Newest Review: ... book is split into the different beer countries from the obvious (USA, Germany, British Isles, Belgium, Czech Republic) to the not so obv... more
The Beer Book to whet your appetite
The Beer Book - Dorling Kindersley
Member Name: pookie_rabbit
The Beer Book - Dorling Kindersley
Advantages: Good visual encyclopedia of beers
Disadvantages: Maybe not for those wanting in depth information
Having recently made the decision to write a few reviews on beer I had one problem. Certainly not sourcing or sampling the beers, the latter something that I seem to excel at. What I wanted was how to understand, taste and finally review them.
I decided to scout for a book to help me and finally decided on the "The Beer Book" from Dorling Kindersley which looked modern and glossy and had decent reviews and with 352 pages sells at a recommended price of £16.99 (although much cheaper on the likes of Amazon). The book is a collaboration of a number of contributors from all over the world. So did I make the correct decision in my purchase? Well yes and no and I will explain that later.
The introduction to the book was encouraging and what I was looking for. It described how people can talk about wine and the different colours, aromas and tastes yet to many a beer variety is just something they like or dislike. As it says many people will ask for a specific wine colour, sweetness and grape variety while typically just asking for "a beer".
I should say as soon as you open the book you notice it is very good at what DK do best, particularly with their travel books, in that it's good to look at. However it at this point the book you realize the book is firstly an encyclopedia of different beers and a reference and guide second. The book is split into the different beer countries from the obvious (USA, Germany, British Isles, Belgium, Czech Republic) to the not so obvious such as countries more associated with wine such as France and Italy.
Each country follows the same layout firstly showing a map of where the different breweries are located. A fairly conclusive alphabetic list of the breweries with a listing of a beer or two produced by each of them follows. This includes descriptive tasting notes that will have you wanting to chase some of them down. Above each of these is a picture of the bottles for the different beers. This is again graphically very nice.
In fairness though there is more to each section that just a list of beers. Each country also has a section of other information based on "The Story Of", "All About", "Beer Styles" and "Beer trails". In the USA for example "The Story Of" are 2 page spreads on both Anheuser-Busch who produce Budweiser and the perhaps lesser known Brooklyn Brewery started by a news correspondent who learned to brew beer while in working in a certain far eastern countries where alcohol was forbidden.
After the USA is the great brewing country of Germany. As well as the list of breweries and beers is the best selection of "Beer Styles" sections in the book. This includes information on German Beer in general, explaining everything from Smoky Beer made in Franconia to Gose a wheat beer flavored with salt and coriander. Lager ("the beer that conquered the world"), the unique beer of Cologne known as Kolsch and Dusseldorf's "old beer" Altbier are also covered. With a trip planned for Munich this year I found this section to be very interesting and will certainly be trying to find a couple (of pages) worth while there!
Reading the tabloids about the likes of Newcastle Brown Ale moving away from its home and a couple of big companies seemingly owning all the brands these days you would perhaps be depressed by the plight of the British brewing industry. Far from it though reading through the section on the British Isles shows just how many small and independent breweries we actually have, stretching from Orkney in the far north of Scotland to St Austell in Cornwall. Examples of beers I would never have heard of include a brew produced by Williams in Scotland were heather is used instead of hops.
As I said beer trails are found in each of the sections - by the time you get to Belgium you get a tour of Brussels. Not all of the trails are in cities (although Bamberg in Germany and Prague are) but also the likes of the Cotswold's in England and Oregon in the USA.
The last country visited is the Czech Republic. Here we find plenty of Pilsner's and Lager's from the well known likes of Pilsner Urquell and Kozel but also dark beers and stout.
The rest of world possibly springs the most surprises. Italy is seen at the forefront of new ideas for beer as spiced, rose and violet infused ideas show while in Australia the good news is Fosters only accounts for around 1% of the domestic market, tourist's maybe!
At the end of the book is a two page glossary which is interesting and a good read in its own right. It's almost a shame that some of the information in here is hidden away at the back of the book.
Finally you have a few pages of to fill in your own tasting notes
On the negative side the book does lean more towards a list of beers than information but its good at doing that. If you have ever compared a DK travel book to say a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide you will understand the visual versus hard information comparisons. Obviously an list of beers is going to be out of date at some point so it's hard to predict the actual shelf life of this book. I would have liked a bit more information on how to taste beers and how the different malt and hops actually affect the taste of the beer.
That's not to say I don't like book. I rate it highly at what it does which is almost a coffee table reference that is visually good and will whet your appetite to try and hunt down and try some of the beers. If this is what you are after then it's a good buy, if you want to learn a lot about beers itself I would perhaps look elsewhere.
Summary: Good book depending on what you actually want from it
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