink. Just wanted to get that out there right away, you know, for those who have no interest in reading the rest of this review; or those who lack the attention span to do so, sufferers of Internet ADHD.
It’s brilliant, well written, not condescending so as to turn away initiates, not so bland as to trouble the cognoscenti. You want to be a beer critic or evaluator? Well, read this here book. (All the bored people can leave now).
After reading the following quote from the book, I instantly understood why I needed it. “If you take the time to develop an approach and a vocabulary,” states Mosher, “even casually tasted beers may reveal themselves in greater depth, meaning, and eventually, pleasure.” This book should be required reading for anyone who reviews beers, whether a professional or a simple blogger.
I have heard Mosher’s name oft mentioned in the beer world. However, this is the first time I’ve read him. He has a fatherly, mentor-like voice. It’s authoritative and assuring.
The first chapter covers some of beer’s backstory and the author was succinct without leaving gaps; his synopsis leaves the reader filling fulfilled and enlightened. Plus, he touches on some cool subjects right away. For example, he discusses technology’s impact on brewing. After reviewing the dramatic increase of production in the early 1800s, he notes that the “new industrial scale is important, because it increased pressure on brewers to find efficiencies that had been insignificant in a smaller setting.” Ah, the demon seed of corporate brewing! Efficiency, distribution, pressure – to the dark side do these lead.
Adroitly does Mosher explain how this country really had no culture when it began. Culture was brought to it via immigration. He writes: “Those flooding in had a strong affinity for beer … a world without the joys of a few lagers in the garden on a Sunday afternoon was just unthinkable, and … they set about rebuilding their beer culture.” Mosher goes on to explain why their reconstruction efforts eventually led to the fizzy mainstream dishwater we are so familiar with now.
After providing the cultural context, Mosher moves on to the important part: drinking the beer.
Chapters 2 through 6 focus on understanding and analyzing beer. Mosher provides a vocabulary for the beer judge, explains how beer should be presented, consumed, written about. I discovered that an easy way to increase your vocabulary of descriptors for beer is to append a ’y’ on another word. Thus, a beer can be “yogurty” or perhaps “bubble gummy” or “diesel exhausty”. My shiner black lager tastes steaky. Think I likey. Well, you get the idea. So, if you see a -y copiously in the notes below, it’s because I’m trying to apply.
I was able to read this book via Inkling (more about the Inkling format below) and the file comes with tasting records that can be completed right there in the book, on your iPad. Cool. One of the beers suggested as a ‘beer to try’ was Brasserie Dupont Saison Dupont, a Belgian saison (as you could tell from it’s fancy name). Let’s see what I came up with.
In chapter five we are told to first smell the beer. I wrote that this one smelled “solventy, dirt tinged with worm. The dirt came from a citrus orchard, to be sure. Musty, skunky, Heinekeny.” Then we take a look at the beer. It is “pale yellow. Witty, Budweisery. Pours a frothy white head.” Next, take a sip. This saison is “light, somewhat slick body. Fizzy. Lemony. Acidic base under that fizz.” It was supposed to have a slight tang, which I think I indicated in my sparse notes. Whiffs of orange are appropriate. I missed the peppery-ness of it, but I did need to take Nyquil later that night.
One humorous note on beer presentation: I have always fancied the shaker pint glass, thinking it symbolic of the modern quaffer of craft beer. Mosher denounces it, to a degree, and now I find myself shamed to own so many. Oh, what a rube I am for possessing them! I must procure some English pub glasses with the fancy pop out rim. At least I have two elegant English mugs that properly display the play of light through the body of the beer.
Truly, reading about the origins of the beers and what certain tastes and smells arise from was a boon. I look forward to using some of this material in my own brewing and writing.
Beer and Food and Styles
Several years ago a good friend purchased one of Stone Brewing‘s Vertical Epics. Since I had this book and that beer and the time was right, I tried to follow the guidelines in chapter 7 of the book to make a memorable dinner paired with a memorable beer. We had stew with Shiner Black Lager (roasted grains with roasted meat) and consumed the 06-06-06 Vertical Epic with brownies after dinner. It wasn’t complicated but it was great. The chocolate and the Epic were a perfect match.
After talking a little about how to host beer dinners and pairing food and beer, Mosher then moves on to the various beer styles. He tells us where they came from, what they used to be, what they should be; it’s a glorious ride through the beer world. Granted, some of us feel beer is art and should be unfettered by these silly styles; Mosher addresses this and the reality of beer styles. As you may have guessed from comments and notes above, I loved the “Suggested Beers to Try” lists. I have not had enough of the beers he lists. Now I have crucial additions to my own Beers I Want List. Thanks!
Unfortunately, some of the histories and the suggested beers leads to some bad feelings on my part. For example, I remember trying Sam Adams Cream Stout many, many years ago. It had “chocolate malt” in it. I discovered that wasn’t what I thought it was, but, whatever! It did make me look into beer. Mosher writes regarding cream stouts: “[It] devolved into a rather feeble, soft, sweet, and roasty style … By the beginning of the twentieth century, it was positioned as a drink for invalids.” Feeble? Invalids? I don’t know how to feel about this beer that I enjoyed. Feeble, I suppose.
I can’t say enough good things about this book. It is well researched, evenly presented, crisply written and eternally motivating. Let me allow Mosher to sum it up best: “Uncap something special and pour it into a treasured glass. Give it the time it needs to settle into perfection. Ahh, beer! Raise the glass, as have countless others before you, and toast someone special. Pause for a sniff, and then drink deep. Grain, water, hops — and yet so much more. Use your head, your heart, and your soul, and you can taste the whole world in it.”
Beautiful book, beautiful drink.
Now a word about the Inkling book format. This was the first time I’ve used this app at all. I enjoyed it. Book pages scroll up just like a website, which is different than other readers which mimic the page turns of paper books. The sidebars and pictures in the text are separate embedded items. In other words, on page ninety-eight there is a banner titled “Forms of Bottled Beer” with an arrow on the right side. Tap it and another page scrolls out displaying what’s in the box on that page, or a picture, etc. Swipe to the right and you are back on the main page. Keep swiping right and you uncover navigation for each chapter and navigation for the entire book. Pages just pile on top of each other, like on a desktop, waiting to be swiped and read. The left side of the screen shows your progress through chapter.
It’s also social media wrapped up in an e-reader. You can highlight portions of the text and leave comments on it. These comments can be viewed by others with Inkling accounts and you can follow them or they can follow you. The notes are a fun way to keep track of your thoughts of a book or a theme. It’s all very interactive, which is exactly what the company is seeking – bravo!