Editorial Dept.'s picture

Book Review Roundup

A three pack of beer-themed book reviews on a variety of topics. Sit back, grab a snifter of your favorite brew and enjoy.
If a panoramic view of beer from past to present and from hop farm to dinner table is your interest, Randy Mosher’s new book is a good reference guide and an entertaining read.

While aimed more towards the casual craft drinker, Mosher’s wealth of culinary creativity and enthusiasm for all things beer can give the most wizened connoisseur a few new ideas for beer pairings.

As the title suggests, Beer for All Seasons is structured around navigating the intricacies of beer culture in relation to seasonal changes, leaving the reader with a beer pairing for every holiday, climate, and seasonal feast. (If you’ve ever wondered what the “Scariest Beers for Halloween” are, there are six listed, and they range from 6.66-18 percent ABV.)

Mosher, currently Creative Director at 5 Rabbit Cerveceria in Chicago, has been brewing, writing and consulting on all things beer for more than 20 years.

In this book, before delving into seasonal divides, Mosher takes readers back 10,000 years when beer is first thought to have been produced. He then brings them up to speed with a crash course on beer appreciation.

Included is an overview of how our senses relate to beer, a diagram on the tongue’s taste buds, and an entire section devoted to “the perfect pour,” though Mosher notes that such a notion is relative, and “a topic as hot as an electric eel.”

A veteran of the craft brewing scene, Mosher’s wellspring of beer knowledge is apparent in the season sections, which pepper colorful historical anecdotes into interwoven histories of beer styles and culture. Readers will learn why we always see pictures of goats on bock beers in the Spring section, and the essentials of “Navigating Oktoberfest” in the Fall section.

And if you can’t make it to Germany, don’t worry. There are hundreds of festivals listed, spanning the entire globe.

What distinguishes Beer for All Seasons as more than a rote overview is Mosher’s near esoteric detailing of beer and food pairings.

If you’re looking for the “Best Beers with Grilled Lamb,” Mosher lists four different styles, and explains in detail why they work. Try a Guinness Foreign Extra, for example. “The sharp coffeelike character of the roasted barley echoes the flavor of the grill marks on the lamb, while the smooth, creamy texture and substantial bitterness cleanses the palate.”

If that isn’t enough to impress a significant other, you can consult “The Chocolate and Beer Ladder”, with tiered pairings for levels of darkness – tiers of joy.

Mosher also provides beer cocktail recipes like a “Polish Coffee,” consisting of “Baltic porter… enlivened with coffee liqueur such as Kahlúa, topped with whipped cream.”

Rounding off Beer for All Seasons is “Around the World in 80 Beers,” a yearlong itinerary of top beer festivals around the world, from Brazil to the Republic of Georgia, knitted together with editorial winks and nudges.

Whether you breathe brewing or just enjoy an occasional craft pint, Beer for All Seasons will likely serve to spark your interest – like an electric eel – about what makes beer so engaging. Considering the price, the large-sized softbound book contains an incredible volume of useful and engaging information and visuals.

Beer for All Seasons
by Randy Mosher
​Storey, Softcover, $14.95, 200 pp 

– Jim Dykstra

*******

Brew It Yourself
Professional Craft Blueprints for Home Brewing
By Erik Spellmeyer

Microcosm, Softcover, $11.95, 127 pp

In Brew it Yourself, author Erik Spellmeyer attempts to bring his insider knowledge of commercial brewing to the homefront, with mixed results.

Spellmeyer served as a cellar-man for Ninkasi Brewing and his intimacy with the brewing process helps guide the book’s organization and terminology.

Brew it Yourself divides brewing into two categories: Extract brewing and all-grain brewing. The organization of the book, while engaging and fun, is rather scattershot. Despite claiming that “this book works best if you read it in order,” Spellmeyer’s visual asides and seeming non sequiturs make for a rather flummoxing read.

There are amusing cartoons, small pop quizzes on the sides of numerous pages, double-paged images, lists of varying sizes and subjects, and miniature blurbs next to some sections providing more detailed information or an interesting factoid.

While most of this information is useful, it could be hard for a reader to focus on following brewing directions with so much extraneous information crammed onto the pages. Also, many of the brewing tools listed are not readily available for upstart homebrewers, which is the main demographic for this small tome.

Brewing jargon can be quite impenetrable, but this book is able to convey the intricacies of brewing in a folksy, approachable style with important terms bolded in blue and a glossary in the back.

Despite its problems, Brew it Yourself is an enjoyable read that could easily lead readers to a rewarding hobby, or even career.                                                                              

– Chris Guest                                                 

*******

The Field Guide to Drinking in America
A Traveler’s Handbook to State Liquor Laws
by Niki Ganong

Overcup, Softcover, $19.99, 205 pp

This book is a worthy companion to any journeyman drinker.

Organized by region, the book offers a wealth of drinking related information for all 50 states in a concise and accessible format. The information is thoroughly researched and displayed in a visually appealing manner including images, drawings, photos and highlighted fact boxes. Ganong has done the thinking so you can focus on drinking.

The field guide features a quick reference section with each state’s legal nuances, as well as handy icons to tell you which states allow smoking in bars, whether or not you can fill growlers, and more. Ganong also provides brief and informative histories on each state, tying local liquor legislation into overarching federal policy.

Colorful tidbits of trivia also pepper the pages. In Alabama, for example, “drunk pedestrians are not allowed on highways.” (Make sure to keep to back roads!)

Regionally renowned watering holes and local lore round out Ganong’s guide, which gives the wandering drinker plenty of tinder to strike up conversation.

Equally useful for frequent flyers and bathroom readers, The Field Guide to Drinking in America points out the often ludicrous and intricate policies of America’s liquor laws with lively prose and an amazing array of odd facts associated with beer, such as where to find a beer can house.                                                                                

– Jim Dykstra