Beer is a huge topic, and indeed it’s one that behooves a creation of a biblical tome.
Jeff Alworth’s The Beer Bible aims to be a reference book for all things barley, spending 700 pages to profile over 100 styles of beer, 52 breweries, and hundreds of specific brews.
The book is organized primarily by style, so the chapter on Trappist Ales will turn up a history of how these beers arose and how they are made, plus recommendations to try that range in source location from Belgium to Colorado to Oklahoma. It’s exhaustive and well-researched, and Alworth clearly knows what he’s talking about. No snob, he covers mainstream brands and the craft movement, giving equal weight to both.
It’s a bit weird to be reading such a dense volume in a stubby, thick paperback, but I suppose that’s what the typical Holy Bible looks like, isn’t it? Both are great books, but only one of them has handy maps to breweries you should visit around the world.
A- / $12 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
From the oversized-yet-slim hardcover format to the big “Haynes” logo on the cover to, well, just about everything else, right down to the font selection, Tim Hampson’s Beer Enthusiasts’ Manual seems like one of those books you’d pick up at the hardware store when you needed a quick primer on plumbing or wiring. Even the title’s presentation on the spine — BEER MANUAL in all caps – doesn’t feel like something that will wind up on the coffee table. (Haynes is best known for its line of automotive manuals and less for its been connoisseurship.)
Beer Enthusiasts’ Manual (subtitle: “7,000 BC onwards (all flavours)”) is part history lesson, part the manual it promises to be – specifically a manual for homebrewers. Very little in this book will come across as surprising to anyone who’s even dabbled in homebrew, but Hampson’s book does have at least one huge thing in its favor: Pictures, and lots of them. If you’re the kind of cook who likes to see step by step photos that tell you what every stage of a dish should look like, you’ll love what Beer Enthusiasts’ Manual has to teach. Really, if you can’t follow the photographic steps here to master at least a basic pint of ale, well, you should probably stick to the bottled stuff.
B / $28 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Duggan McDonnell’s Drinking the Devil’s Acre isn’t so much a bar book as it is a love letter to San Francisco, hardbound. Which, it turns out, is basically the subtitle of the book. McDonnell is one of my favorite SF bartenders and interesting characters in general, so I’m inclined to meet anything he does with general approval.
There aren’t a whole lot of cocktails in this 250-plus page tome, with just 25 featured recipes. I have little doubt that I’ve had every single one of them during my time in SF. And while McDonnell’s recipes for a French 75, Pisco Punch, or Mojito seem right on target, you may initially be asking yourself why you need another book the regurgitates recipes for cocktails you probably know how to make from memory.
Well, again, this isn’t a book about the cocktails, it’s a book about stories. Some are about cocktailing history, some are about McDonnell, and all of them are about San Francisco, from the Barbary Coast days to the gay ’80s to modern times. The centerpiece is the so-called Devil’s Acre, a block in SF which was notorious in the late 1800s but which is now considerably less so, despite the proximity of strip clubs and a new bar called, of course, The Devil’s Acre. Probably not a lot of high-class mixology came out of there, but it was assuredly the origin of the San Francisco attitude.
So check out Drinking the Devil’s Acre not (necessarily) for the recipes — though don’t miss the black inserts within each chapter for numerous bonus recipes that may be less familiar to you — and enjoy McDonnell’s storytelling, which comes across both with wit and straightforward prose. Whether you’re a San Francisco lifer or just planning to visit our ‘hood, it’s definitely worth your time. (Especially bookmark McDonnell’s ultimate bar crawl in the back for a real look at the past and present of SF drinking palaces.)
A / $18 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Fred Minnick is the bon vivantiest of the bourbon-focused bon vivants, an ascot-wearing gentleman who knows his whiskey and dutifully reports all the news that’s fit to print from Kentucky and beyond.
Bourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker is exactly that, a guide to everything a novice drinker would want to know about bourbon (and only bourbon). What’s the difference between bourbon and other whiskeys? What’s with the new barrels? Why whiskey vs. whisky? Minnick runs you through all the basics that readers of this site probably already know — but which their friends probably ask them about all the damn time.
After zipping through all of that, Minnick spends a solid slug of time discussing the nose and flavor of bourbon in general, with an eye toward the many strange notes that can bubble up in the course of tasting bourbon. The main event is saved for last — over 50 bourbon brands digested with detailed tasting notes, even more detailed production information, and questions for the reader to ponder. Whether you’re putting together a tasting of Stagg or Pappy, Minnick is there to guide you along the way.
Fantastically approachable, it’s a whisky book that’s as easy to digest as a glass of Baker’s after dinner.
A- / $16 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Homebrew beer cookbooks are legion, but this title from Michael Agnew is special — it’s stuffed with recipes for (real) craft beers, many of which from brand names you’ve probably actually tried. Lagunitas, Allagash, Rogue, Shmaltz — all of them are well represented among the roughly three dozen recipes in the paperback.
Each recipe spends two pages describing the beer then walking you through its construction, step by step, with precise measurements in both English and metric units. The book is sorted into chapters by style, though some beer types — pale ales and Belgians, namely — are over-represented next to less included lagers, rye, and wheat beers.
No matter. Take a flip through the book and see if there’s something you like in the table of contents. If nothing else, it’s worth the price of admission alone for the specifics on how to make Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ at home!
A- / $18 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
What do I look for in a cocktail book that I might add to my collection? Drinks that aren’t widely included in other books, a tenable theme, and lots of pictures of what the finished product looks like. (Half the time I find myself picking a beverage by appearance rather than its ingredients, and I wager most people do the same.)
Tiki Drinks has all three of those things. Nicole Weston and Robert Sharp curate about 60 cocktails for this slim but focused treatise on all things tiki. The primer upfront is brief but well conceived and helpful — the pages outlining different countries’ national styles of rum production is remarkably useful — before leading into page after page of classics and newfangled tiki drinks. Every cocktail gets a full page picture, and even the garnishes are innovative. (Who’d have thought to carve a lime peel into a skull to garnish a Zombie cocktail?)
I’ve no complaints with the selection of drinks, the recipes chosen — many tiki drinks have a wide range of potential ingredients and have changed considerably over the years — or the sometimes mildly offbeat direction that Weston and Sharp choose to take with some classics.
Weston and Sharp aren’t cocktail historians, nor do they pretend to be, so if you want another investigation into the early life of Don the Beachcomber, look elsewhere. With this book the duo simply gather up tiki’s greatest hits (and then some) and give the masses the means to make some popular rum-heavy cocktails at home, and that’s good enough for me.
A / $15 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
This 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]