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What I learned about beer today

BEER From The Expert's Viewpoint

“The original extract is … the most reliable measure of quality, and the determiner of types of products of the brewing industry.”

That’s from an “expert’s viewpoint.” At least in 1937.

I’m a sucker for the classic reprint series that BeerBooks.com began releasing in 2005. Granted, my “needs” are a little different than yours. John Arnold’s “Origin And History of Beer And Brewing From Prehistoric Times to the Beginning of Brewing Science And Technology” is a delightful if sometimes clumsy read, but from my viewpoint packed with essential information (some fact checking needed). Arnold’s “History of the Brewing Industry and Brewing Science in America” is likewise essential, along with “Beer, Its History And Its Economic Value As A National Beverage.”

BEER From The Expert's ViewpointThe latest, “BEER From The Expert’s Viewpoint” was written to serve the new generation of brewers who went to work after Prohibition ended in 1933. Before Prohibition, the Wahl-Henius Institute of Fermentology in Chicago was the premier brewing school in the country at the beginning of the twentieth century. “The Wahl-Henius Handy Book of Brewing, Malting and the Auxillary Trades” (by institute founders Robert Wahl and Max Henius) remains an essential resource, both for the details about brewing as well basic chemical analyses of many American and European beers not seen elsewhere.

Robert Wahl wrote the “Expert’s View” with his son Arnold Spencer Wahl, and it is full of his personal observations on the previous 50 years of brewing. The Table of Contents reveals the rather broad scope of the book, but the bits of cultural history Wahl throws in are as valuable as looking at what brewers knew, or needed to know, in 1937. If you want to better understand the beer culture in and around Bamberg, Germany, you can visit the area. If you want to better understand how American beer culture evolved immediately following Prohibition you need to find a time machine or read a book like this.

But back to the value of original extract, and what made for a quality beer.

The original extract gives a beer all its distinguishing features and contributes not only the quality but the character of the brew! The original extract is also responsible for the real extract (residual extract) which is the main substance in the beer or ale … Alcohol is of minor consideration for the brewer. He does brew some of his products to obtain that tang demanded by the consumer but the composition of the extract is responsible for the flavor, the taste, the smell, for the fragrance, savor, bouquet, smack, and aroma; the palate-fullness, foam fineness, lasting quality, adhesiveness; color, clarity, brilliancy, sparkle, effervescence and süffigkeit. All these look to the real extract for their origin which is in turn indebted to the original extract for its existence.”

I also learned about “hospital odor” but will spare you those details.

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Book recommendation: Brew Britannia

In 1977 in Dorset, a town in the south of England where Thomas Hardy’s Ale was first brewed in 1968, a splinter group of the Campaign for Real Ale calling itself The Real Ale Liberation Front engaged in “acts of civil disobedience.” They would order pints of beer dispensed from a keg— CAMRA was organized to preserve cask beer, at the time under threat from keg beer — then refuse to pay for them.

Nearly thirty years later BrewDog in Scotland turned “kegging into a statement” — a sign of a young, open-minded brewery. It was a message intended for CAMRA.

CAMRA has not eliminated keg beer, and the success of BrewDog and a legion of small breweries who sell “keg craft beer” has not eliminated CAMRA. Sure, authors Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey recount both success stories and failures in “Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer,” but this is more simply a book about people who care about beer. And what can happen when people care about beer.

Those who read Boak & Baley’s Beer Blog will know what to expect — particularly since regulars sometimes had a sense they were seeing parts of chapters written before their eyes. The writing is straightforward and unpretentious, easy to read even for those whose primary language is American. Reviews from several writers in England (Alan McLeod has links, although not to Pete Brown’s late submission) sometimes suggest the authors should have emphasized particular people or events more or less. But none of them, most of whom have been writing about beer longer than the authors, questions the research. It is superb. There will be no online wiki for “Brew Britannia.”

There are a couple of books I’ve recently praised in this space by suggesting I wish I’d written them. I wouldn’t tell you that about “Brew Britannia.” I’m not as generous as Boak and Bailey. Had a publisher been silly enough to commission me I would have insisted on devoting an entire chapter to Sean Franklin, for instance, or tracking down members of The Real Ale Liberation Front (if they had jackets with cool logos sewn onto the backs I want one of them). The book would have been missing seventy percent of the essential information it contains.

Instead “Brew Britannia” serves two masters — those who want to read scores of delightful stories about people who care, stories that together provide meaningful context; and those who twenty or sixty or how many ever years in the future are going to come looking for a source they can trust.

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Book recommendation: American Sour Beers

As the interest in homebrewing has bloomed Internet discussion boards have turned into a (at least sometimes) valuable tool. That’s certainly true in Brazil. However, regulars in these groups can get bored answering the same newbie questions time after time. As a result some of them have taking to replying to questions asked the eighth, ninth and fifty-third times they are asked by typing, “Read the $#@&*% Palmer.”

Ronaldo Dutra Ferreira explained that the quote was created and posted in English as something of an inside joke for those who have leaned heavily on the book from Brewers Publications, of course including John Palmer’s “How to Brew.”

This story is funnier when you are riding in a van full of Brazilian homebrewers, who use the phrase often with the expected expletive rather than keyboard symbols, and John Palmer is in the backseat. But I’ve got another point. I often receive questions about brewing sour beers, generally ones that are above my level of expertise. I am delighted that although the premise is different — in this case, not referring to questions I find simple and repetitive, but ones that should be answered by somebody who knows what he is talking about — that now I can reply, “Read the $#&*% Tonsmeire.”

Michael Tonsmeire has written a book — “American Sour Beers” — that somebody who knew better probably wouldn’t have attempted. The subject is dynamic, which can be a bit terrifying. But “American Sours” is wonderfully complete, both the way Tonsmeire presents the process involved in conjuring up such beers, the science behind them, and the number of breweries, each of them taking a slightly different approach.

Here’s an example of one of many charts, this one detailing the production of Cambridge Cerise Cassée (one of my favorite beers):

Cambridge Brewing souring process

“Wild Brews” remains an essential resource for those interested in wild or sour beers, but “American Sour Beers” basically picks up where it left off (in 2005).

Want a better idea of the scope of the book? Read the table of contents. It is a “complete guide,” well organized, easy to read, and — I’m going to have to consider another job if I keep typing this — another book I wish I’d written.

‘Beer Trails: The Brewery in the Bohemian Forest’

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.

Is this the best job ever or what?

Today the topic for The Session #85 is “Why Do You Drink?” and I can’t make myself believe you should care about that any more than why I seem to be favoring black t-shirts these days.

Instead I planned to post a Friday beer note (so why I drank a particular beer) about the very nice dunkel I had last week at Kansas City Bier Co.. But that’s going to have to wait until next Friday.

Because …

Roger Baylor pointed to a story about the explosive growth of breweries in Indianapolis (they are up to 23, with a dozen more planning to open this year).

And the second one on the list is called Books and Brews. A used book store in front and a one-barrel nanobrewery in back. But, wait, there’s more. They’ll have live music Friday nights and Sunday afternoons. I bet it won’t be long until there’s a food truck parked out front.

How did this not happen in Denver or Austin or either Portland first?

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