Category Archives: beer books

Books, Books, Books: What to Buy for Whom, Pt. II (Coffee Table Eye-Candy Edition)

More books about beer and other stuff, and who to buy them for:

The Beer Ticker: In the spirit of his World’s Best Beers – to which, full disclosure, I contributed – Ben McFarland is back with Boutique Beers, a spirited romp around the world that highlights the beers beer nerds like to talk about. Having grouped over 500 such brews into nine convenient categories, McFarland goes on to describe each in considerable depth, adding pictures and mini-features and the occasional recipe or bar review along the way. Like most books from the English publisher Jacqui Small –it’s a Barron’s Educational book in North America – it is big, bold and well-designed, although I must admit that the frequent use of typewriter font gets to me a bit after a while. Other than that minor quibble, however, it is a lovely tome that will keep the diehard beer hunter occupied for many an hour. (Barron’s Educational Books; $29.99 US/$34.50 Canada)

The Drinker in Search of Something Different: Outside of my own new book, of course, my favourite new beverage book release this year is World’s Best Ciders by Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw. Another Jacqui Small book – Sterling Epicure in the U.S. – it is not only wonderfully attractive and informative, but also strikes a great balance between hard info, considered opinion and illuminating reviews of ciders from all around the world. Since even most drinks-savvy folk don’t fully appreciate the true scope of the world of fermented apple juice, this is a book that is sure to intrigue just about any beverage aficionado on your list. (Sterling Epicure; $30 US/$33 Canada)

For the Turophile: Cheese aficionados – that’s what “turophile” means, apparently – have been blessed with a veritable bounty of books over the last few years, including the wonderful Cheese by Patricia Michelson and this year’s Cheese & Beer by Janet Fletcher. Although perhaps priced a little on the high side for a 106 page book, and not a very densely packed one, at that, there is plenty of great beer and cheese porn contained within the pages of this, the first beer-oriented book from prolific author Fletcher, and a fair bit of useful info, to boot. In my view, it could have been balanced a bit more to the cheese side, but it is nevertheless a page-turner and appetite inspirer. (Andrews McMeel; $24.99 US/$26.99 Canada)

For the Wino: I generally dislike books with titles that insult my intelligence, but John Szabo’s knowledge and writing style is such that he is able to overcome the limitations of the “Dummies” series of books and make Pairing Food & Wine for Dummies soar as one of the best food and beverage pairing books I’ve yet come across, perhaps the best. As per the title, Szabo keeps it simple, but avoids the trap of falling into simplistic, so that mere pages into the book you’ll find yourself hungering for some roast squab and pinot noir or escargots and dry rosé. What’s more, he explains in a fairly easy-to-comprehend way pairing principles that you can carry over to other beverages, beer and cider included. Possibly the best value in my collection of 2013 drinks books, even at the overinflated Canadian price point. (Wiley; $22.99 US/$27.99 Canada)    

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Books, Books, Books: What to Buy for Whom, Pt. I

This has been a banner year for books on beer and booze, folks, with more and better new releases than I’ve yet witnessed in 23 years of this beverage writing gig. In fact, there are simply too many to review each one, even with my oh-so-clever “Three Bottles and a Book” idea from back in the early summer, or my not-nearly-as-clever “A Big Batch of Beer Books” concept from October.

My newest idea, then? A two part – the second will arrive later on this week – post on which book you should get for different sorts of people on your holiday gift list, beginning with:

The Craft Beer Novice: Joshua Bernstein’s Complete Beer Course is subtitled ”Boot Camp for Beer Geeks,” and an accurate subtitle it is! The style is like sitting down with Josh for a beer or five and having him relate to you all his thoughts and dreams about beer, mixed in with numerous beer reviews, festival recommendations and the occasional interview. It’s nicely illustrated – although there are too many pictures of wheat beers with fruit in them for my taste – and will be appreciated by the aspiring beer aficionado. (Sterling Publishing; $24.95 US/$26.95 Canada) 

The Calagione Acolyte: If you know one of those people who chases ever-more adventurous, outrageous and extreme beers, Adem Tepedelen’s Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers is the one for them. In 208 pages, Tepedelen surveys a wide swath of the high-hops, high-alcohol and high-flavour beer landscape, interspersed with regular “Brewtal” brewery and musician profiles and suggested heavy metal music pairings. (Hey, it is presented by Decibel magazine.) (Lyons Press; $19.95 US/$21.95 Canada)

