I’m kinda biased, but I think the overall literature about beer is pretty boring. I don’t know how beer writers somehow make beer into a boring read, but it happens, and usually falls into one or more of the following categories: Self help/how-to, history, or science.
It’s quite obvious that nerds are writing most of the books about beer. I am a self-professed beer nerd, so I will willingly and eagerly dive into beer nerd literature, but I would never suggest a beer book to a non-beer nerd friend. Ever. Beer nerdom is getting close to mainstream, but it’s still so fringe that there aren’t even any good dad books on the market (you know what I mean by “dad books.” Like one of Arnold Palmer’s six autobiographies, or a Tom Clancy novel, or a book by someone in the military). Unless of course, your dad makes beer, then almost all books would be great dad books.
Of the self help/how-to variety, the books either fall into how to taste beer, or how to make beer. I call that self help, because if you don’t know how to taste beer, you really need to get your self some help. And most of those writing these books are not qualified to provide adequate mental health advice, so that’s why I call it “self help.” I’m especially upset with the tasting or sensory books. There needs to be a good chapter dedicated to metaphor creation and building sense memories. Anyway, here are some that do the genre some justice:
“The Brewmaster’s Table,” by Garrett OliverOne of the more reputable tasting books, it’s a thick volume with advice on pairing, history, and process. His prose isn’t over the top, or too flowery, but still meanders into the poetic. It’s as narrative as possible, while staying in the framework of the book: Regions, breweries, styles, though it could have been even more narrative and personal (and probably more interesting). But it is one of the best of this variety. It’s actually one of the most readable books on beer that I’ve read. The only beer book that would be more readable would be if Michael Jackson (the beer writer, not the musician), had a collection of essays.
“Designing Great Beers,” by Ray DanielsOn the how-to make beer side, I hesitantly recommend “Designing Great Beers,” by Ray Daniels. It’s loaded to the gills with history and gives some decent ideas on technique, though it’s a little dated. It’s also more like an encyclopedia than a book to sit down and read. But if you want to know how to brew an award-winning Marzen, or Old Ale, or anything really, there’s probably a recipe in here.
“The Practical Brewer,” edited by John T. McCabeIf you want to go super-deep-dive-down into the nerdy beer world, I recommend “The Practical Brewer.” Don’t let the name deceive you, this is a massive, technical, science-rich, engineering-focused book. It’s not written by one person, but by experts in each area of beer production. If you are working in a brewery, you need to read this. Every brewery should have a copy.
So these aren’t the only books out there about beer or brewing, just a sample of the variety (and there’s really not a lot). There are some books that I still need to check out: Sam Calagione’s new one and the book by those Brew Dogs guys, but the reviews are kinda scaring me away. Craft beer needs an Anthony Bourdain-type, Kitchen Confidential. We need a book that anyone can pick up and read, because we’re making beer that anyone can pick up and drink.
Robert Alan Wendeborn is a former cellar operator at Ska Brewing and current lead cellar operator at Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.