I don’t envy anyone trying to write about beer and food – there’s a fine line between interesting and dull, plus a seminal text has already been written in Garrett Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table. That being said, it’s a subject that fascinates many people (including myself), so I was quite excited to see the book Beer, Food, And Flavor: A Guide to Tasting, Pairing, and the Culture of Craft Beer by Schuyler Schultz (though the Oxford comma was a little off-putting). Schultz is a chef, sommelier, writer and AleSmith culinary director (more on this later), which seemed like great qualifications for someone to write about beer and food.
Unfortunately, the contents of the book are not exactly has advertised. While the first chunk does deal with beer and food (how to taste beer, why beer works with food, what makes a good pairing, beer and cheese), the second half of the book is solely devoted to talking about some of the more sought after American breweries (Lost Abbey, Founder’s, Cigar City). Schultz has interviewed people from the different breweries to find out how the breweries started, the origin stories of certain beers and ends each section by giving tasting notes for a handful of beers. There’s nothing wrong with this section, except that it feels like a way of filling out the last 125 pages of a book that is supposed to be about beer and food. The tasting notes don’t even end with ideas about food or cheese pairings to match the beer, which would seem like an obvious thing to include.
Even the section about beer and food feels a bit lacking. Schultz has helped design menus for beer dinners and takes the reader through a couple of these dinners, explaining why each course was paired with a certain beer. In my opinion, the courses are a little too ambitious and not ones the average home cook would likely be trying to attempt. As Canadians, this section is basically just a tease as none of the beers are available for purchase throughout most of the country. In this respect, the book is not ideal for most people living outside of the United States (or even in states that don’t get access to a wide selection of craft beer).
The most egalitarian section is on beer and cheese, which gives Old and New World examples for both the cheese and beer picks. It is a handy reference for anyone who likes to experiment with cheese pairings, though not very indepth. The emphasis is clearly on the preferred beer geek styles (hoppy IPAs, big stouts and sour beers) rather than, say, English beers. At least there are a lot of cheese varieties that one will be able to pick at a decent cheesemonger, allowing a drinker to substitute a more local version of the style in the pairing.
The final problem I have with the book is the obviously close relationship that Schultz has with AleSmith. The brewery gets far more print than any other brewery and it takes some credibility away from the book. (The forward is written AleSmith brewmaster/owner Peter Zien, which doesn’t help.) I wouldn’t go as far as saying that the book is one big advertisement for AleSmith, but it would have been nice to see more variety in the breweries mentioned. The limited scope is not representative of all that is happening in the American beer scene and around the world.
For all these reasons, I can’t recommend Beer, Food, And Flavor as a required book for many beer libraries. There is some useful information in it, but the content doesn’t match the title and its focus on the American craft beer world is too narrow. A noble attempt, but one that falls significantly short.