Ready for some lessons about a favorite beverage? New textbooks will keep you engaged.
Beer’s rising popularity has brought with it an avalanche of books aimed at elevating consumer knowledge. Even five years ago, good books on beer were hard to find. Now beer lovers of all levels have easy access to a vast assortment of books on tasting beer, brewing beer, beer chemistry, cooking with beer and pairing beer with food, among many other topics.
“Beerology” (Appetite by Random House, $24.95), by Toronto-based master cicerone Mirella Amato, is a great book for those just getting into beer or for moderately experienced drinkers looking to deepen the enjoyment of their favorite beverage. Amato delivers an easy-to-read and comprehensive guide to beer that covers everything from beer styles to tips on hosting a beer-tasting party. The section on pairing beer and food is thorough, starting with basics such as matching flavor intensity and building to specific flavor interactions between beer and food. The final chapter provides handy tools for evaluating beer, with tasting forms and graphs that illustrate things like color and bitterness by style.
One of the best things about “Beerology” is the way that Amato presents beer styles. Beers are grouped by character — refreshing, mellow, striking, captivating, and brews beyond — giving novice drinkers an easy entree to comprehending the dizzying array of styles being brewed. Within each grouping, she gives detailed descriptions of just a handful of styles with recommendations of beers to try. It’s informative without being overwhelming.
Michael Larson’s “Beer: What to Drink Next” (Sterling Epicure, $14.95) is billed as a “beer select-o-pedia.” Its colorfully graphic presentation is intended help drinkers navigate the sometimes confusing sea of beers and beer styles.
The book is organized around a “Periodic Table of Beer Origins” that looks and functions much like the table of elements familiar from science class. Beer styles are charted by place of origin indicated by color. Each is assigned an “atomic symbol” — an abbreviation by which it is identified. The book’s pages are color-coded, allowing the reader to easily find the section for each grouping.
Within each section, beer styles are ordered by color from lightest to darkest. Each style is given a two-page spread that includes a brief history, a description, three beers to try and suggested food pairings. A color diagram of the style’s “atomic structure” offers fun facts, tasting notes and suggested breweries plotted onto concentric circles.
While the detailed style descriptions are packed with useful information, the book’s organizing principle ultimately comes off as gimmicky. The tasting notes are often annoyingly vague, using such meaningless descriptors as “satisfying,” “malty” or “drinkable.” The book is riddled with small factual errors or just plain odd statements, such as writing that a bottle-conditioned German wheat beer is ready to drink after three to four weeks in the bottle, an assertion that can be made about almost every ale on the market.
Like fine wine, some beers will develop with age. Cellaring beer has become popular among a dedicated subset of beer drinkers. But which styles are most suitable for cellaring? Under what conditions should they be kept? Patrick Dawson’s book “Vintage Beer”(Storey Publishing, $14.95) answers these questions and more.
Dawson outlines the characteristics that make beer suitable for aging — think malt-forward and high-alcohol — and provides several examples of cellarable styles. He takes it one step further by describing the year-to-year changes that can be expected from specific beers in each style. He offers both simple flavor descriptors and explanations of the chemistry behind them, making the book interesting for both casual readers and hard-core beer geeks. Dawson wraps things up with advice on maintaining proper cellaring conditions and methods for keeping track of all those bottles.
For home brewers interested in trying their hand at honeywine, “The Complete Guide to Making Mead” (Voyageur Press, $24.99) by Twin Cities resident Steve Piatz will be an invaluable resource. Piatz gives a fascinating history of mead before explaining the different types from basic to braggot — mead made with the addition of grains. Advanced mead makers will appreciate the detailed technical information such as descriptions of the character derived from different yeast strains and honey from different flower sources. The book is loaded with beautiful color photography, making it a pleasure to look at, as well.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at email@example.com.