The Brewer’s Tale by William Bostwick

The influence of beer in history, and the more and less delicious forms it’s taken along the way.

brewers tale

In The Brewer’s Tale, homebrewer William Bostwick (Beer Craft) examines beer in history and the history in beer, brewing as he goes.

Bostwick follows the progression of human history, starting with primitive Mesopotamian bread and its immediate companion (rudimentary ale) and moving through the early European shamans who used beer (sometimes laced with hallucinogens) in their practices to the monks whose influence persists in abbey and Trappist ales. He visits the farmer who brewed with his leftover produce, and members of the London working class who passionately consumed the porters that were named after them. With each stop on this tour, Bostwick gives equal play to the past and to characters who maintain or rejuvenate these historic styles. He also attempts his own brews, with mixed results. Through grogs and meads; farmhouse ales like lambics, sours and saisons; porters, stouts and pales; and finally light (and lite) lagers, The Brewer’s Tale reminds us that beer is not only the stuff of frat parties or snifter-poured snobbery; it can be experimental, fresh and fun, and has always been at the heart of the human experience.

Bostwick runs a little heavy on symbolism, but his subject is heady and intoxicating, so why not the metaphor as well? The initiate will be well served, but even a well-read beer geek can be excited anew by these reflections, and the homebrewer may well be inspired to fresh projects. The Brewer’s Tale is history, a joyful celebration and a call to appetizing action in an easygoing, conversational tone.


This review originally ran in the October 21, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 8 caves.

We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers by Sean Lewis

Anecdotes and observations of American craft brewing that will make readers thirsty.

beer

Sean Lewis was working as a sportswriter in 2010 when he got his first writing assignment from Beer Advocate–a profile of the infant Blue Hills Brewery in Canton, Mass. He worked there as an unpaid intern, learning the brewing ropes, and admired what he calls “the Tao of the brewmaster.” Many brewery tours and interviews later, in We Make Beer, he relates the “spirit and artistry” of craft brewers from coast to coast, from garages and barns to the largest brewhouses in the nation.

Lewis visits with major players (Boston Beer Company, Sierra Nevada, Stone), younger, smaller efforts (Nebraska, Jackalope), brewpubs and production breweries, and explores various approaches to the concept of growth. For example, Sheepscot Valley Brewing Company has chosen to stay local to Whitefield, Maine, and the community has repaid that effort, while West Coasters Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas have recently opened East Coast locations to serve their expanding markets. In language that will make readers thirst for a well-crafted pint, and with graceful transitions between topics, Lewis undertakes what is clearly a labor of love–much like the businesses he writes about. His celebration of the women and men of craft brewing is both accessible to the novice (see his one-page appendix on the brewing process, and explanation of the pronunciation of “wort”) and thoroughly rewarding for the beer aficionado. A comment about a collaboration between three breweries is equally applicable to the larger concept of Lewis’s book: “It just seemed like a fun thing to do.”


This review originally ran in the September 26, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 8 pints, naturally.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Brewer’s Tale by William Bostwick

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

brewers tale

“A history of the world according to beer”! Who’s surprised that I needed to read this?

There is no great shortage of written words regarding beer’s important place in history: that it is part of what brought European settlers to New England; that it helped us preserve grain & feed ourselves, and take in liquid when water was unsafe to drink; that it drove us to establish settled civilizations (& agriculture). But just as I learn something new from every brewery tour I take, even into the dozens, I haven’t yet reached the point of satiation on beer-in-history. Here’s something I hadn’t quite considered in these terms before:

…if beer’s essence can be distilled to one idea, it’s this: beer is made. Our first recorded recipes were for beer because beer was the first thing we made that required a recipe, our first engineered food. Wine, for example, just happens – a grape’s sugars will ferment on their own, without a human touch; even elephants and butterflies seek out rotting fruit. But grain needs a modern hand to coax out its sugars and ferment them into alcohol.

And these lines come from the introduction! (Libraries show up on page 2.) You have my attention…

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Teaser Tuesdays: We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers by Sean Lewis

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

beer

I was all over this title, as you can imagine. (Husband would like to point out that “we” don’t make beer. He does. I am quality control.) Sure enough, it only took a few pages to find a few memorable and evocative lines to tease you with:

As the glass is set gently back on the table, the beer drinker’s tongue pokes out to get one more taste off the lips before they open to reveal a quick smile. The stresses of the day’s work are slowly washed away, with layers of lacing on the glass standing as tombstones memorializing each of the annoyances from the previous eight hours.

