“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” ― Haruki Murakami
I don’t really know who that author is; I found that quote on Goodreads. It seems a good fit for The Session this month. The beer blogging Friday host Joan Birraire posited this for a subject:
“The discussion at hand is “The Role of Beer Books”. Participants can talk about that first book that caught their attention, which brought them to get interested in beer; or maybe about books that helped developing their local beer scene. … I believe that their importance for the beer culture makes books worthy for another Session.”
I am certain that the “culture” referenced above is not of the sort found in the pages of this book: Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation. It would refer more to this kind of culture: “the ideas, customs, and intellectual and artistic conditions of a society or group.” – This definition contributed by Vocabulary.com. The following are the books that have influenced me and that I feel added to the ideas, customs and intellectual conditions of beer and brewing.
Do you remember the Star Trek episode, “A Piece of the Action?” Yes, the one where Kirk and Spock get to act like caricatures of gangsters from the 1920s (it also introduced the geniotic card game, fizbin, but that doesnt play into this story, so never mind that part). The entire species on the planet the Enterprise crew was visiting had been influenced by a single book that a previous starship had left, Chicago Mobs of the Twenties. So, Joy of Homebrewing is that book for home brewers. It has influenced, maybe not the planet, but a huge percentage of the home brewing population. Just a few days ago I was commanded to follow the Papazian Mantra – relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew – and that’s, what, about thirty years post-publication! Good show, Mr Papazian. The book is full of great advice and technique, to be sure, and it has a little history, and certainly it contains the home brew philosophy that many of us live by, especially on Brew Day. As far as importance to culture, I put it at numero uno.
- A side note: the Trek episode reminded me of this treasure from Retroactive*. (Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, Black Bridge – Def Leppard Friday’s should be a Thing!)
As far as quick reference goes, Miller’s book, Brewing the World’s Great Beers is fantastic, in my opinion. It is categorized in sections for extract, partial mash and all grain, quickly lays out the basic grist bill and instructions for all the basic beer styles. It’s often where I start in recipe formulating. I like the sparse nature of the book, too. No fluff, just beer stuff; knowledge at your fingertips. Like the JoH above, this book has served me well for years of successful home brewing and has survived two children, several dogs, and lots of Brew Days.
I am enthralled by Belgian beers so it was a lot of fun to read Brew Like A Monk. There are recipe breakdowns throughout, but also brief histories of breweries and the philosophy of the brewers. I am more beholden to beer styles than I realized, though I like to consider myself more creative than to be restricted by rules since they are, like time and reality, just societal constructs and from what I got out of this book the monk brewers are not interested in styles. They make a beer over and over and know it and treat it like a living thing that must be cared for. As far as culture of beer goes, it seems to me that these monks possessed a proto-Papazian RDWHAH thinking.
Randy Mosher enjoys uncovering the arcane secrets and tastes of beer, firing the desires of other brewers. I’ve only read Tasting Beer, but it was enlightening. It again provided some history and discussed the derivations of various beer types. I’ve also been able to hear some of his talks from the home brewers convention. He seems to be always searching for beer knowledge and wants to correct inaccuracies in technique or folk knowledge or wherever so that all can enjoy true beer.
History flavors culture. At least, it gives us context which is vital for insight into character, decisions, goals. It is the first step to subtext. You can navigate life without being aware of context, but it just makes you appear egotistical, foolish or a bully. No finesse. So books like Ogle’s help provide context to the beer world. Ambitious Brew was a fun read about brewing history in the United States. It provides a glimpse of the goals of those we refer to now as Big Brewers. What stood out to me was their need to expand. Expand. Expand. Take over. Etc. Now, a century later they still expand, by buying independently owned breweries. Stop helping them do that! I think books like this can serve as caution tape for craft brewers who are huge. While it’s nice to have good beers available nationally when do you draw the line between beer passion and building empire? I remember a time when it was the thing to mock Bud for being the SAME product from one end of the country to another. No character, as it were. Now I can pick up a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale anywhere and it’s gonna taste the same – granted its still a better taste than Bud. Before all the proverbial hackles are raised, this is not any kind of indictment, I am not qualified to make a judgement like that about brewery business and goals. What I’m really saying is history books can add to beer culture because it can make us discuss beer ethics. Ethics are the reason I choose to avoid big beer whenever possible. It’s not the taste, it’s the … context. It’s also why I prefer to drink at a local brewery whenever that’s an option. Speaking of local: this will be out soon, Brewing Local.
To all the beer book authors out there: Thank You. Your work is being appreciated. You are affecting people’s thinking about beer. Cheers.
*A cover, I know. Sweet.