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Ten really good books for a beer library

It started with this email from a friend: “What is the best book on the market that touches on beer, history, styles, glassware, etc.?”

This was an easy one to answer: Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion, even though it was published going on 20 years ago and requires tracking down a used copy.

So easy I thought I might as well extend it to nine more recommendations. Presented in random order (really, I used an online randomizer).

Before we get to that, the context. There’s a good chance if you aren’t Ron Pattinson or Martyn Cornell (or Jay Brooks) that my beer library has more books than yours, but this is all just one man’s opinion and tomorrow I’d probably come up with a different list.

I also made a few rules going in. Only one book per author, because otherwise when do you quit listing Michael Jackson books? Books written in English (or American) because that’s the language I read. No books focusing on the brewing process, because that’s too specialized and besides I write them and I have further relationships with Brewers Publications. No cookbooks. No guidebooks, although some include quite clever writing. No books dominated by photos, such as Beer naturally.

  • The Beer Companion, by the late Michael Jackson. This is a book that surely would have won a James Beard award had the publisher bothered to nominate it. Yes, a lot happened — much to his delight — since Jackson last updated the book in 1993, but a little bit of good beer was brewed before then as well.
  • Three Sheets to the Wind, by Pete Brown. Isn’t that the guy who wrote Hops & Glory (reviewed here) and isn’t that supposed to be a better book? Indeed he is and probably, but this book is such a fun romp. Nobody romps like the Brits.
  • Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer, by Maureen Ogle. The other day I wrote, “Context and authority determine the value of a list.” Pardon me for quoting myself, but the same is true of history. America was not a beer drinking nation until the German immigrants arrived, which is when this book begins. Here’s a review.
  • Beer: The Story of the Pint, by Martyn Cornell. As above, authority matters. I have this image of somebody sitting on a barstool anywhere in the world and casually mentioning something like “Burton was home of the first pale beers brewed anywhere in the world” and Martyn Cornell appearing to say all of this. Avoid the embarrassment, read this book. Read “the short and entirely wrong history of beer” at least twice.
  • Travels with Barley: A Journey Through the Beer Culture in America, by Ken Wells. Clydesdales horses and yeast rustlers in the same book. Note to self: read this one for the third time.
  • Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink, by Randy Mosher. As it suggests on the cover, “Discover your inner taster.” The book that every other book about tasting beer should want to be.
  • Origin and History of Beer and Brewing, by John. P. Arnold. That’s history before 1911, when the book was written. See Ambitious Brew and Beer: The Story of the Pint for what goes into a good history. Chapter 1: Man, Religion and Intoxicants. Are you with me?
  • The Book of Beer Knowledge, by Jeff Evans. The perfect stocking stuffer, including the size. A CAMRA book, so intended first for the U.K. audience but a delightful read. I could also have suggested Don Russell’s Christmas Beer (reviewed here) for the stocking, but then this wouldn’t be a list of ten.
  • The Bedside Book of Beer, an anthology compiled by Barrie Pepper. Another book from the U.K. (from 1990). Charles Dickens, Dylan Thomas, George Orwell and Michael Jackson among the contributors. Wouldn’t you like to hang out with them at Happy Hour?
  • Faces Along the Bar: Lore and Order in the Workingman’s Saloon, 1870-1920, by Madelon Powers. The final sentence should make you cry: “But the saloon was the creature of its time, and its time was past.” Lest we forget.
  • I haven’t included links to buy any of these books, but I recommend shopping at BeerBooks.com, kind of your small, locally owned, friendly bookstore, except online.

    8 Responses to Ten really good books for a beer library

    1. Andy December 9, 2009 at 9:24 pm #

      No love for Garrett Oliver’s “The Brewmaster’s Table?” Personally that sits next to my inherited copy of “The Beer Companion.”

    2. Alan December 9, 2009 at 9:33 pm #

      Good for you including Ken Wells. Perhaps a US somewhat unfulfilled Pete Brown in his largely successful attempt to approach beer as cultural activity rather than Aristotelian system.

    3. Travis December 9, 2009 at 11:47 pm #

      I have read a shit ton of beer and brewing books over the years, and have found it difficult in recent times to find a book that I haven’t read. I am surprised to see that I haven’t read any of the ones you listed. Thanks for publishing this before my wife finished her xmas shopping 🙂

    4. Bailey December 10, 2009 at 6:08 pm #

      As Travis says, this is an excellent pre-Christmas list! I’ve only read one of them.

    5. zythophile December 10, 2009 at 6:46 pm #

      Thanks for the plug, Stan: copies still available second-hand. I’d agree completely about The Brewmaster’s Table: if I write anything about beer and food, I generally confidently write my own opinion, and then sneak a look to see what Mr Oliver thinks …

      Not counting the one wot I wrote, I’ve read five out of nine: Wells, Ogle and Mosher are on my “to do” list, and Madelon Powers sound v interesting.

      Martyn Cornell

    6. Stan Hieronymus December 10, 2009 at 8:17 pm #

      I didn’t realize your book was out of print, Martyn. Seeing that the cheapest one used on Amazon is $25 it seems to me that somebody should put it back into print.

    7. Thomas December 12, 2009 at 7:50 am #

      Ten books on beer and none of them on homebrewing? As much as that has been a driver of the craft beer movement I’d have thought it would get a mention, but maybe it was number 11 on the list 🙂

    8. Stan Hieronymus December 12, 2009 at 11:43 am #

      That could be a separate list altogether – which is why at the top I specified no books centered on the brewing process.

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