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As I unwrapped this book on Christmas morning I had mixed feelings. It was delightful proof that my wife approves of my hobby but on the other hand I instantly realised this was a book mainly about American Craft Beer. Being based in the UK and mainly interested in British cask beer I was a little worried that this book might not be overly relevant to my interests. How totally wrong I was. This book is outstanding. It is wonderfully written- humorous yet lucid, educational without being overtly technical, comprehensive and most of all inspirational. Inspirational in that I now want to spend a lot of my income obtaining a huge range of beers!
The book’s first chapter covers ‘Beers Essentials’. Here, the brewing process is explained alongside sections on grain, hops, yeast, fermentation, storage, tasting and serving of beer. Highlights in this chapter include a comprehensive glossary of hops and their characteristics, recommended serving temperatures and canning versus bottling. At this point it should be mentioned that the layout of the book throughout is a strong feature. No one subsection is too long and the book is effectively packed with illustrations and photos to bring further clarity.
The following chapter about lager was probably my favourite chapter of the book; mainly because before reading this book it was the area I knew little about. Bernstein’s telling of the history of a range of lager styles such Doppelbock and Marzen make for fascinating reading. For each lager style (and for every beer style mentioned in the book) Bernstein offers a ‘Two to taste’ recommendation along with ‘Backup beers’ in case you can’t get hold of them. Usually one recommendation is the traditional/original version of that beer and the other is an American brewed version.
A feature of every chapter on beer styles is a ‘Brewery Profile’. Here Bernstein offers a review of a US brewery who specialise in specific styles. This includes a history of the brewery and interviews with the brewers themselves. So in this lager chapter; Victory Brewing Company of Pennsylvania are chosen for their expertise in lager.
The book continues in the same fashion with chapters on Wheat Beers, Pale Ales, IPA’s, Trappist Beer (which provides you with an excellent history of Trappist brewing), Dark Beers, Barrel aged beers and Sour Ales. The comprehensive nature of each section is astounding as you realise the vast range of styles out there. As much as I enjoyed all these sections; it did make me envious of America’s Craft Beer scene. There was a section devoted to ‘Barley Wine Beer Festivals’. Barley Wine Beer Festivals! How do you even survive a Barley Wine Beer Festival? In fact the array of beer festivals mentioned in the US devoted to sole styles was incredible. The sections on Ageing and sour beer were also highly interesting.
Looking at the book from a British Beer perspective I only had one disappointment; and that was the fact that Mild wasn’t mentioned as a style to try. It is a style the global Craft Beer movement haven’t embraced but one I still feel has a lot to offer.
After providing comprehensive commentary on beer styles the book moves onto a chapter looking at Beer around the world. This chapter offers an insight into developments surrounding beer in certain countries such as Italy and France.
The following chapter focuses on beer and food. Again, this is fabulous in its detail. Offering tips and advice garnered from a leading American chef who pairs all his food with beer. There is a subsection dedicated to beer and cheese – wonderful.
The book finishes with a section on cellaring beer, beer events around the world and a quality glossary. The beer events around the world section already has me looking into cheap flights to the US to attend one of the craft beer weeks.
So in conclusion, this book is a must have for any craft beer fan based in the United States. For someone like myself in the UK this book still has an awful lot to offer. It is educational and informative yet remains lucid and entertaining. I learnt a great deal about various styles I was unfamiliar with and it has made me keen to try more beer of varying styles. I am going to head to ‘Beers of Europe’ beer supermarket soon and find as many of the beers mentioned in this book as I can.
A great read.