Before Black Friday: The Best Beer Books of 2016

Before Black Friday: The Best Beer Books of 2016

The problem with devout beer nerds is that we geek out so much over our hobby or profession. We LOVE to learn. Like baseball fans, we proudly rattle off obscure stats and stories that we’ve gleaned from tasting, trading, traveling, touring and, in many cases, reading. Beer magazines arrive faster than I can crack their covers, and when my ex-fiancé moved out, the part I dreaded most came when he boxed up and carried away the beer books he’d contributed to our library (along with more than a few review copies that had been mailed to me, and no, the nice bottles he left me of Alaskan Smoked Porter did NOT make up for it, thank you very much). All of this is to say that as an intellectual bunch, we consume and produce a lot of media.

I didn’t realize just how much gets published until I set about to compile this holiday shopping guide for readers, in which I enumerate what I consider to be the indispensable beer books released this year. After some serious reflection, I whittled down a list of around three dozen (not including all those I’m sure I’m missing) to 18 bare essentials that every student of beer really should have on her shelves. If you’re shopping for an educated beer lover this Black Friday, here are the titles I think you should consider, from an admittedly very American perspective. Happy reading!

Books About Money-Making

Quench Your Own Thirst: Business Lessons Learned Over a Beer or Two, Jim Koch – Who wouldn’t want to pick up business tips from the first start-up craft beer billionaire … you know, the one who dropped out of Harvard’s J.D./M.B.A. program to teach wilderness skills for Outward Bound? In his first book, the man who founded Boston Beer (maker of Sam Adams) in 1984 divulges what he’s learned through three decades of leading craft beer out of obscurity into the mainstream. Breaking his first-person autobiographical manual into chapters like “Find Your Yoda,” “Open Yourself to ‘Holy Shit,’” and “The Difference Between Sex and Masturbation” the famously approachable Koch writes so conversationally that it’s easy to forget he’s actually trying to pass down life lessons. As he’ll admit, he’s been too far ahead of his time and conversely struggled to keep up with an industry that refuses to follow its own rules. But through it all he reminds us, “Most risks aren’t really risky. Isn’t the biggest risk of all that you’ll waste your life doing what you don’t really enjoy doing, making compromise after compromise?”

Off-Centered Leadership: The Dogfish Head Guide to Motivation, Collaboration & Smart Growth, Sam Calagione – There’s pretty much no room for debate that the music lover who spins his doggedly “off-centered” craft beer company according to the principle “Analog Beer for a Digital Age” marches to his own innovative beat. But nearing 50 years old and coming off the 20th anniversary of Delaware’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, the always entertaining CEO is simultaneously teaching himself and readers how to go from a “Ready, fire, aim” approach to a measured one that meanders down the path of “Grow Slowly, Go Thoughtfully.” In this first-person narrative, Calagione shows how his own experiences have convinced him that running a successful business should be more about collaboration and less about competition.

Business for Punks: Break All The Rules — The Brewdog Way, James Watt – “Start a revolution, not a business.” So advises the famously irreverent Watt, co-founder of Scotland’s BrewDog and one of only about a dozen beer experts around the world to earn a certification as a Master Cicerone. Screaming into the wind about the DIY, survival instinct he perfected as captain of a deep-sea trawler in the North Atlantic, Watt forces his “burn the rule book” attitude on readers in the kind of in-your-face language you might expect to hear from a sailor … or a punk-rock brewer. His suggestions aren’t for the timid; “Get people to hate you,” and “Don’t waste your time on bullshit business plans,” may only mobilize the intrepid. But he swears the brewery he and his best friend started in a basement nine years ago has been profitable every year since the beginning and it’s hard to argue with his results – beer sold in 50 countries, bars established in 40, a long-running cable TV show and a soon-to-open North American HQ. If you follow just one piece of his advice he hopes it’s, “Be a selfish bastard and ignore advice.”

How to Market Beer To Women: Don’t Sell Me A Pink Hammer, Ginger Johnson – Culled from years of research and punctuated by quotes from beer-drinking women, this simply-written (wo)manual allows the founder of the Women Enjoying Beer marketing consultancy to brain-dump her real-world findings onto a page. So what do women want? Flavor, education, value, food, a social experience and much more that you’ll have to read the book to discover. Beyond the “what,” Johnson offers explanation as to why women do and don’t respond to certain types of outreach and concludes each chapter with easy-to-follow instructions on how to better understand one’s specific market. With her insight, brand developers can understand that marketing beer to women requires a much deeper, richer interaction than the one that results from slapping pink paint on a flimsy set of tools and calling it a “gift for girls.”

Books About Tasting

Beer FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About The World’s Most Celebrated Adult Beverage, Jeff Cioletti – As the title suggests, this addition to the “FAQ” line of reference books goes deeper than so many of the Beer 101’s that everyone with a byline and a grasp of the brewing process felt compelled to write in the first half of this decade. Instead, it reads more like the blue-square ski trail of the beer-book world: an intermediate reference guide that provides more detail than an intro (with a list of common types of barley and hops, with brief descriptions, for example) but not as much complexity as an academic text. Written by a highly regarded beer journalist and author, this engaging read will find a perfect home with any beyond-the-basics drinker who wants a one-stop shop for everything from the best beer bar in Stockholm to the politics behind The Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act.Before Black Friday: The Best Beer Books of 2016

The World Atlas of Beer (Revised & Expanded): The Essential Guide to the Beers of the World, Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont – With the World Atlas, beer writers Webb and Beaumont have pretty much written the book on global styles and brews. Now in its second printing, this full-color coffee-table guide contains ten new countries, including Iceland and China, and updated information like the number of breweries per capita per state. Maps and plenty of pictures help readers put the copy, which provides an overview of beer’s international micro-regions, into context.

