A book every beer lover must have

submit to reddit
SAMSUNG

I like to sound smart when it comes to beer. So do many of you. Because you follow the Washington Beer Blog, I hope you know more about beer than the typical Homer sitting next to you at the bar. For many of you, that is why you read this blog. That is not criticism. I totally get it. When considering the many topics about which you could potentially attain expert status, beer is an excellent choice.

By writing this blog I try to help you get in touch with your inner beer nerd. Today I have some advice for you. Think of it as a road map to your goal of beery enlightenment.

Check this out. So you think that English beer has always been hoppy? Au contraire, mon frère. Hops didn’t make it to England until the 1400s, when Flemish settlers began to introduce them to the Kent countryside. It was hundreds of years later that they became common in English ales. In the 1530s King Henry VIII actually forbade the use of hops in beer, considering hops an aphrodisiac that would “drive the populace to sinful behavior.” (Yes, that Henry VIII.) When Samuel Johnson published the very first dictionary of the English language in the 1750s, he defined beer as “…liquor made by infusing malt in hot water and fermenting the liquor.” No mention of hops. Luckily by the 1770s the use of hops in English beer became quite common. And the rest is history.

How do I know all this? What exactly am I quoting above? The Oxford University Press has just released the very first Oxford Companion to Beer. This is the new beer bible: the Encyclopedia Beertanica. The person behind this 920-page masterpiece is Garrett Oliver, the longtime Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewing Company.

You must have this book. It is magnificent. Whether you are an aspiring beer geek, an avid home brewer, or a professional brewer, you must have this book. It is the beer book.  From Abbey Beers to Zymurgy, from Acidulated Malt to Young’s Brewery, the Oxford Companion to Beer discusses every topic imaginable. Not just hearsay or regurgitation, this book stands upon real research and investigation. When the Beer Ox talks about India Pale Ale, rest assured that someone dug through piles of 250 year-old records to find out what really happened. They did not simply redraft the same old mythology about George Hodgson and the East India Company.

An Audience with Garrett Oliver

On Saturday, October 8th, I had the pleasure of meeting Garrett Oliver and listening to him talk about this remarkable book. The event took place at a soon-to-be-opened bookstore in Fremont called Book Larder: a Community Cookbook Store. I have no idea if the Oxford Companion to Beer is available anywhere else in the city yet. Book Larder focuses entirely on books about cooking and the shop includes a demonstration kitchen that will host cooking classes and exhibitions. The shop celebrates its grand opening this Wednesday, October 13th, with a cooking demonstration by Becky Selengut, local author of Good Fish. There are still a couple spots left – click here for tickets.

Garrett Oliver being introduced by Lara Hamilton, the owner of Book Larder.

At the event, Garrett Oliver spoke to the small group about the process of creating the book. The book is a compilation of materials submitted by more than a hundred experts from more than two dozen countries. In the Preface, Oliver extends his special appreciation to Dick Cantwell, the Brewmaster at Seattle’s Elysian Brewing. According to Oliver, Cantwell is responsible for several important contributions. He also said that Charles Finkel, owner of Pike Brewing, was a tremendous help and actually acted as curator of the many pieces of historic artwork that appear in the book.

A Beer-Loving Bon Vivant

Garrett Oliver is not at all what you might expect. If you’ve been around the craft brewing industry at all you likely recognize brewers to be bearded men in rubber boots and faded T-shirts. Quite often brewers are soft-spoken artisans, unintelligible geniuses, or sarcastic and loveable vulgarians. By stark contrast, Garrett Oliver is well-dressed, well-groomed, and exceedingly articulate. He appears more GQ than Beer Advocate. He is a bon vivant, as Mario Batali called him in a quote about The Brewmaster’s Table, Garrett Oliver’s other must-have book about beer. Yes, he really is a brewer and has certainly worn out his share of rubber boots, but he is also the perfect person to have his name on this book just below the word Oxford. It was a pleasure to listen to him talk about assembling this book.

This is not a cheap paperback novel. It is a big, hardcover book. It is beautifully illustrated. The $65 price tag might shock you, but this is more like a text book and less like a dime store novel. It is worth all 650 of the dimes you will pay.

And while you’re at Book Larder, you should pick up something for the food-lover in your life. Browse through a nice cookbook by Anthony Bourdain. Consider buying a cookbook by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, who just so happens is the person who wrote the Forward to the Oxford Companion to Beer.

 

 

6 Responses to A book every beer lover must have
  1. Paul
    October 10, 2011 | 4:05 pm

    Before you begin quoting too many passages from the book, consider what Ron Pattinson, one of the most deligent beer researches on eart, had to say:

    “They let Horst Dornbusch write the Scottish beer articles. Horst Dornbusch, who can’t even get German beer right. I’ll be spending the next few decades trying to repair the damage.”

    http://barclayperkins.blogspot.com/2011/10/classic-horst.html

    Dornbusch is also the assistant editor.

  2. Patrick
    October 10, 2011 | 5:52 pm

    I met Garrett Oliver at the Elysian pumpkin fest on Saturday! I love his book The Brewmaster’s Table. I may have to pick up the Oxford Companion. Don’t know how I’m going to carry it into the pub to settle bar disputes though (hmm, there is a Kindle edition…). By the way it’s $40 on Amazon.

  3. Patrick
    October 10, 2011 | 6:13 pm

    Regarding the Barclay Perkins link from Paul above, I read the passage on scottish beers and most of it seemed consistent with everything else I’ve heard, including from the BJCP. It looks the Barclay Perkins guy (who is he anyway? his name is not on the blog) is picking out tiny pedantic details and reading into the phrasing way too much.
    For example he says that the book’s claim that the weakest shilling ale was 1030 is not true because William Younger’s weakest brew was 1040. Well first of all the book says “perhaps 1030,” implying maybe we don’t know exactly the precise range. Beer isn’t a perfect science, especially in the 19th century, so you can’t say you know for sure there was no 1030 beer. Maybe sometimes they missed their gravity target.

  4. mart san
    October 11, 2011 | 9:49 am

    He made it to the pumpkinfest after the book signing, we had some tasters and talked about bringing Brooklyn beer to seattle. Nice guy.

  5. Paul DeFonzo
    October 12, 2011 | 9:37 pm

    I can vouch that the Brooklyn family of beers would be a valued addition to the Northwest brew scene. As for the book, maybe someone will pony up for one for me as a birthday present. I recall learning quite a bit from Michael Jackson’s big beer book in the 1980s.

  6. Ron Pattinson
    October 13, 2011 | 2:06 am

    I’m “the Barclay Perkins guy”.

    Horst said 60/- was about 1030. He’s based that on modern 60/- beers and not bothered doing any research into what they were like in the 19th century. Beers of 1030 were what they gave to toddlers.

    Unlike Horst, I’ve looked at hundreds of brewing records from the 19th century. Only the crappiest Table Beer was 1030.

    Tiny pedantic details? He confused two completely different styles of beer. That’s not a pedantic detail.

    The BJCP gets Scottish Ales totally, totally wrong. As has just about everyone else who’s written on the subject. Because none of them could be bothered to do any primary research.