The Whisky Curious: No, this isn’t a beer book, but Davin De Kergommeaux’s Canadian Whisky: the Portable Expert is a wonderful stroll through the generally unsung and underappreciated world of its title subject. I became a Canadian whisky convert several years back, following many more years of boredom and frustration when it came to the category, and am pleased to note that De Kergommeaux has done a stand-out job of covering its evolution form “brown flavoured vodka” to something so much more. A terrific study of a now-fast changing subject. (McLelland & Stewart; $22.00 US/$24.99 Canada)

The World Traveller: This is self-serving and self-promotional, but I can’t list the new releases without including one of my own, The Pocket Beer GuidePocket Beer Book 2014 in the U.K. – which I co-authored with Tim Webb and a small army of some of the most talented and savvy beer people in the world. Simply put, this tightly written guide is an expertly curated listing and rating of most of the best beers in the world today. A must for the suitcase of any frequent flier, I would most immodestly suggest. (Sterling Publishing; $14.95 US/$15.95 Canada/£12.99 UK) 

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A Big Batch of Beer Books – Part 3

Northern California BreweriesI’m not even going to feign impartiality when it comes to reviewing California Breweries North by Jay Brooks.

First off, Jay is one of my oldest friends in the beer world. We’ve eaten together, drank together, travelled together, I’ve stayed at his house and he even hauled his entire family across the continent to attend my wedding reception five and a bit years ago! Secondly, I contributed a quote for the back cover of this very book.

So let’s instead just look at the facts and figures of this paperback. It has 406 text-dense pages. It covers 161 breweries from the Central Coast north to the Oregon border. Jay logged literally thousands of miles researching it. And even though it lacks the critical evaluations I just two days ago was complaining were absent from Joe Wiebe’s book, I can’t fault Jay for that, since it is the established style of this series of Stackpole beer guides to offer a single stand-out beer, known as “The Pick,” rather than rate and review multiple brews.

For the northern California traveller, it is arguably of slightly less utility than is last year’s Northern California Craft Beer Guide by Ken Weaver. For those interested in the state of northern California brewing today, however, it is indispensable. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the two editions complement each other nicely, with California Breweries North being the one to consult when deciding what brewery to visit and what beers to drink, and the Northern California Craft Beer Guide being the one to keep in the car.

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A Big Batch of Beer Books – Part 2

PictureA couple of months ago, I received a preview copy of the galleys of Brewing Arizona by Ed Sipos. Knowing the book itself wouldn’t appear until the fall, I flipped through its pages at leisure, surprised to find that brewing in the state dates back much further than I would have imagined.

Then, a week or two ago, the final, finished book arrived. And it’s a doozy, hard-backed, full colour and 360 pages long. In terms of weight and gravitas, it exceeds even the gorgeous new Boutique Beer by Ben McFarland (a review of which is forthcoming).

All that for a book about brewing in Arizona? Forgive me, but really, in terms of the global impact of a state or province or district, Arizona really isn’t up there in the top tier.

That said, Sipos’ research appears to be remarkably thorough, and at times reveals some very surprising facts. I had no idea, for instance, that Arizona craft beer pioneer ‘Electric’ Dave Harvan stopped brewing  in 1993 not because his brewery went bust, but because he was busted for possession and sale of marijuana. And neither was I aware that Arizona’s most notorious “craft” beer, Ed’s Cave Creek Chili Beer – you remember, the one with the chili pepper in the bottle that I don’t think anyone ever bought twice for themselves – enjoyed a brief status as a cult beer in Japan.

The book is also well-illustrated, which occasionally presents some problems. On page 168, for instance, we are shown a photo of the original Electric Dave Brewery and told in the caption that it was confiscated and destroyed by the BATF, but it is not until page 177, in a different chapter, that the full story is told.

Displaced photos aside, this is a remarkably thorough and mostly well-written history. Whether or not you will find it worth the $39.95 price tag will depend entirely on your degree of interest in Arizona’s brewing past and present.

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A Big Batch of Beer Books – Part 1

This fall must be the biggest season ever for beer and beverage books. My shelves are heaving with review copies, and quite frankly several of them are very good!

Of course, I’m partial to The Pocket Beer Guide/Pocket Beer Book 2014 – depending on where you are; it’s the former in North America and the latter in the U.K. – but I’m also excited about the efforts of many of my friends and colleagues. Beginning with a Canadian offering by the “Thirsty Writer” himself, Joe Wiebe.

