With all the local breweries and beer-centric bars around these days, we often find ourselves talking about beer – while drinking it. If you want to be part of that conversation, you might feel the need to up your game.
The best way to do that is to taste liberally, compare, contrast and calibrate. The second best way is to read widely. No, you don’t have to study and do flashcards, but there are enough good beer books out there that you can totally geek out all you want. They also make great holiday gifts.
Let’s start with a freebie. I have to admit, I’m a fan of Total Wine & More and admire how it makes the shopping and browsing experience so easy and fun. Part of that user-friendly initiative shines through in its free publication, “Total Guide to Beer.” It’s usually available when you first enter the store. It’s 200 pages of beer history, a breakdown of styles, a summary of the brewing process, beer and food pairings and more. Color photos, too. Total Wine also has beer classes available on site. Check the website (www.totalwine.com) for details.
If you aren’t a fan of chain stores, feel free to use this book to soak up all the knowledge you want and then drop by Corti Brothers, Capitol Beer & Taproom, Pangaea, Final Gravity, Taylor’s, Compton’s Market, Curtis Park Market or any other locally owned shop with a great beer selection.
Others worth considering:
▪ “Why Beer Matters” by Evan Rail. This short but thoughtful book is available as a Kindle single. The author makes an interesting assessment about one key difference between beer and wine – wine is tied to a time (and place) much more than is beer. For instance, Rail argues that while most wine-loving mortals will never get to taste, say, a 1962 Chateau Trotanoy, beer is not “stuck” in that time trap. Brewers of today can, indeed, re-create a beer from 75 years or 150 years ago rather accurately.
We saw this recently with Sacramento’s own New Helvetia Brewing, which won a prestigious gold medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in the “Historical Beer” category for its “Thurston” Adambier (11 percent alcohol by volume), a long-forgotten style New Helvetia’s brewmaster, Brian Cofresi, decided to re-create.
▪ “Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink” by Randy Mosher. This very thorough and well-written book will tell you what you need to know the story of beer and brewing. It also examines the sensory experience of beer and how to evaluate it. Mosher breaks down the world’s great beer regions, including the United States, and their most noteworthy beers and breweries. He also provides resources on forming beer clubs, becoming a certified beer judge and earning your cicerone certification.
▪ “The Brewmaster’s Table” by Garrett Oliver. In addition to covering the history and various beer styles in a smart and personable way, this brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewing provides terrific insights into making beer work well with food. Oliver is at his best when he makes a convincing argument that beer is often the better pairing choice than wine when it comes to the foods we eat most often – Mexican, Thai, Eastern, Japanese, Cajun and American barbecue. This is one of my favorite beer books.
▪ “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing” by Charles Papazian. I bet a lot of you might be getting homebrewing kits for Christmas or thinking about getting into homebrewing in 2015. It’s a relatively inexpensive and rewarding hobby. There are homebrewing clubs and local supply shops that can provide advice, along with plenty of websites. But it’s a good idea to have a trusty companion at your side for detailed instructions and reference. This comprehensive book has sold more than 1 million copies for a reason.
▪ “Beerology” by Mirella Amato. This is my favorite new beer book because it is well-organized, insightful and a pleasure to read. Amato talks about how she created a career for herself in beer, and her breakdown of the various styles is accessible to both newcomers and experienced beer aficionados. I particularly enjoy the chapter on how to set up a beer tasting. Not only is this a great social outlet, tasting with friends is an excellent way to compare notes and get friendly feedback on what you are drinking.
Amato also has several fun suggestions for beer-tasting games, including a beer-flavor identification game and beer-style ID game. The author also shows you how to do vertical (same beer, different vintages) and horizontal (same style, different breweries) tastings to grow as a knowledgeable beer drinker.
These are just a few of the books I have found helpful. I’m sure I’ll be talking about plenty more in the weeks ahead.
Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.
What we’re drinking: Chocolate Shake Porter (5.9 percent alcohol by volume) by Boulder Beer. We were lucky enough to get this beer from a nitro tap handle at Dad’s Kitchen on Freeport Boulevard. Nitrogen, which is most closely associated with Guinness, tends to make beers smoother and creamier. This beer was certainly creamy, looked wonderful in the glass, with a dark-chocolate hue and thick caramel-colored head. There was plenty of chocolate and coffee notes, with a smooth caramel on the finish.
Also at Dad’s, we were treated to a blend of three IPAs. Yeah, the bartender, Tyson Herzog, is a certified cicerone (the beer equivalent of a sommelier) and he suggested blending the triple IPA Simtra by Knee Deep, the House IPA and a session IPA, both by Berryessa Brewing, to make a terrific drink that kept some of that big Simtra aroma while toning down its coveted/notorious hoppy punch in the face. This turned out to be a fun brew. Herzog likes to do this kind of thing for regulars to dial in a specific flavor profile he enjoys. They don’t advertise this at Dad’s, but if you are looking for something different, ask for a special blend on draft.