There are two kinds of beer guide in this world. The first is beer guide as information provider and tour guide. These types of books, which I would say include not just my two editions of The Great Canadian Beer Guide, but also the successful Stackpole Books series of eastern states breweries guides, are generally more utilitarian than they are captivating, meant to be pulled from the shelf and referenced occasionally, or stuck in the suitcase or glove compartment for an extended road trip.
The other kind is beer guide as beer porn. In this category, I would put most of Michael Jackson’s coffee table sized work, Ben McFarland’s World’s Best Beers, my and Tim Webb’s upcoming World Atlas of Beer, and Ken Weaver’s new Northern California Craft Beer Guide.
Beautifully photographed by Weaver’s wife, Anneliese Schmidt, this is the kind of book you can sit and read, as well as use to negotiate your way around the thriving northern California beer scene. I did the former, on my condo balcony with a beer at hand, and enjoyed the experience tremendously. I read of breweries, yes, but also of organic brewing and bottle cap jewelry, brewery tours and beer styles, the phenomenon of beer communities and the case for supplementing your beer touring with a stop or two for wine. (The last being accompanied by one of my favourite photos in the book, of the author looking sceptically at a sign directing him to a wine tasting.)
Along the way, of course, there are maps and brewery descriptions, as well as notes on local beer bars and bottle shops. Like Lew Bryson in his Stackpole guides, Weaver is not as concerned with rating the beers on offer as he is giving the reader an idea of what’s available and which he enjoyed the most. Where the bars and shops are concerned, he notes highlights and usually offers an observation or two on ambiance and menu offerings.
While it’s doubtful you’ll want to pick up a copy of this book if you’ve zero intention of finding yourself in the northern half of California in the foreseeable future, if you enjoy a good beer now and again and expect to visit once or twice over the coming three or four years, I highly recommend adding this to your traveller’s arsenal. It will whet your appetite for the trip to come, guide you while there and perhaps even prompt you to take a detour you might not otherwise have envisaged. And it will keep you entertained long after your return.
The Northern California Craft Beer Guide by Ken Weaver, Cameron & Company, Petaluma, CA, 2012. $21.95 list.