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Book review: Beer & Philosophy

Beer & PhilosophyWould you trust a philosopher with your beer?

Is that in itself a philosophical question?

To tell the truth, even though I was careful to bite off portions of the book in small chunks, after reading Beer and Philosophy: The Unexamined Beer Isn’t Worth Drinking I’m not exactly sure about either. I seem to have reached philosophy overload.

Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy myself throughout.

This is a great collection for a book club to tackle. Read a chapter a week and discuss at the local pub. After after finishing this book the club could move onto to the other two in this “Epicurean Trilogy,” Food & Philosophy and Wine & Philosophy. I’d suggest discussions continue at the local pub rather than moving on to a wine bar.

And after that? Southpark & Philosophy and 24 & Philosophy should be out. Really. It seems publisher Wiley-Blackwell has quite a franchise going here.

Philosophers who have a certain affection for beer wrote most of the essays. There’s also Alan McLeod from A Good Beer Blog representing the blogosphere, as well as philosophical brewers Sam Calagione and Garrett Oliver.

The topics include many — quality, pricing, authenticity, etc. — that pop up here. Also some you don’t see in your basic beer blog. Such as an inspection of Immanuel Kant’s transcendental idealism through beer goggles.

I particularly liked editor Steven D. Hales contribution. He uses the philosophy of John Stuart Mill to examine this question: If you had $30 to spend on beer, would you be better off spending it on a single case of Pilsner Urquell or two cases of Miller Lite? Don Russell recently covered this in nice detail. Take a look and come back. Carefully consider Hale’s argument that quality is the density of pleasure. Could be a New Beer Rule.

And if you don’t have a book club to share thoughts with? Jeff Alworth has suggested this book will provide blogging fodder for quite a while. I have to agree.

Perhaps that’s what Michael Jackson was predicting in the foreword (a delightful surprise to find at the outset) when he wrote: “When I grow up, I want to be a philosopher.”

As Hales points out in his introduction it all comes down to Plato — degrees Plato or the guy who keeps popping up in this book.

8 Responses to Book review: Beer & Philosophy

  1. SteveH November 6, 2007 at 11:16 am #

    Quality is the density of pleasure

    That’s outstanding.

  2. Adam November 6, 2007 at 2:19 pm #

    Appreciate the post. Sounds interesting. Thanks.

    “And now for something completely different.” I couldn’t resist 😉 Beer + Philosophy = Monty Python Bruces Skit

    From Monty Python’s Final Ripp-Off: Excerpt from Bruces skit

    Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
    Who was very rarely stable,
    Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy begger
    Who could think you under the table,
    David Hume could out-consume,
    Wilhelm Freidrich Hegel.
    And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
    Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel.
    There’s nothing Nietzche couldn’t teach ya
    ‘Bout the raising of the wrist.
    Socrates himself was permanently pissed.

    John Stuart Mill, of his own free will
    On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
    Plato, they say could stick it away,
    Half a crate of whiskey everyday.
    Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle,
    Hobbes was fond of his dram,
    And René DesCartes was a drunken fart
    “I drink, therefore I am.”
    Yes, Socrates himself is particularly missed,
    A lovely little thinker but a bugger when he’s pissed.


  3. Stonch November 7, 2007 at 10:03 am #

    I’d never even heard of book club until my mate (for whom I was recently best man) let slip that his new wife was to host one in their flat, so he needed to meet me in the pub pronto.

    It seems a very odd concept. Can’t people just meet without a *reason* these days?

  4. Stan Hieronymus November 7, 2007 at 10:47 am #

    . . . or read books without it being homework for a book club?

  5. Stonch November 8, 2007 at 4:17 am #


  6. mallace November 8, 2007 at 7:42 am #

    On the subject of the denisty of pleasure, the menu at Eulogy here in Philly presents essentially the same idea. Above the beer lsit, it points out that you can buy a bottle of Yuengling for $3, get a given amount of alcohol and a certain amount of hedonistic pleasure. Or, you can spend $8 for a Chimay Blue, which is stronger and, most people I’ll admit to knowing and spending time with would say, more pleasurable. Essentially, for your hedonistic ends, the Chimay is the better deal (and here I’m using Chimay as the example because that’s what the menu uses). I buy that argument.

  7. Jeff November 8, 2007 at 3:47 pm #

    Well, I just enjoy the book for its playfulness. It has a very bloggy quality about it–expanding floridly on a theme just for the sake of it. Beer provokes expansiveness, so why not a book that celebrates it?

  8. Mike November 12, 2007 at 7:27 pm #

    I picked up the book after seeing the post. I’m 64 pages into it and am enjoying it thoroughly. It has a decidedly craft/homebrew approach to the subject. I don’t know whether all of the essays qualify as philosophy, but I’ve rarely seen people like Garrett Oliver given so much space to expand on his ideas. Some of the essays really do qualify as philosophical in nature though. Where else will you find a book taking on the aesthetics of beer?

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