I managed to find a copy of Beer School, A Crash Course in Craft Beer by John Garrett and Brad Evans, almost by chance whilst browsing Leeds City Council online Library, in search of a little holiday reading. If you want to buy a copy for yourself you can get one delivery free, for £14.80 on Amazon
I was quite impressed to find such a recently published (2016) impression in the libraries catalogue, but disappointed when the Overdive app wouldn’t let me open it in my e-reader, only in my browser where it promptly refused to unscroll any headings or sub headings? Never mind it didn’t cost me owt.
My first thoughts were, ‘it’s just another beer book?’
Don’t get me wrong, I like books about beer, especially the interesting ones, but not the detailed technical ones. I’m always going though the ‘Food and Drink’ sections of second hand book stores to find new ones. Only thing is, it’s nearly always the same old, same old; so many beers to try, so many more … coffee table books that get bought when you don’t really know what else to get the old man for Christmas/Fathers day/ Birthday. Each the same in a slightly different way. There were seven or eight on the shelf in Headingley Oxfam book shop the other week and apart from being different authors and publishers I could have sworn they were all the same book. Most brewery tour guides would give you a more comprehensive idea of the brewing process.
Beer School started off a little different, on a little bit of a journey. I got right excited at the thought of a beery travelogue across America. Unfortunately, the car stalled in chapter three when it ran into a pretty boring, heard it all before, description of the history and the various grains.
It got going again though and revved through the entire brewing process, outlining more about what the different elements brought to the final table than the basics. If I’m honest the ‘vehicle’ of a journey didn’t quite work, yeah, they came back to it. But, how did this car that sets off in New York manage to cross the Atlantic into Belgium? Leaving that device aside, the book does work. There’s something there for everyone, even for them that thinks they know a little bit about beer and brewing. I certainly learnt quite a bit.
Going back to my first criticism, the chapter Grains would have been relevant to someone knowing nothing about beer, and if you’re going to sell books, you need to appeal to a reasonably wide audience and it does say that it is a; Crash course … . On balance, they get it about right between the basics and taking things a little further. Almost, a thinking persons guide to beer, brewing, tasting, and a bit more, but an awful lot more than a straight run through the process of brewing and the key styles.
The places where it took you a little further included stuff like the chart showing when and how many hops were added to the boil for several iconic beers, I liked that. I liked the attitude too. Not so much the way that it’s written, in a sort of jokey, conversational, Scott Kelby, style, more the attitude of the writers and what beer means to them. I’m not going to quote them, you can’t easily go back and forth in the format I’ve got it in, it’s just things like not discriminating between keg and cask and different styles. Instead they point out and explain the differences. The Epilogue is a particularly good example of this and I agreed with every point made.
I might have been tempted to lose the Craft Beer bit from the title. Okay, they’ve got to use it, they’re the Craft Beer Channel guys who wrote it. Personally I would have just said beer and left it at that. They allude to this in so many words in the book, almost a contradiction to the sub title. I guess if it didn’t say it then many followers of the craft beer channel would dismiss the book instantly as not being craft? Which leads nicely into the guys definition of craft beer.
I know I’ve been criticised for my heretical views about what is ‘craft beer’ previously, but I was heartened by the guys sole reference to ‘the American definition’ in the glossary followed by the words; but good beer is good beer. So lets not get hung up on it as drinkers.
I wish more people would take this attitude. We need to debunk the perceived divisions between cask and keg, and anything else, they’re all just different beer styles. This book goes quite a way towards doing that. They don’t outrightly say what I believe, craft beer is, an American thing, but they continually suggest this, retain a balanced view, and don’t seem to confuse craft with other regional beer styles from around the world.
Verdict; Overall, I enjoyed it. Although you’ve got to have a foundation to work from, the Craft Beer Channel guys offered up a little bit more, without being over technical, and built on the basics in a progressive way. It’s infinitely better than most beer guides out there and takes things to an intermediate level in places. Having said that, if you’re an experienced home brewer, informed enthusiast, or something of that class, then I’d give it a miss. Unless someone unavoidably buys you one for Christmas.