Year in Review: 2014’s Best Beer Books

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As a professional beer writer, people often ask me how I learned so much about the good drink. And, while I usually respond, “Drinking. Lots and lots of drinking,” the truth is actually much nerdier than that–I read. I read a lot.

I read everything, from tasting guides and historical musings to homebrewing manuals and trade magazines, seeking out each new piece of new booze-related material as if it were a fresh can of Heady Topper. Luckily for me, a boatload of libatious literature hit the shelves in 2014, and the ten crisp titles listed below are my picks for the best of the best. And don’t forget — a shiny new beer book always makes a fantastic last minute holiday gift…

Beer on Display: Coffee Table Books for Beer Geeks
Barley & Hops: The Craft Beer Book by Sylvia Kopp (Gestalten)
German beer sommelier Sylvia Kopp’s hardcover craft beer primer is a strikingly beautiful book, the kind that never fails to catch the eyes and turn heads. The layout is fresh — neat pages lined with infographics, creative taxonomies, and colorful, skillful portraiture — and the content is well researched, taking browsers on a journey through the industry’s 30-some odd years of modern development. Kopp profiles breweries around the globe, from heavy hitters like Mikkeller and California’s Lost Abbey to smaller outfits like Germany’s Brewers & Union, also managing to include a definitive style guide, a blueprint-like brewing overview and a brief history of American craft from a markedly international perspective. Pair a copy of Barley & Hops with a jar of artisanal beard oil, and you’ve got the perfect hipster present ready to go.

Goodnight Brew: A Parody for Beer People by Karla Oceanak and Allie Ogg (Bailiwick Press)
A self-proclaimed “bedtime story for beer lovers everywhere,” author Karla Oceanak and illustrator Allie Ogg’s Goodnight Moon parody is an adorable “pitcher book” for grown-ups. The colorful hardcover’s 32 pages center on a group of hard working brewers — a “wort” hog, a hop-crazy wildebeest and three water-savvy otters — as they go about closing down the brewery for the day, teaching readers about popular beer styles and the basics of the brewing in the process. Cheeky and sweet, Goodnight Brew makes a great gag gift for any beer-obsessed big kid.

Basement Brewhouse Basics: Homebrewing Guides
Make Some Beer: Small-Batch Recipes from Brooklyn to Bamberg by Erica Shea & Stephen Valand (Clarkson Potter)
Erica Shea and Stephen Valand, the local homebrew pioneers behind Brooklyn Brewshop, have done it again with their second full length release. Presented in the company’s signature retro print design, Make Some Beer focuses on a expertly selected list of micro-scaled clones as well as the breweries that inspired them. The authors separate the recipes by season and even include food pairing suggestions for each style group, making for an inventive and accessible read that appeals to both seasoned homebrewers and curious novices. This 176-page how-to would be a fantastic addition to any hobbyist’s collection.

American Sour Beers by Michael Tonsmeire (Brewers Publications)
Michael Tonsmeire’s much anticipated American Sour Beers, published this past July, did not disappoint. Despite our country’s assumed penchant for bitter hop bombs, bacteria-fueled puckery pints continue to surge in popularity, taking over the taps from coast to coast and expanding the palates of thousands of adventurous sippers. Tonsmeire’s study focuses on the rise in American-brewed sours, providing detailed notes on the style’s background, brewing processes and core ingredients as well as advice from celebrated sour brewers. Like a good, tart Berliner Weisse, this 400-page epic will keep you coming back for more.

The Complete Joy of Homebrewing Fourth Edition: Fully Revised and Updated by Charlie Papazian (William Morrow Paperbacks)
Who am I to provide an introduction, far less a synopsis, for what is widely considered to be the greatest homebrewing Bible of all time? Craft beer forefather Charlie Papazian revised and expanded this monumentally influential brewing manual for its 4th edition release, adding even more expert advice, tips and recipes. With this latest effort, Papazian generously invites yet another generation to “Relax, don’t worry. Have a homebrew.”

Ancient Grains: Industry History & Memoir
The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers is Transforming the World’s Favorite Drink by Steve Hindy (Palgrave Macmillan)
Hometown hero Steve Hindy, Brooklyn Brewery’s venerable co-founder, made waves when he published The Craft Beer Revolution, a first-hand account of the 20th Century’s craft beer boom, bust and recent resurgence. Hindy’s perspective is unique — unlike his fellow beer historians, many of them authors and academics, he is both an industry insider and a formally trained journalist with many years of reporting under his belt. Despite having spent the last few decades off his beat, Hindy’s storytelling chops have remained sharp, and his newest effort is testimony to this well honed skill. He is a confident and reliable narrator, with just enough self-conscious humor and heartfelt reflection to establish his reader’s trust. The Craft Beer Revolution is an illuminating read for anyone interested in poking around the industry’s dustier corners.

 The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer by William Bostwick (W.W. Norton & Co.)
With its simple, typographic design, the cover of beer writer William Bostwick’s newest book does little to hint at the riches locked inside its pages. Bostwick’s ambitious 304-page account of craft beer’s ascent from rogue homebrewing clubs and basement dabblings to today’s mainstream proliferation is peppered with fastidiously researched details and lyrically retold tales of some of the industry’s quirkiest and most noteworthy actors. Bostwick’s tone is almost whimsical at times, revealing a deep and undeniably charming affection for all things beer.

 America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops by Christine Sismondo (Oxford University Press)
While this list isn’t arranged in any particular order, I have to admit that Christine Sismondo’s America Walks into a Bar was one of the most engaging and well written books, beer-related or otherwise, I read all year. Sismondo systematically traces the almighty tavern’s crucial and ever-shifting role in the development of American political and social life, from thirsty pre-Colonial explorers to today’s dive bar nostalgia, stopping along the way to expound upon 19th Century New York City grog shops, Prohibition’s inextricable relationship with rising xenophobia and how the Patrick Swayze blockbuster Roadhouse was ultimately to blame for chains like TGI Fridays and Chilis. I recommend reading this book by candlelight, saddled up to the bar at your favorite neighborhood pub — it’s the ideal winter warmer.

So You Want to Start a Brewery?: The Lagunitas Story by Tony Magee (Chicago Review Press)
Lagunitas’ Tony Magee is beloved for his offbeat sense of humor, a quality which applies itself seamlessly to his newly revised and updated So You Want to Start a Brewery? More memoir than entrepreneurial instruction, this entertaining page-turner follows Magee on his bumpy road to craft beer fame, detailing all the twists and turns that eventually resulted in the creation of one of the country’s most recognized breweries. Whether you’re planning to open a brewery or merely in search of a funny, suds-centric read, So You Want to Start a Brewery? goes down smoother than a Lagunitas Pils on a sunny California day.

Proof: The Science of Booze by Adam Rogers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Let me begin this review by saying that I am not a science person. I haven’t taken a math or science class since high school, chemistry makes as much logical sense to me as alchemy and I couldn’t muster an ounce of desire to watch that Cosmos miniseries at all. Yet, Wired editor Adam Rogers managed to hold my interest throughout his 272-page, New York Times bestselling exploration into the science behind the drinks we know and love. Rogers’ approachable tone takes on a Freakonomics-like air, breaking down complicated histories and scientific processes with a quirky ease that not only captivates the scientifically savvy, but also keeps dummies like me reading along happily. If you’re looking for someone to enthusiastically explain the vast molecular universe responsible for your raging hangover, this is the book for you.

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