In many a craft beer-drinking clime, falling snow and frosted windowpanes herald the coming of the holiday season. If you’re a craft beer enthusiast or homebrewer, chances are you’ve filled up your holiday wishlist with beers to carry you through the winter season and gadgets aplenty to augment your home brewhouse. But maybe you know a kitchen virtuoso who could round out his or her repertoire with some beer-themed dinner pairings, or maybe you have a friend who needs a little encouragement to take plunge into homebrewing.
Since I’m a loyal devotee of the printed word, the first in this short series on holiday gift ideas is geared toward the Bookworm Beer Enthusiast.
Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont’s coffee table book, The World Atlas of Beer: The Essential Guide to the Beers of the World (2012), fills the void left by Michael Jackson (no, not that Michael Jackson) with an aesthetically appealing journey through the wonderland of contemporary beerdom. Opening with a salvo of useful tips on buying, storing, serving, and tasting beer, the authors introduce readers to the origins of beer, the different styles of beer, and the elective affinities between beer and food. Thus provisioned, the journey begins, making calls at familiar harbours of brewing before setting off for distant shores. Rounding out the images of landscapes, breweries, labels, and posters is a judicious selection of beers to slake the traveler’s thirst.
As the quality of beer offerings has begun to rival wine, that consummate friend of food, it’s no surprise that craft beer types have begun to pay more attention to pairing the tastes and aromas of beer with what’s on the plate. Brooklyn Brewery maestro, Garrett Oliver, obliges those who want to go well beyond beer and bratwurst, offering up a cornucopia of pairing possibilities in his The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food (2003). Got a Rodenbach Grand Cru you’d like to feature with dinner? Oliver lets you know why this particular beer complements game, “especially wild wood pigeon and partridge.” Rodenbach is round and sweet on the palate, “with caramelized malts quickly countered by firm acidity. Sherry, fruit, and oak play through the juicy center to a long sweet-and-sour finish.” No wild wood pigeon in your neighbourhood? No problem. Gamey liver patés will do just fine, as will tangy dishes like ceviche and pickled herring.
North Americans have developed of late a salutary penchant for savouring beer as part of those special moments with friends and family, but fewer have paused to ask where all these fine ales and lagers came from. Maureen Ogle’s Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer (2006) takes us back to the summer of 1844 and a bustling, growing city in Wisconsin Territory to trace the humble beginnings of Schlitz and Pabst. From Milwaukee, her tale travels down the Mississippi to the St. Louis home of Anheuser-Busch, setting the stage for the dueling ambitions of nineteenth-century industrial brewing magnates. In what amounts to a Hegelian narrative, we read about the rise of the temperance movement and learn how Prohibition intersected with anti-immigrant sentiment directed at the predominantly German-American brewing community. The Prohibition beast vanquished, a new antithesis arrives on the scene in the guise of the intrepid craft brewer who does battle with the corporate brands grown fat and bland off the post-Prohibition feeding frenzy of consolidation. No reservations in giving away the ending, for we drinkers of fine beverages already know how the new heroes – tenacious innovators like Fritz Maytag (Anchor), Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada), Jim Koch (Boston Brewing Company/Samuel Smith) – touched off the craft beer revolution.
And that very revolution sent many of us back into our kitchens and garages, feeding attempts at concocting our own steady supply of fresh beer. The books on homebrewing are by now fairly legion. Some serve particular niches (like Stan Hieronymus’s graceful Brew Like a Monk dedicated to trappist, abbey, and Belgian strong ales), while others (such as Jamil Zainasheff’s Brewing Classic Styles or Ray Daniels’ Designing Great Beers) elevate homebrewing to the next level. But I’m going to assume that not everyone reading Tempest is a homebrewer. Or it might be that you know a homebrewer who just purchased his or her first kit. Whatever the case, the book that set many a brewer down the path of no return is Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing. The third edition (2003) of this classic contains many useful – and some positively quaint – DIY suggestions, with recipes for several beer styles that will help launch your brewing career. Just enough of the science behind this mad alchemy assures that you won’t brew too many bottle rockets, and a light touch runs throughout, epitomized by Papazian’s motto: “Relax. Don’t Worry. Have a Homebrew.”
I think I’ll do just that.
Next up: Accoutrements for the Classy Imbiber
© 2013 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.