I wish I had written “Beer Trails: The Brewery in the Bohemian Forest.”
That’s why I must tell you about it even if doing so feels terribly awkward. Awkward because it comes with a ton of disclaimers, reasons that make it hard for you to consider this an objective recommendation.
But, dang, Evan Rail has written this wonderfully compelling multi-dimensional tale.
First, the basic story.
When the ancient brewery in the Czech forest town of Kout na Šumave reopened in 2006, rumors began circulating about a mysterious brewing log — written in a long-forgotten, black-letter script — that had been discovered, hidden in the crumbling walls of the brewery.
The beer from Kout na Šumave was so good, so strangely delicious, that many who tasted it believed that it had to be made using secrets from the old brewing book.
Over the course of several years, Evan Rail made several trips out to the old brewery in Kout na Šumave, even bringing Anthony Bourdain out there to film a segment for his television show “No Reservations.” This is the story of Evan’s attempts to get to the heart of Czech beer, and to learn the secrets of the old brewery in the Bohemian Forest.
Now, some background and disclosures. In preparing to speak at Craft Writing: Beer, The Digital, and Craft Culture in Kentucky earlier this year I exchanged emails with many people who write about beer. Some of these are writers, and Rail is one of them, who I’ve trading ideas about writing and publishing (meaning getting our writing published and paid for) far longer than you can possibly care.
I ended up quoting this throw-down-the-gauntlet thought from Joe Stange:
“If we judge by books and magazines alone, beer people are simpler than wine people; they are less thoughtful but more practical. To hell with a good story — just tell me how to do it, where to find it, what I should drink. It’s boring, and in my view we as writers, editors and publishers — so far — are failing American beer drinkers. Maybe the narrative-type books don’t sell well. So what? What is this craft thing about, anyhow? If we want brewers to make what they like to drink, maybe we as writers should do a better job of writing what we want to read.”
“Beer Trails: The Brewery in the Bohemian Forest” was already a work in progress, but you wouldn’t be able to read it were it not a story that Rail so obviously needed to tell. It’s longer than you’ll find in most magazines, 15,000-plus words, meaning usually more than a single chapter in a book.
Maybe it will lead to a printed book — perhaps when some publisher is smart enough to package a variety of things Rail has written, maybe commission a few new ones. Or it could end up in something of an anthology including work from other writers.
So back to disclosure. If you click on “show more” here you will learn this: “A new series of long-form writing on beer, ‘Beer Trails’ is dedicated to writerly narratives and essays about the world’s best-loved beverage. Forthcoming titles are planned from beer writers like Stan Hieronymus and Joe Stange.”
So I have a rooting interest in “Beer Trails” succeeding. Beyond that, Evan and I are friends, we’ve broken bread and drank beer together, we’ve been trading thoughts about writing for a half dozen years, and I owe him a considerable debt for collecting the recipe from Kout na Šumave that appeared in “For the Love of Hops” (a story, in fact, he tells in “Beer Trails”).
All of those are facts. So is the one that I continue to wish I had written “Beer Trails: The Brewery in the Bohemian Forest.” Evan has set the bar high.