Book Review: Beer: The Ultimate World Tour

beerThis coffee table book takes you on a worldwide adventure of beer drinking, from Ireland to Germany to Japan to the U.S., author Bill Yenne aims to give us the lowdown about what it’s like to make beer and drink beer in various nations around the globe.

That’s really it. The prose is straightforward and the pictures are almost exclusively stock art, with most sections taking on a standard lineup of a) pictures of beer bottles, b) pictures of breweries, and c) pictures of bars. These are occasionally interspersed with d) pictures of ladies drinking beer.

As a historian, Yenne knows what he’s talking about — or at least he’s done his research — but what’s here is pretty close to the surface. Yenne offers a few specific brands — both majors and craft brews — to try when you’re in-country, and a few beerhalls and bars to visit, but any traveler hoping to use this for anything more than simple idea generation or inspiration will quickly be lost. There are no directions, maps, contact information, or other data required to actually make your own “world tour” out of the info in the book.

That makes sense given the format of the tome — an oversized hardcover — but the content inside just doesn’t seem to fit.

C- / $21 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: Experimental Homebrewing

91MiyOQmJzLBurnt out on brewing pilsners, lagers, and IPAs? Check out Drew Beechum and Denny Conn’s book Experimental Homebrewing, an oversized tome that uses as its apparent thesis that anything in your kitchen can be used to make beer.

Cilantro? Mushrooms? Peanut butter? You’ll need to get up earlier in the morning than that to stump this duo. There’s bacon beer in here. And beer made with a cut up chicken.

That said, most of Experimental Homebrewing is devoted to using more traditional ingredients in interesting ways to create more avant garde and hybrid styles of beers. Often a small amount of a slightly exotic ingredient — like pepper or chiles — will be called for to take things on a minor detour.

If you’re interested in pushing the homebrew boundaries — and really believe that the sky is the limit — this book is a must-read.

B+ / $16 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: Spirit of Place – Scotland’s Great Whisky Distilleries

61iIjYFHx3L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Scotland is a magical place, and descriptions and tasting notes really don’t do it justice. If you’re a whisky fan and can’t visit in person, the next best thing is here: Charles MacLean’s Spirit of Place, with photos by Lara Platman and Allan MacDonald.

The book is a beautiful coffee table tome, with almost 300 pages of gorgeous pictures showcasing nearly 60 Scottish distilleries. The book is split up by region (distilleries are organized alphabetically within each region), and each gets a nice-sized writeup before moving on to the photos. Detailed captions explain not just what you’re seeing in each picture, but they also offer fun facts and interesting details about these places — many of which I had never heard before.

Platman and MacDonald have plenty of shots of copper pot stills, aluminum wash backs, and wooden casks, but they wisely choose to tell a broader story with photos than what you see only in the distillery and warehouse proper. From shots of barley fields to workers on the line, the photos really take you to the Scottish isles, whether that be through a telephoto view of the exterior of a distillery to a close-up view of whisky in a glass.

Pour a glass of whisky from one of these distilleries, then spend some time flipping through the relevant pages and see if it doesn’t enhance the experience.

A / $40 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: The Mason Jar Cocktail Companion

mason jarAm I the only one who doesn’t like drinking out of a mason jar? Yeah, it looks old-timey and all, but the fat lip and groove for the lid always seems to make things sloppy.

That said, for the kinds of cocktails in The Mason Jar Cocktail Companion, by Shane Carley, this kind of delivery mechanism should work fine. Don’t go looking for highfalutin’ gastro-tails here. It’s all Tom Collins, margaritas (seven varieties!), and Long Island iced teas as far as the eye can see.

Nothing wrong with those drinks (for the most part), but do you need a special, hardcover book to tell you to put them in a mason jar when you’re done? By and large, Carley’s recip
es are straightforward and simple, with ample color photography to keep things interesting (though lots of this is just for show — I’m sure the discussion went along the lines of: how many finished drinks sitting in mason jars would the readers want to see?).

Ultimately I have nothing specific to complain about in Carley’s guidebook, and rank novice home bartenders looking to serve up cocktails for summertime parties will find it a fun introduction to basic drinkmaking. That said, I am not sure I can devote precious shelf space to recipes I have dozens of times over in other books — just served in different glassware.

C+ / $15 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: Speed Brewing

61vuoKZSeNL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Homebrew is a neat idea, but who has the time to make it?

That’s the thesis of Mary Izett’s Speed Brewing, a book which provides exactly the type of instruction that you think it’s going to offer.

While the back cover promises you can make a “session IPA” in just a few hours, Izett’s how-to has a lot more to it than just beer. In fact, beer is a relatively minor focus of the book, which also covers speedy techniques for brewing cider, mead, boozy sodas, and even kombucha.

How well these techniques really work vs. traditional ones I can’t exactly say without making a whole bunch of homebrew, but the ideas here are really just shortcuts, not radical rethinks of the way everything works. The book is well written, breezy, and full of helpful, full-color photography to get you where you need to go. So homebrewers, give Izett’s ideas a shot and see if you can’t whip up a new batch of gose in time for dinner!

B+ / $13 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: The Craft Cocktail Party

C51R0OOuzRKL._SX403_BO1,204,203,200_ocktail party? OK. Craft cocktail party? Even better!

