The World Guide to Beer by Michael Jackson
Stories From Separation, Texas by John J Asher
Come on, it’s a Texas thing …
Ordered this book recently. It’s due out October 7.
– Regarding nineteenth century brewers Pabst and Busch and Uihlien.
Excerpt From: Ogle, Maureen. “Ambitious Brew.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (www.hmhco.com).
iBooks. This material may be protected by copyright.
Check out this book on the iBooks Store: https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewBook?id=541706469
The craft beer revolution has been successful. The rebels have gained the sympathy of the public; the empire of macro-beers is cracking. So keep drinking craft beer, keep home brewing.
Admittedly, I have not gouged the time to brew out of my schedule. But I may as well read about it, right? The iPad restarted my reading habit, especially in connection with magazines, beer magazines.
Okay, fine, I’ve only got three right now. Whatever. Let me speak of one: Craft Beer Magazine.
Here’s what I liked about it: brevity. The articles are bare bones, succinct. If you’ve been using e-reader apps (like iBooks) for any time at all you’ll be familiar with how to use this app. Still, it opens with a one page tutorial. Then there’s the contents and then the first article which is a concise history of the Revolution (craft beer revolution that is). That’s right, no letters from editors or any other introductory material.
There are a few more articles, all very terse, that cover craft beer’s global rise, the science of canning, a beer app, beer and health, beer cooking (including a beef stew recipe) and a beer review to wrap things up. Also included is the first episode of a new web series called Brew Age, capturing craft beer makers in the San Francisco area. And there are some informative pictographs.
Its so compact it seems more like a newsletter than a magazine. In this age of blogs perhaps the content is appropriate. However, while it makes the magazine a quick read it does mean it lacks some color, some verve. (However, the beer review did give me a beer to explore).
If you’re expecting information on formulating home brew recipes or the like, this is not your magazine. But, if you like beer appreciation, if you want to read shout outs to expanding and up and coming breweries, and maybe get a little bit of beer news, Craft Beer Magazine could work for you.
Sent from my iPad
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!
Charles Bamforth is a professor at UC Davis. He’s been involved in brewing and beer research for about thirty years. You can read about his career and research here.
Bamforth notes in the beginning that this book is autobiographical, a personal memoir. And so I applaud him for not lying. Be prepared for opinion, not always evidence, on many subjects. Be ready to wade through nostalgia and lengthy anecdotes (which are smartly included as endnotes).
That’s not to say the book is bad. It’s mediocre. He claims to seek the soul of beer. But, as noted, it is just his philosophy on the state of brewing and popular views of beer. You’ll have heard some of it before. You may agree with some of it. It’s better if read through a pint. Or a growler.
The Good And The Bad
The book is titled after a misquotation of Benjamin Franklin. Well that does not bode. Verily, Mr Bamforth explains this with a preface giving the beer lover’s interpretation of his words. Still, it’s a common quote that’s been explained for many years.
Another thing to consider is that Bamforth tells his story from a very British point of view. He discusses British politics, his experiences at Bass. I don’t mean that this is bad, just something to be aware of. The societal commentary still holds up.
Occasionally he seems sympathetic to large brewers such as Budweiser and its cronies. In his sympathies he mentions points the home brew and microbrew world has been talking about already; essentially the stability and consistency of the product. He says good things about the corporate goons who run these companies.
For example at the conclusion of his book he says:
“I would hope they [the craft beer types] would tolerate the skill devoted by the big brewers to making bland lagers so consistently well … Let us recognize that the self-same humanity resides in a president and panhandler, in a CEO and a janitor.”
I suppose I can accept that there is skill involved, though it’s not a particularly impressive skill. But when he tries to assert that there is some kind of latent humanity residing in a corporate brewery CEO? Nay, I must resist this. Corporations remove humanity. And, really, why must Bamforth search for the “soul of beer” to begin with? Because of the rise of corporate brewing.
The author laments the decline of the pub. He chants a dirge over legal issues that affected pubs. He writes a diatribe on the advent of that can widget that mimics draft texture in canned beer, thus reducing pub visits. The decline of pub visits mirrors the decline of social groups.
“And so off troop the shoppers back to their central-heated homes, with their 60-inch screen televisions to eat their pre-packaged fast food and overly cold canned beer as they watch wall-to-wall soccer (so much cozier and cheaper than visiting the stadiums with their extortionate ticket prices). No dropping into the pub at any time.”
Culture and Diet
Bamforth writes: “For someone so enchanted by and adherent to the notion of traditional values, with my adherence to cask ale, am I hypocritical in supporting the march of beers into cultures where it was not historically a norm?”
In other words (in my interpretation, at least) the Japanese have sake, the French have wine, etc. Are the evil corporations being evil by forcing beer into places where there was never beer, or very little beer? Pretty good question, really. I questioned myself on this and I think I am some kind of beer purist. Beer should be made by those who know beer. It does not need to become a global phenomena. Preserve culture. That’s enjoyment of diversity. Or as the Vulcans put it, “infinite diversity in beer and brewing.”
Of course, that sounds selfish and stuffy and is based on my perceptions. Perhaps I am totally off. Discuss.
I also appreciated this sentence about beer culture: “Beer is customarily a drink of moderation and to my mind remains a product that should be free from ludicrous displays of gung-ho excess such as outrageous alcohol content and foolish ingredients.”
Hear, hear. This is what beer should be viewed as, by drinkers and brewers alike – a drink of moderation. Foolish ingredients, indeed. Caffeine? Pshaw! Most fruits? (Insert raspberry, and not the fruit). Tea? I’m on the fence, there. High alcohol content is appropriate for some beer styles, of course (bbarley wines come to mind) but the recent obsessions with imperial wits and pales and everything, which include lots of alcohol by volume, is ridiculous.
One last note – as my age and weight continue to rise, I consider my diet. Many people mention silly things to control weight gain, such as eliminating beer consumption. I laugh. So I couldn’t help but love this sentence from Bamforth’s tome, and I shall conclude my review with it, both as a personal triumph and one last shot at corporate brewers who make light and low calorie beers so important.
“There is nothing peculiar about calories in beer; if they are counted among the daily calorie intake, provided the latter level is in balance with (or less than) the calories burned off,then there will be no body fat accumulation,in the belly or anywhere else for that matter.”
Check out the book here.