When fall comes around, I break out some of my warmer throw blankets and try to carve out a little time to enjoy the chill by cracking open a few books. While I mostly enjoy audiobooks on my commutes these days, sometimes only a book in the hand with beer at my side will do. Sometimes the books I choose for fall are mysteries, capitalizing on the slightly spooky vibe of late October. Other times, I just default to learning even more about my favorite beverage: beer.
Over the years, there have been several great books written to introduce people to craft beer. If you are new to craft beer, there are at least two that should be the foundation for a beer book library. The first is “Tasting Beer” by Randy Mosher. Mosher opens the book insisting that you go and get a beer before you read any further. It walks through the essential components of beer, introduces beer styles and then tops it off with technical information about off flavors, beer storage and other guidance.
Second is “The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks” by Josh Bernstein. While Bernstein’s book has a similar aim – to educate the new beer drinker – “The Complete Beer Course” is a bit quirkier, injecting humor into its lessons. It also provides recommendations for specific tastings to accompany parts of the book, some of which even feature Maine beers.
Beyond the introductory books, however, I’ve found that the “books about beer” genre is relatively limited in scope. There are regional guides to breweries and beer destinations (lively snapshots but prone to going out of date), instructional guides on how to make it and a handful of well-researched historical explorations of styles or the brewing industry. While the last category is my favorite, it has occurred to me that there are few books that focus on the present state of craft beer as an industry and even fewer that contemplate its future.
However, in this year’s “to-be-read” pile I found a notable exception: “Drink Beer, Think Beer: Getting to the Bottom of Every Pint,” the latest book from beer author John Holl, who happens to be coming to Portland on Thursday. With his extensive background in beer writing (including his current post as senior editor of Craft Beer and Brewing Magazine and co-host of “Steal This Beer” podcast), Holl is well equipped to take on the work of reflecting on where the beer industry is going.
In “Drink Beer, Think Beer,” Holl manages to both provide a succinct history of how the craft beer industry came to its current state and discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead of it. There are sections that grapple with the realities of craft breweries being acquired by larger macro breweries, which is happening with increasing frequency as breweries grow and the beer market matures. In other sections, Holl explores the gray area between gimmicks and brewer creativity and the evolution of new styles like the hazy IPA. He even confronts the lazy sexism of some beer labels and the efforts of the industry to invite more diverse drinkers into the fold.
As I read it, I almost got the sense that chapters were inspired by late-night pub conversations, discussions over a pint to catch up with friends or letting the mind wander while you contemplate what is in your glass. And, in some cases, Holl points out that’s exactly what drove him to explore certain topics. It’s that inviting, conversational musing that makes it an enjoyable read-through, rather than merely a reference guide.
A particularly enjoyable feature of this book is the tone that it takes with the reader. Settling somewhere in between education and conversation, it makes both novice and experienced audiences feel comfortable. As a long-time craft beer enthusiast and writer, I learned things I did not know. Despite that, the book is not too technical for a casual beer fan. The gentle on-ramps to more complex topics, provided for the novices’ benefit, were neither boring nor oversimplified. This might sound simple, but it is difficult to find writing in niche topic areas that are able to bridge both beginner and expert audiences so well.
On Thursday, Holl will visit Maine to discuss “Drink Beer, Think Beer” at Print: A Bookstore in downtown Portland. From 7-8 p.m., Holl will present his book, host a Q-and-A session and discuss the future of the beer industry over some local beer. Print co-owner Josh Christie is a beer writer himself, hand-picking books for the store’s beverage section with care. So if you are looking for your first beer book to read this fall, or your latest, this event at Print is a the place to start.