I recently received advance copies of these two books to review so I thought I’d pass my thoughts along. I’ve never really been big on the review thing (at least not with beers), but I love books and had a few opinions on these ones that I wanted to share.
A trend I’ve noticed over the past two years with beer books is how so many of them are overly focused on trying to explain beer and beer styles to people. It seems like every other month someone is publishing a book that basically regurgitates the style guidelines. This is great for the many people still just getting into more interesting beer styles, but even for the basic craft beer fan they can seem extremely simple and boring.
Another theme that many books tend to devote at least a few pages to is how to properly enjoy beer. Glassware, serving temperatures, how to smell a beer, how to taste a beer, how to savor a beer. I’m not joking, these are genuine topics in a lot of books I’ve seen. I’m not sure how much good it does to tell people how to enjoy something. When you get that over the top about a beverage, you tend to suck a bit of the pure pleasure out of the experience for the general consumer.
Which leads me to Beerology by Mirella Amato. Right on the cover you get an idea of where this book is headed, “Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Beer…Even More.” Amato is incredibly knowledgable about beer. She’s one of only nine Master Cicerones on the planet. To achieve that certification you have to know your stuff inside and out. What surprised me most about this book was how basic it was. Maybe it was her intent to create a book for people who know little to nothing about beer, but I expected much more because of her Master Cicerone credentials.
Beerology is set up as a guide on how to become a beer geek in four easy parts. I’m being a bit sarcastic, but basically it provides step by step instructions on how to take yourself from know little to nothing about beer, to being a full fledge bottle share hosting beer lover (and there’s nothing wrong with that.) The first part artfully explains how to enjoy beer through proper tasting, smelling, presenting and storing beer. The second part is yet another style guide. 75 pages devoted to describing in pretty basic detail each style. Part three shows you how to have fun with beer…set up a tasting, pairing with food, hosting a party and entertaining with beer. Part four provides you with even more fun tools and terms to further detail and critic your beer.
It’s a very well written and put together book, but it felt like it was trying to turn me into an avid Rate Beer user. For the average to experience beer consumer, this book isn’t going to do much for you. It may also be too over the top for a beginner as well. Coming from a Master Cicerone, I was hoping for some in depth knowledge or insight, not a how to enjoy the basics of beer. That’s something that has been done far too many times already.
I was very excited to get my hands on Mikkeller’s Book Of Beer by the famed brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergso and his wife Pernille Pang. Mikkel has long been one of the biggest rock star brewers in the industry and has built a brand around exotic and crazy beers along with funky, hipsterish graphics. Book of Beer is sleek and full of fantastic pictures…it feels very Mikkeller.
My favorite part of the whole book is chapter 1, the story of Mikkel, from childhood to starting and growing his business. I love learning about people and their backgrounds and it’s always fascinating to read about how iconic breweries actually got their start. Some of this story has been published before, but it’s interesting to hear it told directly from Mikkel in his own words.
From there the rest of the book was a bit of a surprise for me. Mikkeller produces some of the most sought after and highly acclaimed beers in the world (why those beers are so highly rated and acclaimed is the topic for another post possibly.) It’s safe to say that many of the fans of this brewery are pretty knowledgable beer drinkers. So it was rather odd that the next few chapters of the book focused on the history of beer and the craft beer revolution along with over 50 pages about styles.
A huge portion of the book is devoted to topics that I’d assume most Mikkeller drinkers sort of already have an idea about. I didn’t expect to get a run down of what a pale ale is from this book, yet it’s in there along with pretty basic descriptions of almost every other style. Mikkel gives his recommendations for each style, a Mikkeller beer and some other brands, but for the most part it’s yet another style guide rehashed.
From there a whole chapter (close to 40 pages) is focused on how to homebrew and explaining what the basic ingredients of beer are. Again, I didn’t expect to get a mini homebrew lesson. Although there is adequate instructions and information in this chapter to get someone started with homebrewing, it’s pretty brief and not nearly as complete as some of the other entry level homebrewing books out there.
The real gems in Book of Beer are the 25 homebrew recipes of some of the more well know Mikkeller beers. Homebrewers who are fans of his beers will get a lot of use out of this section of the book.
The rest of the book features a few food recipes that are not for the average cook. These are complex dishes created at some of the world’s best restaurants. If you’re into cooking, they look like a lot of fun to try. If you’re not, then you’ll probably breeze over these.
Overall it’s a beautiful book, though I’m not sure if Mikkeller fans want or need a third of a book focused on beer styles.