Joe’s admittedly over-the-top titled Craft Beer Revolution is more reasonably, and descriptively, subtitled “The insider’s guide to B.C. breweries,” B.C. being Canada’s westernmost province, British Columbia. It is the first attempt at documenting that region’s burgeoning beer scene since Leo Buijs’ 2010 Beers of British Columbia, and is several degrees better.

Testament to the growth in the B.C. beer scene of late, Wiebe spends precious little time on preambles and instead launches into his brewery reviews on page 13, beginning with the stretch between Vancouver and Whistler, known as the Sea-to-Sky. He then barrels through Victoria, the islands, Vancouver itself, the south mainland and Fraser Valley and two districts of the interior, ending with “Caps, Corks & Coasters,” a collection of data, debate and a bit of diatribe. In the mix along the way are essays on everything from craft distilleries to why so few brewpubs survive in downtown Vancouver.

Wiebe’s approach is casual and personal, like any good beer guide should be. He has no problem beginning an entry “I first visited…” and neither does he shy away from the inclusion of anecdotes, personal and otherwise. While I would like to see more hard criticism – too many beers of dubious character are given positive spin – there is enough about each brew that a careful reader will be able to easily sort the wheat from the chaff.

Overall, if you’re a beer drinker living in or visiting British Columbia, this book will pay for itself in no time. Get a copy.

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Launching The Pocket Beer Guide 2014 – Dates! Places! Beers!

Cover(Update: The tour is over, but I’m still on the road. Hope to catch up with all of you soon, somewhere…)

The Pocket Beer Guide 2014 will finally be hitting stores next month! (In the UK, it’s The Pocket Beer Book 2014, and seems to be already in some stores and on Amazon.) To celebrate and promote this fact, I’m going to be hitting the road with tastings, dinners and signings at various locations across Canada and the United States. Here’s the list and I hope to see you somewhere along the way!

September 5, Victoria, British Columbia: I’ll be joining fellow beer scribe Joe Wiebe for a signing and chat at Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub from 6:00 pm onward. As a bonus, Spinnakers will be pouring ten beers from around BC, as selected by Joe, author of Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider’s Guide to B.C. Breweries.

September 7, Victoria, British Columbia: I’ll be selling whatever books I have left over from the Spinnakers event at the Great Canadian Beer Festival. It’s a sold-out event, but if you’re lucky enough to have tickets, come over and say hello.

September 9, Seattle, Washington: I’m going to be hosting a special tasting and book signing at the Burgundian, the latest gem from the makers of Brouwer’s Café and Bottleworks.

September 19, Toronto, Ontario: It will be my great pleasure to introduce the Ontario premier of Beer Hunter: the story of Michael Jackson at the Rhino. After the screening, I’ll be signing copies of both The Pocket Beer Guide 2014 and The World Atlas of Beer.

October 6, Fort Worth, Texas: I’ll lead a tasting of beer and cheese and chocolate at the Flying Saucer, with a signed copy of the Pocket Beer Guide 2014 included in your purchase price!

October 7, Dallas, Texas: We’re going to blow the roof off the Meddlesome Moth with an amazing beer dinner! I’m collaborating with Executive Chef David McMillan and am pretty excited about the global menu we’re developing. I’ll be signing books both before and after the dinner, so even if you can’t make the meal, come out for a pint and pick up a copy.

October 8, Garland, Texas:  This one is another beer and chocolate and cheese event, at the Flying Saucer on the Lake. Again, your admission price will also get you a copy of Pocket Beer Guide 2014.

October 9, Little Rock, Arkansas: I’m working with the chef from the Capitol Hotel to create another amazing beer dinner, this one held at the local Flying Saucer

October 10, Denver, Colorado: Join me and three of my beer book writing friends for “Books & Beer: Meet and Drink with the Authors of 4 Great New Books About Beer” at the Falling Rock. From 4:00 to 6:00 pm, I’ll be signing and drinking with Jay Brooks, author of California Breweries North, Joshua Bernstein, author of The Complete Beer Course, and John Holl, author of The American Craft Beer Cookbook. You should come down and buy all four!

October 10 – 12, Denver, Colorado: I’ll be at another sold-out beer event, the Great American Beer Festival, signing books at various times in the festival book store. Check the website for times, and remember, not only does The Pocket Beer Guide 2014 actually fit in your pocket, it can also help guide your tasting on the festival floor!

