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Review: My Beer Year by Lucy Burningham July 3, 2016

Posted by sjroby in Beer, Book reviews.
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cover90704-mediumIf you wondered to yourself if this might be another Netgalley review, written in exchange for a free advance electronic reading copy, well, damn, you’re smart. It is.

My Beer Year is a smart, well-written exploration of the current world of beer. It starts off a little Portlandia, as a couple moves to Portland so she can be a writer and beer expert and he can start a custom bicycle business; there’s definitely a strong hipster vibe.

But there’s also a lot of good information told in a generally engaging way. Burningham’s quest to become a cicerone leads her across the US and Europe to learn ever more about beer styles, beer history, how beer is brewed, and the much greater complexity in the process than many might expect.

It seems like a pretty well-timed book, with craft beer just getting bigger and bigger, and it focuses on Burningham’s personal experience, which goes a long way to make it readable for people not obsessive about learning the kinds of things a beer expert is expected to know. It’s by no means a dry history of brewing or anything like that. Halfway between beer guide and memoir. It could easily lend itself to being a TV documentary miniseries, following Burningham to different beer-related locales. I’d give it a shot.


Review: The Ontario Craft Beer Guide by Robin LeBlanc and Jordan St. John April 17, 2016

Posted by sjroby in Beer, Book reviews.
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9781459735668Another Netgalley review, based on a free advance e-galley in exchange for a review. I’ll be buying a print copy, though, for the record.

First off: I am part of the target market for this book. I live in Ottawa, where there are at least a couple dozen craft breweries within an hour’s drive. I enjoy beer. I’ve got t-shirts from a few of the breweries discussed in the book and will undoubtedly buy more. (Craft brewery t-shirts are the new band t-shirts. Now, if only more breweries would sell t-shirts sized for people who look like they actually drink beer….)

Given that the authors are Toronto-based, I was concerned the book would be Toronto-centric, but LeBlanc and St John clearly did their research. One Ottawa brewery that opened just a few months ago (the wonderful Tooth and Nail) is included, as well as the more established ones.

As to the book itself: there’s a brief introduction on the history of Ontario brewing, lists of breweries and brew pubs, top 5 lists for various styles of beer, and a glossary, but the bulk of the book is the guide. There must be hundreds of breweries in here, from all over Ontario. There’s generally a page or two for each one, with address and contact info, a short description/history, then a rundown on their key beers, usually with a rating on a 1 to 5 scale.

Even though the book will inevitably become dated and incomplete over the next few years, I expect it’ll sell well and be used as a checklist/shopping list for Ontario craft beer fans, and as the starting point for a lot of good discussions and arguments on the merits of the beers and breweries described. I can see myself lugging a print copy around with me. It may also serve as an inspiration for regions with fewer craft brewers.

Incidentally, I just remembered that I have a much older book that covers some similar ground: Jamie MacKinnon’s Ontario Beer Guide from 1992. It’s a much thinner book despite including major breweries as well as independents. There are more breweries in some Ontario cities now than there were in the whole province back then. Still, looking through it again was fun. There’s Brick Amber Dry, which was my standby for a year or two, and Upper Canada Dark, which was pretty good for a while, and a few that are still going strong with support from the majors, like Sleeman and Creemore.

Rickard’s Red shows up in the Molson section as one of its higher rated beers (and the only variety of Rickard’s); younger beer drinkers probably have no idea that 20 or 25 years ago it was almost revolutionary for a major to make a beer that was a different colour and had a bit more flavour than their usual varieties. There was even an advertising campaign for another beer that was all about reminding beer drinkers that beer was supposed to be yellow-gold in colour, and anything else was a crazy gimmick. Yep, times have changed.


Reviews: The Comic Book Story of Beer and The Beer Bible October 6, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Beer, Book reviews.
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More from Netgalley.

First, The Comic Book Story of Beer by Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith. This is a breezy read that takes an American look at the history of beer. It’s a good starting point for anyone who might want an introduction to the history of beer, the development and characteristics of key types, and the growth of the craft beer industry. (It doesn’t look only at American beer history, but the later chapters do tend to focus much more on the USA than other areas.)

The art is generally workable, with occasional little swipes from other cartoonists’ styles. It looks more like a graphic novel than the old line of “… for Beginners” books a few years back did, though there are occasional one-page infodumps looking at the key beer types. Ideally, readers will start here and get interested enough to go search out better beer experiences. It doesn’t tell you everything you may want to know, but it’s not trying to. It’s trying to bring you quickly up to speed on the big picture and get you interested enough to find out more. It should do reasonably well at that.

And now, The Beer Bible by Jeff Alworth.

There’s a lot of information packed into these 650 cleanly laid out, well illustrated pages. History of beer in general, history of craft brewing, breakdown of the key types of beer, the history of each, and suggested examples… the great frustration for many readers will be the difficulty in tracking down some of the beers mentioned.

Unsurprisingly, this is a US-centric book. The only references to Canada, which is undergoing a considerable craft brewing phase at the moment, are a few to a long-established Quebec brewery. But that means there’s another book to be written by someone else one of these days. Americans and visitors to the USA who find well-stocked stores will likely have many suggestions they’ll want to investigate. I’ve only tried one of the seven suggested porters; I’ve never even seen any of the others. But the information may still come in handy, and the tip about letting imperial stouts age may prove useful.

Beer lovers and beer neophytes can both benefit from this guide. IPA-loving hopheads may be intrigued by other styles; newbies can learn just how broad a range of possibilities there are in the world of beer. It’s a good book for dipping in and out of but it holds up to more sustained reading as well. Definitely a handy book to have around.

If you get both, you won’t necessarily regret it, despite some duplication of information. You may find one works better as a cover-to-cover read while the other makes a good reference to dip into occasionally.