Julie Reiner’s big, hardbound book takes the now-popular seasonal approach to organization, dropping a couple dozen recipes into each of the four seasons. Reiner, owner of the Clover Club in Brooklyn and the Flatiron Lounge in Manhattan, keeps things fairly simple — most of the cocktails only have three to five ingredients — but also very fresh. Most of the recipes have fresh produce, herbs, or juice in them, particularly those tied to the warmer months. The overall selection comprises both classics and freshened-up spins on them. It’s a concisely curated collection without a lot of fluff in it — which is both a good and a bad thing.

The Craft Cocktail Party features some full-color photography, but with a book like this — almost designed for the coffee table instead of the bookshelf — even more would be a nice feature. At the kind of craft cocktail soiree Reiner describes, I definitely want to see what I’m drinking before I run to the store for turbinado sugar.

B+ / $15 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: Beer for All Seasons

51OnBaUpZZL._SX380_BO1,204,203,200_A cynical beer drinker would say the concept of the new book Beer for All Seasons: A Through-the-Year Guide to What do Drink and When to Drink It is absurd. Beer should be drunk every day, amirite beer guys?

Well, author Randy Mosher of course has more sophisticated aims here: Pairing certain beer styles to certain seasons, holidays, festivals, and other occasions. Now this isn’t rocket science, really. You drink lighter beers in the summer on the beach and darker ones in the winter by the fire. And the only time you’d think of drinking a pumpkin beer is on Thanksgiving.

Well, not so fast, as Mosher reminds you that traditions and local customs may compel some surprising consumption. Black IPA for Easter dinner? Who knew?

Mosher’s got lots of general info about beer styles, production, glassware, and even pouring methods — and lots of color pictures to keep this all breezy and fun. This is also the first book I have seen that publicly called out the long-debunked “tongue map” as inaccurate and replaced it with more modern science. (It’s amazing how many people continue to hold on to this nutty idea that you only taste salt on the sides of your tongue and sweetness on the tip.)

Overall, this is a quick read that will make you instantly ready for a brew. Worth it for the putting all the information about all the “beer weeks” around the country in one place alone.

B+ / $11 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: Shaking Up Prohibition in New Orleans

51SZwR1dIrL._SY498_BO1,204,203,200_Shaking Up Prohibition in New Orleans: Authentic Vintage Cocktails from A to Z is a cocktail book that needs significant introduction to be understood. Written in the 1920s by two New Orleans suffragettes, Olive Leonhardt and Hilda Hammond, the manuscript was recently unearthed by Gay Leonhardt, a descendant of Olive’s.

The book is tied to the alphabet, with sections running A to Z, as promised by the title. Each section features an illustration themed to each letter (drawn by Olive), a similarly letter-centric poem (written by Hilda), and cocktail recipes of the era also alphabetically tied. As there are only so many letters in the alphabet, this makes for quite a slim tome, but it’s fun to read nonetheless.

How much you enjoy the book will be determined by your taste for poetry and for (very) classic cocktails. Drinks in the 1920s tended toward the simple (Black Jack: 1/2 creme de menthe, 1/2 cognac) and the tongue in cheek (the Hydropot Exterminator includes arsenic). And any reader who sends us a writeup and photo of them drinking the Slow Motion (1 pint moonshine, 1/2 pint cream, 2 egg whites, 1 tbsp Grenadine, plus seltzer) will earn my undying admiration.

Shaking Up Prohibition in New Orleans is unlikely to become a significant encyclopedia to aid in your imbibing, but it is a fun look into the zeitgeist of the time — all devil may care good times despite the yoke of Prohibition and the nation’s Depression. Nothing can keep a party girl down, I guess!

B+ / $14 / [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: You Suck at Drinking

51lTM03iRBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Hey Matthew Latkiewicz — if that is your real name! — who are you to tell me I suck at drinking! Oh, you write for McSweeney’s. I suppose that gives you some McThority on the topic of the proper treatment of hooch and hooch consumption.

Kidding around aside — which is hard to do when discussing You Suck at Drinking — what we have here is a fully tongue-in-cheek, breezy little tome on the more social aspects of alcohol consumption. Latkiewicz has crafted a slim and satrical volume that addresses such key alcoholic issues as how to drink at your holiday party, how to deal with a hangover, how to drink when you’re a college student, and how to sneak drinks in public. You know, the important stuff in life.

Latkiewicz is a good writer and an opinionated one at that. He doesn’t pull punches, and he’ll call you out if your favorite tipple is shit. To say much more about the tome would be to give away too many of its jokes, but I will say that the man even puts his email address and phone number in the book, which is a ballsy thing to do when your intended audience is basically a bunch of borderline alcoholics.

Give it a spin. It’s perfect bathroom reading, if nothing else.

B+ / $11 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Book Review: The Book of Wine

51ezKYD0l1L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_If you’re a rank novice when it comes to wine — I mean, you really know absolutely nothing — then Jackson Meyer’s primer, The Book of Wine, is as good a place as any to start — short of dropping in on your local wine bar, that is.

In a breezy 220 pages, Meyer covers, as the subtitle states, “an introduction to choosing, serving, and drinking the best wines.” Best may be overstating things a bit. The book devotes more space to South Africa than to Napa and Sonoma (which are lumped together in a spare section in the “Wine Regions” chapter).

Meyer dutifully covers the basics — grape varietals, identifying flaws, what to do with a wine list (and I don’t much agree with his advice here) — enough to get you at least to a $600 question in a Jeopardy! wine category. Less can be said for his often bizarre “recommended wines” which accompany the section explaining each major varietal. I’m unclear how recommending a bottle of Penfolds Grange 1998 (1998!) is going to benefit the novice wine drinker other than make him look like a rube at his local wine merchant.

C- / $14 / [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]