October 19 – 20, Toronto, Ontario: I’ll be at Cask Days, North America’s largest cask ale festival, selling and signing books and hosting two special tastings with details TBC. Check the website for details as they become available.

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Hence My Lengthy Absence…

Wow, has it really been a month since my last post here? Apparently so, but in my defense, with good reason. You see, I’ve been drinking…

Okay, more seriously, I’ve been travelling in support of the North American release of The World Atlas of Beer, which I’m pleased to say has been very well-received by both the beer and general interest presses. Tim and I spent just over two weeks travelling from New York to Philadelphia, Raleigh-Durham, all over Texas, Denver and finally Chicago promoting the book. And yes, it did involve a fair bit of drinking.

My favourite event? Oddly enough, that came at the tail end of the trip, after Tim had buggered off to Quebec City, leaving me to handle Chicago promotions on my own. My first stop was Rockwell’s Neighborhood Grill, where I hosted a beer and whisky and cheese pairing during which everyone seemed to have a great time, the pairings clicked rather uniformly and rather amazingly no one got terribly drunk. Good hardy drinkers, those north Chicagoans.

Beer finds along the way were numerous and far too many to relate all in detail, but I can say for certain that I won’t soon forget lunch at Bull City Burger and Brewery in Durham – for reasons both burger and beer – and Natty Greene’s from neighbouring Raleigh likewise made an impression with their Minuteman American Rye.

Down in Texas, I had my first extensive sampling of the beers of Jester King and walked away quite impressed, particularly with the brewery’s low alcohol offerings. (Paging Lew Bryson! Lew “Session Beer” Bryson! Please come to the bar.) One day later, new arrival Karbach Brewing caught my attention with a few beers, in particular a commendably restrained Rodeo Clown Double IPA and a wonderfully toasty Karbachtoberfest.

Up in Denver, there were beers aplenty, but one that stuck out as particularly memorable was the Odell Porter aged in barrels formerly used to mature a fernet-style amaro made by the local distiller, Leopold Bros. Herbaceous, piney, mint and of course roasty, it was a love-it or hate-it beer for certain, but I fell resolutely in the former camp.

Then, in Chicago, there was that beer-whisky/whiskey-cheese thing at Rockwells. Let me tell you, if you ever get the chance to sample together  Knob Creek Bourbon, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout and the French cheese known as Brillat Savarin, aka “sin,” take it! You will not be sorry.

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The Northern California Craft Beer Guide by Ken Weaver

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.

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Now THAT’S a Comment Thread!

You think the deluge of comments that occurred in this space following my “Sh*t (people) Do” series was entertaining? You ain’t seen nothing yet!

As usual, I am bettered by my British colleagues, in this case the Fabulous Melissa Cole*, who took umbrage with a statement BrewDog head James Watt made in Greg Koch and Matt Allyn’s book, The Brewer’s Apprentice. You should follow the link and read it for yourself, but the upshot of it all was that Watt felt that his experience with the British and U.S. brewing industries had lead him to believe theat the latter was far more open and friendly than the former.

And then came the comments!

Brewers are heard from. Writers sound off. The English and the Scots exchange words. Tempers become heated, then cooled. And it all makes for a terribly interesting read.

Go on, take 10 minutes and have a go at it yourself. Beer-based entertainment at its very best.

*Because the Internet is notoriously bad at conveying emotional meaning, I must add that I include “Fabulous” because I really do think Ms. Cole is fabulous, and not because I’m trying to be sarcastic.

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Gift Idea #3: Hops and Glory

Pete Brown’s story of transporting a keg of IPA from Burton-upon-Trent to India is not new. It’s coming up on three years old, in fact, which in the book publishing world makes it rather ancient. But I’m still going to tell you that if you know a beer aficionado who is even remotely literate, and they haven’t already read this book, then you should buy it for them, and they will love you for it.

Why? Simply because it is one of the most entertaining books ever written about beer, possibly THE most entertaining. And, as I noted in this review two and a half years ago, it’s not even really a “beer book” per se.

I won’t rehash my embarrassingly glowing review here, since I’m sure you’re capable of clicking the link if you so desire. And I’m not going to repeat my caveat about Pete (and his lovely wife Liz) being friends. I’ll just tell you again that it’s a damn fine read, and so you should buy it for someone close to you, and then get a second copy for yourself.

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