The Ultimate Beer Guide: Western Edition 2017, Jamie Bogner – Basically a compilation of the Beercation and Love Handles departments of the Craft Beer & Brewing magazine that Bogner edits (and I contribute to), this glossy travel guide outlines the must-sees for beercationers in 13 western states, including Hawaii and Alaska.

The Beer Geek’s Handbook: Living a Life Ruled by Beer, Patrick Dawson – Filled with goofy drawings, sound-bite-sized chapters and self-depreciating humor, this soft-back handbook makes a fun gift for A) a curious craft convert who wants to learn what kind of beer to expect and order at a redneck bar (answer: bourbon); B) a bathroom-bound brewer who can laugh at the sacred cows of the craft brewing industry. To wit, from a section called “Beware the Collaboration Brew – Creativity Overdose”: “Two brewers aren’t going to get together and brew the perfect pilsner. … If the original idea is a saison, the end product will be a cactus-infused saison steeped in Swiss iguana scrotums and aged in paper-maché barrels handcrafted by transvestite Japanese monks. In other words, a beer that tries way too hard … and tastes like lizard nuts.”Before Black Friday: The Best Beer Books of 2016

Complete IPA: The Guide to Your Favorite Craft Beer, Josh M. Bernstein – In his third beer book, Bernstein graduates from teaching a survey course to one laser-focused on one very popular style. After some introduction to hop varieties and IPA-appropriate glassware, most photo-laden pages highlight a specific beer or brewery, categorized by country or region of origin. Because when you talk about IPAs you’re still mainly talking about The United States and England, Bernstein fleshes out the offerings by introducing distinctions between Southeastern and Rocky Mountain IPAs (who knew?) and loading up lupuline travel itineraries for the most hop-headed among us.

Books About Eating

Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros, Julia Herz and Gwen Conley – The beer community got giddy when the head of craft beer for the Brewers Association (Herz) partnered with a long-time brewing icon (Conley) to release this lusciously photographed and meticulously researched hard-cover. The pair combines a hefty dose of human physiology with finely ground explanations of chemical interactions to help readers truly understand the elements of pairing rather than simply memorizing them. The approach is more one of teaching a man to fish instead of feeding the man a fish. With the (complex) basics behind them, the authors dive deep into pairing by style, pairing with cheese and chocolate, cooking with beer and putting it all together in a beer dinner.

Cooking with Beer, Mark Dredge – If you withstand temptation by avoiding grocery shopping when you’re hungry, it’ll be best to do the same when browsing this cookbook. Overflowing with 65 recipes for breakfast (coffee stout pancakes), dessert (double IPA carrot cake) and everything in between (sour beer ceviche, anyone?), the practical how-to sets up a beer lover for all kinds of cooking occasions, no matter how full of kitchen knowledge she may be. The London-based Dredge also published The Pocket Book of Craft Beer: A Guide to Over 300 of the Finest Beers Known to Man this year but he’s not getting two entries because no one should get credit for releasing three books in 12 months (The Best Beer in the World dropped last October). Those overachievers should spend more time drinking or cooking and less time, you know, working.Before Black Friday: The Best Beer Books of 2016

Books About Traveling

The Belgian Beer Book, Erick Verdonck and Luc De Raedemaeker – This publication isn’t so much a reference book as it is a reference TOME. At 702 pages, including index, it may rightfully be considered the most comprehensive book on Belgian beer and its culture since beer-writing pioneer Michael Jackson passed away in 2007. Though authors caution not to label the beer bible a complete encyclopedia, it’s impossible not to make the comparison, what with its lush photographic landscapes and topics that cover everything from history to styles to café etiquette to tourism to cuisine a la bière.

Fifty Places to Drink a Beer Before You Die, Chris Santella – As author of numerous “best places to (fill in the blank) before you die” books, Santella isn’t a beer writer per se. But it matters not, as he serves not as arbiter but as conduit through which beer professionals from around the world can wax wistful about their favorite destinations.

Books About Brewing

It’s best not to buy a brewing book as a gift unless you know exactly how avidly the recipient brews and what goals she hopes to tackle next. For instance, Brewers Publications’ release Wood & Beer: A Brewer’s Guide by brewing legends Dick Cantwell and Peter Bouckaert would inspire and excite a professional brewer who wants to learn more about incorporating wood-aging into her repertoire. But a novice homebrewer is probably years away from doing anything useful with the information. On the other hand, a pro brewer who’s restricted in his creative input has no use for Chris Colby’s Homebrew Recipe Bible: An Incredible Array of 101 Craft Beer Recipes, from Classic Styles to Experimental Wilds, though a homebrewer probably would appreciate the ideas. If you insist on buying a brewing book for your favorite brewer, you may strike gold by buying Brewing Local: American-Grown Beer by prolific beer writer Stan Hieronymus or The Homebrewer’s Almanac by the owners of Scratch Beer in Illinois, Marika Josephson, Aaron Kleiden and Ryan Tockstein. Both books explore the burgeoning focus on farming and foraging for terroir in craft beer, which almost anyone can find interesting.

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