Anybody else ready to knock off for the day already?

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

beer and books

Well. This is about as easy as it gets: 13 of the Best Literary Quotes About Beer were clearly compiled with me specifically in mind. From beer brewed by “noble twins… in their divine alevats, cunning as the sons of deathless Leda,” to “a great pot, filled with some very fragrant compound, which sent forth a grateful steam,” these lines will make you… thirsty.

I can’t quite decide about Ray Bradbury’s statement that “Beer’s intellectual. What a shame so many idiots drink it.” (Maybe I’m afraid he’s talking about me?) And I rather disagree, respectfully, with Haruki Murakami’s preferences as to temperature, although I concur with his feelings about the progression of temperature as one drinks.

Edgar Allen Poe’s lines are among my very favorite:

Fill with mingled cream and amber,
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chambers of my brain.
Quaintest thoughts — queerest fancies,
Come to life and fade away:
What care I how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.

I am a little saddened by Hemingway’s lines. On the one hand they are a fine example of what I love about his writing: Papa’s descriptions of food and drink are in fact some of the best things he does, and I can’t read those passages without watering mouth. But that this example comes from an ad cheapens it.

And as for the best final line… it had to be the Bard: “a quart of Ale is a dish for a king.” Indeed, sir.

Here’s a tip: ale will make a fine accompaniment to your reading pleasure, too.

great beer quotations in literature: Boule de Suif by Guy de Maupassant

Friends, I proudly come from a family of beer lovers, and have my eyes peeled not only for bicycle quotations in the books I read, but for those concerned with beer as well. I dipped into my very first de Maupassant the other day, and he satisfied.


He had his own fashion of uncorking the bottle and making the beer foam, gazing at it as he inclined his glass and then raised it to a position between the lamp and his eye that he might judge of its color. When he drank, his great beard, which matched the color of his favorite beverage, seemed to tremble with affection; his eyes positively squinted in the endeavor not to lose sight of the beloved glass, and he looked for all the world as if he were fulfilling the only function for which he was born. He seemed to have established in his mind an affinity between the two great passions of his life–pale ale and revolution–and assuredly he could not taste the one without dreaming of the other.

This evocation of trembling beer appreciation captivated me entirely. I am easily charmed.

It’s a great short story, too. Review to come.

Houston Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Bayou City by Ronnie Crocker

If you know anything about me, you should realize that Houston + beer = I will read your book. I am so enthused about my hometown, and about beer, and about my hometown beer (that is experiencing a huge boom as we speak – more on that to come, obviously), that all you would have to do to gain my undivided attention is write a book about Houston + beer. Even poorly written and sloppy. Luckily, I can say that this book goes a step further and does it properly.

Ronnie Crocker writes for the Houston Chronicle, and blogs for same under the name Beer, TX. His book is slim – under 150 pages – but not lightweight; he did his research, and uncovers new details about the history of beer in Houston. This is a surprisingly undersung (and under-researched) topic, apparently.

Beginning with the beginnings of the city (see my earlier teaser), Crocker studies us as a drinking city, and those who have served our thirst. Like many cities in this country, we had something of a boom going before Prohibition, and struggled to make a comeback after that failed experiment. We were a Bud town for a while, and Anheuser-Busch (in its new InBev-conglomerate form) still brews in Houston today, to the tune of …so many millions of barrels that it boggles the mind, and I can’t hold numbers that big in my head. [For more on the AB-InBev merger, check out my review of the excellent Dethroning the King.] Fast forward still more, and we’re seeing a veritable, and delightful, renaissance: the long-standing Saint Arnold Brewing Company (hey, seriously, 18 years is a long time in this business in these parts) joined by a promising handful of new brewers. My favorite is Karbach, of course, but I give a head-nod to Southern Star, No Label, and Buffalo Bayou, too. And I’m still anxiously awaiting the announcement that Yard Sale is in business!

Crocker’s book is admittedly reluctant to criticize; it leans towards the positive, even approaching boosterism. And it ends strangely, with an exhortation to support (i.e. buy from) your locals. But I’m with him! I, too, am excited about Houston beer. So, perhaps Houston Beer isn’t impartial journalism – but it’s an invaluable, unique history. I found it enjoyable, just what I wanted and no, never poorly written or relying on my devotion to the subject to keep me engaged. And it was great fun to see a number of people I know pictured, as a bonus!


Rating: 5 pints.
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