Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New Beer Books for Your Xmas List

Thanksgiving is over, so now it's officially time to start thinking about shopping for Christmas.  If you're like me, then your Christmas wouldn't be complete without a beer book or two under the tree.  Here's a trio of beer books that I've read in the last couple of months, which might make nice gifts for any beer geek on your list.

Amber, Gold, & Black: The History of Britain's Great Beers is the wonderful new book from Martyn Cornell, founding member of the British Guild of Beer Writers and a former British Beer Writer of the Year.  His earlier work Beer: the Story of the Pint is also a great and informative read, by the way.  Amber, Gold, & Black has chapters on 15 different styles of beer with long histories of being brewed in Britain.  Bitter, porter, stout, IPA, barley wine-- they're all here.  What's more, Cornell has really done his research, digging back into old newspapers, advertisements, brewery logbooks, etc.  He takes great pleasure in disproving the "received wisdom" about the origins and natures of these beer styles.  Personally, I found the book extremely informative, chock full of tidbits of information that I will be incorporating into the college class I teach each spring, The Art & History of Brewing.  As beer books go, this is definitely an "advanced" tome, one for the beer lover on your list who is already very familiar with beer styles and their history.  Cornell also has an excellent blog, The Zythophile.

While Cornell's work was for advanced students of beer, either of the next two books would make great introductory works for the novice beer lover.  The Beer Trials by Seamus Campbell and Robin Goldstein contains the results of the blind taste testing of 250 different beers by panels of beer drinkers.  This book is the follow up to a previous book that did the same thing for wine.  Beers are scored from 1 to 10, and the tasters made comments on the flavors they perceived.  Tasting the beers blind eliminated any bias the tasters might have had based on the beer's reputation, which may explain why some beers usually considered "world class" only scored in the 6-7 range. The authors refer to this bias in favor of famous brews as "beer goggles".  For the novice drinker, the ratings do a good job of pointing the way toward some interesting beers, while the experienced drinker will want to see how their favorite beers fared.

The final member of the trio is Andy Crouch's Great American Craft Beer: A Guide to the Nation's Finest Beers and Breweries. This book is something like an updated version of some of the books produced by the late, great Michael Jackson, in that it tries to be a fairly comprehensive overview of the American craft beer scene as it presently stands.  The majority of the book (195 of its 319 pages) is devoted to reviewing/describing various American craft beers, dividing them into their respective styles.  The rest of the book covers some general beer history and plenty of good information about serving beer, pairing beer with food, and cooking with beer (including several recipes from respected beer chefs such as Sean Paxton).  One new idea Andy deploys is to try to guide novice beer drinkers by recommending beers based on other flavors that the drinker likes.  For example, an espresso drinker would be pointed toward Speedway Stout from Alesmith Brewing, while for  someone who likes smoked meats, he suggests Smokestack Heritage Porter by East End Brewing.  This is a simple yet useful way to ease a new craft beer drinker into the world of flavorful beer.  Great American Craft Beer would make a fine Xmas gift for the beer drinker on your list, regardless of their level of expertise.

Moving on to the local beer scene, tickets for the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival on Jan 14th & 15th have gone on sale (via Ticketmaster).  This is THE beer event in our state, so if you can possibly make it to Anchorage during those two days, you should plan to attend. You should go to the Connoisseurs'  Session, from 2 to 5 PM on Saturday, Jan 15th.  It costs a little extra, but the Brewers Guild of Alaska gets the extra money. Admittance is limited to 1500 people, rather than the 2500 for the other two sessions. Each of the brewers brings a special beer, that they only offer during this session. Finally, it's during this session which they announce the winners of the barley wine & winter beer competitions. If you're only going to make one session, it's definitely the session to make.

At Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop, they still have some of their award-winning Caribou Kilt Strong Scotch on, as well as their Imperial Spiced Honey Wheat and Holiday Spiced Cream Ale (spiced with ginger, nutmeg, & cinnamon). Also, as a thank you to all their patrons, Kassik's is offering a 10% discount on all their merchandise (hoodies, shirts, hats, glassware, etc), everything except beer and beer containers.  Stop by and do some Christmas shopping.

Over at Kenai River Brewing, they are re-arranging; this is in preparation for beginning to can their Skilak Scottish next month.  New coolers have appeared in their Tasting Room;these will eventually allow patrons to grab six-packs and pigs themselves.  If you come to the meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society there on Wednesday, December 1, at 6:30, you can see for yourself.

At St. Elias Brewing Company, Zach Henry & company will be having another Firkin Friday,  this Friday, December 3.  At 6 pm they will be tapping a cask of their Tin Hat Belgian Brown Ale that has been "dry hopped" with raisins.  The standard Tin Hat is a pretty amazing brew.  Over a year ago, Zach brewed a brown rye ale, fermented it with his typical clean-fermenting American yeast, then put it into whiskey barrels to age for a year.  Recently, he brewed another brown ale, this one with a Belgian yeast, then blended the resulting beer with the aged brown rye ale.  The result is Tin Hat, a wonderfully complex beer.  It pours a dark brown, with a tan head that dissipated fairly rapidly to a nice collar.  The aroma is of caramel, whiskey, and a touch of Belgian yeast phenolic spiciness. On the palate it's a melange of flavors: wood, whiskey, rye spiciness, Belgian yeast peppery/earthy notes, you name it.  Every sip seems to produce a new and interesting flavor profile.  Once again, Zach Henry has flown in the face of conventional beer styles and produced something unique and delicious.

Well, that's about it for this week.  I should have some new and interesting brews to report on next week, as they're waiting patiently in my cooler at home for me to find the time to taste them.  So take care and if you're reading this in Alaska, stay warm (it was -7F at my house when I left for work this morning).

Until Next Time, Cheers.

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