Beer gifts: A trilogy of craft beer books to make you smarter
Beer gift lists proliferate on websites and beer blogs this time of year, and I hesitated to post one because they often are redundant, featuring the same gadgets and novelty items as beer gift ideas. However, I recently chatted with someone who wanted to know more about the craft beer industry and its history and culture.
I was asked for suggestions on books to read that would aid the quest. I’ve read a lot of beer books – some good, some just OK, some unfinishable – and came up with a list of three that I felt would give the craft beer novice a well-rounded base of knowledge to make his or her journeys more enjoyable.
There are many other fine books and magazines that can make you a smarter beer traveler (feel free to share them in the comments), but it’s important to know the basics first. Click on the titles to learn more at Amazon.com.
Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer, by Maureen Ogle (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 8, 2007). Confession. I have not finished reading this. I had it on my Nook reader, which crapped out on me midway through. But I’m confident in recommending the book based on what I’ve read so far, and I’m picking up a print copy later today to finish it (Next reader will be a Kindle). This is, as the title points out, a story of American beer that chronicles how a generation of German immigrant brewers in the mid-1800s started the phenomenon on the small scale up through the modern craft beer movement. If you think you know the story, think again. You’ll learn how these first commercial brewers dealt with anti-immigrant policies, the rise of the temperance movement, and the sometimes shady business tactics of their competitors. Just the story of how Pabst Brewing Company laid claim to its famous “Blue Ribbon” gives a fascinating glimpse into the workings of the country’s early brewers.
The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution, by Tom Acitelli. (Chicago Review Press, May 1, 2013). This book might be described as being written from the viewpoint of a fly that fluttered among the walls of the most seminal moments in the history of the modern U.S. craft beer movement. Tom Acitelli chronicles those key events as if he were there (in some cases, he was). You’ll learn why Fritz Maytag purchased the struggling century-old Anchor Brewery in San Francisco in 1965; how a decade or so later, a young Jack McAuliffe, using the skill sets he developed working on submarines in the Navy, cobbled together the country’s first modern craft brewery – New Albion Brewing Company; and how, inspired by McAuliffe, other young brewers moved the grassroots craft brewing movement forward to its current status. Interspersed with stories of the brewers themselves are tales of how craft brewing dovetailed with other cultural movements, such as the slow food movement; created a new form of journalism, represented by such writers as the late Michael Jackson; and inspired legions of fans to brew their own beer in their kitchens, sometimes leading to their own breweries. I had a chance earlier this year to ask one of those pioneers his opinion of the book. Jim Koch of Boston Beer Co. told me that, essentially, Acitelli “got it right.”
Brewed Awakening: Behind the Beers and Brewers Leading the World’s Craft Brewing Revolution, by Joshua M. Bernstein. (Sterling Epicure, November 1, 2011). Now that you’ve read those first two books and learned about how the U.S. craft beer movement came about, it’s time for some practical knowledge of how to make your way around it. Joshua M. Bernstein does an excellent job of this in an engaging and often humorous fashion. The book outlines the various trends and styles in craft beer, such as the trend toward high-alcohol beers, the explosive growth of super-hoppy beers, and the use of unusual ingredients in brewing. Along the way, you’ll learn a lot of how the brewing process works and the role of the various ingredients in making beer. Vignettes about various breweries and beer styles pepper the book, and Bernstein offers helpful lists of beers to try for a real-world taste of the subject at hand. This is a fun book to read, and it offers a lot of knowledge in easy-to-digest nuggets.
There you have it. Any one of these books would make a great gift for either a novice or veteran beer geek, but I would recommend reading them in the order presented for the purpose of becoming a smarter beer drinker.
Hoppy Holidays to All!