New Books From Beaumont and Bernstein
I have received a stack of books lately--apparently the run-up to Father's Day has become the season of beer books. I'll try to review them all in coming weeks. Up today, books from two of the most prominent names in beer--Stephen Beaumont and Josh Bernstein.
Joshua M. Bernstein
288 pages, $25
Full Disclosure: I know Josh but we haven't spent as much time together as I'd like
Bernstein has written a homebrew book that features the recipes and formulations for 32 beers--that much is perhaps not too surprising. What is much more unusual is the way the information is presented. Each recipe comes from a different homebrewer, and they're scattered across the globe. There are Americans with IPA recipes, a Brazilian with a Belgian pale, a Pole with a Grodziskie, a Mexican with a Porter, a South African with a locally-hopped saison, an Argentinian making Argentine-hopped IPA, a New Zealander making Berliner weisse, and--you get the picture.
Each brewer gets an entry, and the chapters combine ethnography and reportage along with brewing techniques and instruction. Each brewer is profiled and their approach to brewing, local context, and set-up all get explored. An urban Berliner, for example, built his kit out on his balcony, fascinating neighbors who wondered what on earth he was doing. The section on wild beers is the most engrossing, and the people making them are--no surprise--offbeat and fascinating.
The book is aimed at other homebrewers, who will presumably pass around these recipes like they do growlers and pints at their local club. I personally found it more engaging on the ethnography side of things. Homebrewing, like any hobby, is distinctive. The people attracted to it may be as different as a hippie back-to-the-lander and a aerospace engineer, but the way their minds work have telltale patterns. Reading through the book reminded me of some of my cultural studies classes where the uniqueness of certain societies were revealed and explored. Homebrewers, whether in Buenos Aires or Brooklyn (hi Mary and Chris!), are all listening to a tune others miss.
As a bonus, Alan Taylor makes a surprise appearance, which made me smile.
Will Travel for Beer: 101 Remarkable Journeys Every Beer Lover Should Experience
224 pages, $20
Full Disclosure: Like Josh, I know Stephen but haven't spent as much time with him as I'd like.
Writers may know less about beer than the brewers they cover, less about hops than the people who grow them, less about business than the people who make their money selling six-packs. The thing they know more than just about anyone, though, is place. We are compelled by story and interest to go wherever the beer is made, which now means everywhere. Many writers will have traveled more extensively to places where beer is brewed than anyone else. And, if I had to guess which writer has trotted the globe most extensively, I'd put my money on Stephen Beaumont.
He's taken the experience of his extensive rambling and put it into Will Travel for Beer, which is one of the best beer travel books I've seen. It's short and pithy, with chapters that run no more than a few hundred words. They are far from comprehensive. Dublin gets four stops; Brussels just two. Portland gets four stops, and locals will be miffed to see one is a California brewery. But this is not a bug, it's the book's central feature. The problem with modern travel isn't information--that's everywhere. It's rather the opposite--narrowing one's focus to the essential. If you end up visiting any of the places Beaumont recommends, you'll add stops, and you'll have many resources to help you choose. What Beaumont does instead is far more valuable: he points to the place you should consider and more importantly, the reason you should go to these places.
Take stop 11, Masham, subtitled "All in the family." This is not a stop most people would put on their list in a visit to England, and yet it is one of the most astute. That's the small town in Yorkshire where Theakston is located--as well as Black Sheep, the offshoot, modern-era brewery founded by members of the same family. Or maybe stop 65, New Glarus, WI, a town that rates a visit entirely because the local brewery is so interesting and important. There are 6,500 breweries in the US, and an entire chapter on New Glarus tells readers all they need to know about the relative stature of this one. Throughout the book, Beaumont selects places like these, alongside more famous destinations like Bamberg and London. They're the places serious beer fans need to put on their bucket list, and Beaumont explains why.
In the front matter, Beaumont discusses the need for beer travel in a world where good beer is so plentiful and imports so easy to obtain. Why would anyone go to Bamberg when Shlenkerla sends its beer to the states and the local brewery has a rauchbier on tap? Actually, I think the answer is embedded in that question. When beer becomes dissociated from its context, it becomes just another flavor. Nothing in the world makes beer seem more interesting, relevant, and distinctive than drinking it in the place it was brewed. In a world of plenty, getting off our duffs and seeing these places may be more important than ever. This book is a great place to start your planning.