December 12, 2013

What Ales You: Reading about beer can lead to better drinking and brewing

Here are some suggestions for gift books for that special beer geek.

By Tom Atwell

Beer is best when you drink it. It also can be good when you read about it.

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“The Complete Beer Course” by Joshua M. Bernstein.

Courtesy photo

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“Drink Your Own Garden” by Judith Glover.

Courtesy photo

Joshua M. Bernstein, who lives in New York City but spent five years in Portland, during which he got married on Munjoy Hill with the reception catered by Po’ Boys and Pickles, has provided some of the best beer reading of 2013.

“The Complete Beer Course,” described as a “Boot Camp for Beer Geeks: From Novice to Expert in Twelve Tasting Classes,” is a wonderful large-format hard-cover with bright and humorous writing and many pictures.

Bernstein wrote “Brewed Awakening: Behind the Beers and Brewers Leading the World’s Craft Beer Revolution” in 2011, and he was proud to tell me in a telephone interview that he had never held a full-time job, being able to cobble together a living by writing about beer and a few other subjects.

With this book, the 35-year-old has cemented his position as a top-notch beer writer.

For starters, reading the book is only part of taking Bernstein’s beer course. You also have to drink beer.

He gives you “Two to Taste” for beers typical of the style he is describing, as well as some alternatives if you can’t find the two prime beers.

Lesson 1 is “Beer Essentials,” followed by lessons on lagers, wheat beers, pale ales, IPAs, Trappist and abbey ales, dark beers, barley wines and winter warmers, barrel-aged beers, sour ales and international beer styles. The final lesson covers cellaring beer and pairing beer with food.

The book mentions a lot of Maine locations.

One of the brewery profiles is on Allagash Brewing in Portland. Allagash White and Maine Beer’s Peeper are among the “Two to Taste” choices, and other mentions are Shipyard’s Smashed Pumpkin, Bar Harbor’s Blueberry Ale, Oxbow as one of the farmhouse breweries to try, and Ebenezer’s Pub in Lovell and the Great Lost Bear in Portland among his favorite beer bars.

This is a book that is going to remain on my shelf as a resource guide. “The Complete Beer Course,” published by Sterling Epicure, is 320 pages and priced at $24.95.

There are some other good books to try, whether for your own winter reading or as gifts to beer lovers.

I wrote about Josh Christie’s “Maine Beer: Brewing in Vacationland” earlier this year, and it is a solid book covering all of Maine’s breweries at the time it was published (History Press, $19.99).

“Brewing Made Easy” (Storey Publishing, $12.99) by Maine residents Joe and Dennis Fisher is an easy-to-follow guide to brewing your own beer. I wrote about that one earlier this year, as well.

If you do much traveling, “The Pocket Beer Guide” by Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb would be an invaluable resource.

This paperback (Sterling Epicure, $14.95), lists 3,000 beers, with descriptions and ratings on a four-star system. I enjoyed reading about the beers I haven’t yet tried, just because it gave me some goals for the future.

“Drink Your Own Garden” by Judith Glover mixes two of my major interests in life, beer and gardening. It was originally published in Great Britain in 1979, but was revised and republished this year (Sterling Epicure, $19.95) and offers recipes including berries, vegetables, flowers, rose hips, herbs and more.

I don’t write much about cider, mostly because I am not a big fan of hard ciders, but a couple of books did cross my desk: “Cider Hard and Sweet” by Ben Watson of New Hampshire (The Countryman Press in Vermont, $16.95), and “World’s Best Ciders” by Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw (Sterling Epicure, $30).

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

tomatwell@me.com

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