One of the epiphany moments that told me I was obsessed with beer came when I started reading everything on the subject that I could get from the library. The thirst for knowledge was great. I wanted to know about the different styles, how they were made, the history, how to cook and pair beer, as well as simply finding out what was good and what was bad. (Library school told me this was a very masculine thing to do. Apparently we’re obsessed with finding out about things.) Luckily, the public library had a sizable amount of books and has been a great boon to my beer education. One of the most prolific publishers of beer books has been Doring-Kindersley (they publish all those flashy informational books for children that are filled with pictures and small bits of information).
The best of the bunch is the Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide, which contains five hundred “classic” beers from around the globe. It isn’t the most up-to-date book and leaves out a lot of US micros, which helps maintain that “classic” feel. There is also a fair representation of beers from around the globe and the alphabetical ordering eliminates any judgments. Jackson’s descriptions are really what make this book and show why he was so important in transforming the way people thought about beer. He approaches every beer as if it deserves to be in the book, which means a lot of mouth-watering tasting notes.
More recently, DK has published The Beer Book, which is a mix of the Jackson book and more traditional DK publications. It contains many more beers and breweries, with a team of contributors doing the descriptions (which is a good indication that they will range in quality). The point is not to single out a lot of good beers, but let the reader find out what types of beers they like – an “Every beer their drinker, every drinker their beer” approach. For instance, my arch nemesis (Kronenbourg 1664) gets this lovely description: “A smooth, golden, and refreshing lager: slightly bitter on the palate and with hints of malt.” Mmm, doesn’t that sound lovely. I, personally, love a good hint of malt. There are certain DK aspects that make the book an interesting read (tours of select breweries, beer trails/maps and notes on things like styles or glasses), but nothing to make it a must buy.
The final book is simply called Beer and is also by Michael Jackson, though it feels much more slapped together than his other books. Like The Beer Book, it suffers by placing an emphasis on which countries the beers come from, which makes it seem like the country is more important than the beer. As anyone who has tried Stella and Chimay will tell you, being from Belgium is just about the only thing they have in common.
I’m just about to start another book, one not published by DK and seems very promising. It deals more with properly tasting beer and knowing the styles, which these books only briefly mention, to varying degrees. Look for the review soon.