Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014: A banner year for books on beer

Image credit: Brewers Publications, Schiffer Publishing, Palgrave Macmillan,
Cider Mill Press, Storey Publishing

Call it a holiday shopping list if you like, though it might also be described as a list of the books that have been stacking up on my editorial calendar. It's just the natural order of things, though, for as the craft beer community grows, so do the number of books that get released covering all aspects of the industry. That said, this certainly isn't a comprehensive list of all the books that came out this year, but it's a fair representation of releases I've spent a good amount of time reading and going over during the past twelve months.

As for others worth checking out, homebrewers would surely enjoy recent editions of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing (fourth edition) and The Homebrewers Companion (second edition) by Charlie Papazian, while history buffs might like to pick up a copy of, oh I don't know, North Texas Beer: A Full-Bodied History of Brewing in Dallas, Fort Worth and Beyond.

Either way, there's a little something here for everyone, whether you be a craft beer enthusiast, homebrewer, or someone looking to explore some of today's more unique and popular styles.


American Sour Beers: Innovative Techniques for Mixed Fermentations
by Michael Tonsmeire

Having set the goal to write a book that provides "actionable advice...with all the details in one place," author Michael Tonsmeire has done just that in compiling the current best practices in the still-evolving category of American Sour Beers. He begins with bits of history and terminology, along with some brief coverage on classic commercial examples, but the bulk of the book is devoted to getting you to the point of brewing your first sour beer. To get there, he takes you through the basics of wort production, spontaneous fermentation and aging, stopping along the way to draw upon the experience of industry veterans, many of whom have been brewing sour beers for over a decade. Detailed discussion and diagrams outlining the methods used by breweries like New Belgium, The Bruery, Jolly Pumpkin, Russian River and The Lost Abbey (just to name a few) give readers insights into the pros and cons of processes actually being used in a commercial environment. Homebrewing methods are covered as well, and Tonsmeire provides a set of recipes he's brewed himself, along with variations and suggested alterations should you decide take up the challenge yourself.

Review copy courtesy of Brewers Publications.

Canned!: Artwork of the American Beer Can
by Russ Phillips

Although it would certainly show up in a search targeting "books on beer," Canned! isn't at all about the frothy beverage that ends up on the inside of a can. For author Russ Phillips, it's what's on the outside that matters. As he puts it, consumers can "easily go online and find out...about the beer and...the brewery that produced it." So, rather than a traditional tasting guide built around craft beers packaged in cans, his goal was to put together a celebration of the illustrators and designers responsible for creating each beer's external identity. Canned! takes what Phillips has learned and lays out cans by region, with captions providing insights into the artists and their work. The result is a fun and fascinating pictorial that, despite its topical content, has historical value in that current designs mix with those from breweries already closed.

Available in hardcover.

Malt: A Practical Guide from Field to Brewhouse
by John Mallett

Released just in time for Christmas, Malt follows Yeast, Water and Hops in being not only one of the four fundamental ingredients in beer, but also the final installment in the Brewing Elements Series from Brewers Publications. Author John Mallett delves into the "soul of beer" by first introducing readers to Harry Harlan, whom he identifies as the "Indiana Jones of Barley", prior to taking them on a journey "from Field to Brewhouse," just as the title suggests. Take a tour of the malthouse, and then explore the machinery inside the factory that is the barley kernel as you gain an understanding of what it takes to deliver fermentable components to the brew kettle. As with other books in the series, recalling a little organic chemistry wouldn't hurt, but as Dave Thomas of Beer Sleuth LLC explains in the foreword, "the book flows" through discussions ranging from steeping and kilning to concerns with malt handling, quality and the ultimate milling of the final product.

Available in paperback.
Review copy courtesy of Brewers Publications.

The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers is Transforming America's Favorite Drink
by Steve Hindy

Depending on the depth of your craft beer library, you may find much that is familiar in Steve Hindy's Craft Beer Revolution. From my own archives, I noted direct references from numerous biographies and industry related tomes I've read through over the years. What makes this book different from similar accounts of the era, though, is that you're getting the story from someone on the inside. As co-founder of the Brooklyn Brewery and a longtime industry figure, he draws from his own personal experiences to complement interviews and unpublished accounts from other well-known names in craft beer to deliver a history that is both easy-to-read and unique in its perspective.

Review copy courtesy of Palgrave Macmillan Publishing Company.

The Handbook of Porters & Stouts: The Ultimate, Complete and Definitive Guide
by Josh Christie & Chad Polenz

While I'd hesitate to call anything definitive in the ever-changing world of craft beer, The Handbook of Porters & Stouts is nothing if not a comprehensive field guide to exploring the darker side of barley and hops-based libations. In addition to short explorations into the origins of porters and stouts, the authors provide tasting notes on virtually every known varietal of each. Who among you has tried Blind Bat's Long Island Potato Stout (brewed with locally-grown "organic taters") or, for the more adventurous types, Right Brain's Mangalitsa Pig Porter (brewed with pig heads and a bag of bones)? Other beers included among the over 300 covered include well-known names like Dark Lord and The Abyss, along with some that might not be familiar like Old Leghumper, Naughty Sauce and Nippletop. There's even a Temptress, though it's a chocolate porter from Australia and not the one from North Texas. Locals will, however, surely recognize one particular offshoot in The Original Pretzel Stout, from Fort Worth's own Martin House Brewing Company.

Available in hardcover.
Review copy courtesy of Cider Mill Press.

Vintage Beer: A Taster's Guide to Brews That Improve Over Time
by Patrick Dawson

If you've ever wondered why darker, higher-alcoholic beers age better, or why a vintage keg might taste better than a carefully aged bottle, author Patrick Dawson has the answer to those questions and more in Vintage Beer: A Taster's Guide to Brews That Improve Over Time. "Vintage Beer Rules" are provided for those simply looking for a set of basic cellaring guidelines, but Dawson also goes into the science behind these rules to provide interested readers the tools to make such decisions on their own. This is important since you are the best judge of what you want out of the beer you drink. The goal, of course, is to help you to become a more educated beer taster, something he says is "at the heart of every good beer cellar." Later chapters apply lessons learned in segments comparing fresh and aged samples of over a half-dozen world classics, while the book closes with tips on how to design and manage your own cellar.

Review copy courtesy of Storey Publishing.

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