I often receive copies of beer-related books in the mail. I'm not a book reviewer, but I have to say, books on beer are getting a lot more interesting than the standard guidebook-style books that dominated the beer reading market until recently. Here are three releases that stood out and later proved to be great reads.
'Beer: What to Drink Next' by Michael Larson (Sterling Epicure)
The subheading of this book is the Beer Select-O-Pedia, the original title under which it was published in the U.K. Both titles echo the theme of the book: A fun, convenient way to explore beer styles based on your personal tastes.
This book has a novel layout, with a full two pages dedicated to each style. Each entry comes equipped with a picture of the beer in its preferred glassware, infoboxes on style guidelines, a brief history, modern examples, and interesting trivia.
Tasting notes are covered in depth, which is where this book shines. These notes give the novice beer drinker invaluable direction in determining exactly what it is about a beer that they do or don't like. If you had a Scottish ale that you liked, this book will give you direction on what styles to explore next.
This is a great guide for anyone looking to expand their drinking repertoire with a targeted and educational approach, which not only means more beer that you actually like, but also more knowledge about why you like it.
'Homebrew Beyond the Basics' by Mike Karnowski (Lark)
As an avid brewer, I've spent a lot of time reading and rereading homebrewing texts. Two books are often recommended to homebrewers: Charlie Papazian's excellent The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, a book that sprinkles a little science into a spirited romp through the hobby of homebrewing; and John Palmer's How to Brew, a comprehensive guide that will take you from basics to advanced techniques, albeit in a relatively technical fashion.
Homebrew Beyond the Basics is the first book I've come across that explains the entire brewing process simply and effectively. With big, colorful pictures and an easy-to-read layout, this book is exactly the un-intimidating read that many intermediate brewers could greatly benefit from in their transition to all-grain brewing.
And while the book is geared mostly toward this type of brewer, the concepts and explanations featured throughout the book are so clearly and plainly stated that brewers of all skill levels are virtually guaranteed to experience at least a few Aha! moments while reading them.
Also of interest is Karnowski's critical eye toward common brewing wisdom. Does first-wort hopping actually produce a "smoother" bitterness? Does a higher mash temperature give your beer more body? Karnowski loves to experiment with issues like these, and you'll likely benefit from his work. I know I feel more knowledgeable and confident now than when I started reading.
'Florida Breweries' by Gerard Walen (Stackpole Books)
You may have noticed that beer in Florida has flourished over the past few years. This fact certainly didn't escape Gerard Walen, a Crystal River writer and blogger who traveled the state to visit its many breweries, his notes culminating in the definitive guide to breweries, brewpubs and tasting rooms in the Sunshine State.
Florida Breweries is organized by region and covers the history, production details, popular beers and tour information for each brewery. While that may sound a bit dry, Walen's prose is anything but, reading like a breezy travelogue peppered with humorous anecdotes, interviews with brewery staffs and personal picks on what to drink if you visit.
Our state has become a big player in the craft beer world only recently, and it's about time we got our own book. Walen's book not only does the Florida brewing scene justice, it does so in about as readable and interesting a way as one could hope for, which will no doubt help spread the word to those who aren't yet fully initiated into the Florida craft beer scene.
The downside? With the brewing scene growing so rapidly in Florida, this book is going to need a second edition before long.