Category Archives: books & magazines

A Six-Pack of Beer Books

Over the last several months, I’ve received a number of books for review, but various circumstances have meant that I’ve barely had the chance to read them all in full, let alone give them each a proper review.

So with Christmas looming and lots of people scrambling for last minute gift ideas, I thought that a mini-reviews of a half-dozen of them might help solve some shopping dilemmas (assuming that you have a combination beer geek and bookworm on your list, of course) – and it will also help me clear my backlog of planned blog posts so I can get a fresh start in 2011.

BEER IS PROOF GOD LOVES US
Reaching for the Soul of Beer and Brewing

by Charles Bamforth
FT Press – US$25.99/CDN$29.99

When I saw the title of this book – which references a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin that’s been proven to be false – I was disappointed that an author like Bamforth, who is one of the world’s leading experts in the science of brewing and fermentation, would make such an amateurish error. But thankfully, the book opens with an “About the Title” page that debunks the myth, and what follows is an interesting and entertaining combination of social history, business analysis and personal memoir; all revolving around the idea of respecting beer in all of its forms, and the corresponding preferences of every type of beer drinker, from the weekend Bud boys to the hardcore hopheads.

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TAPS Magazine – New(ish) Issue & Old(ish) Column

As I was finishing up my contributions to the upcoming Summer issue of TAPS magazine last week, it occurred to me that I’d completely forgotten to post a mention here back when the Spring issue came out back in early May.

So, here’s the mention: The Spring issue of TAPS magazine came out in early May. A bit later than planned, but in the right season at least. And while it’s still not perfect, it was a marked improvement over the Winter issue. The layout is less busy, are there are more contributors from across the country so it’s less Ontario-centric. I’m still not a fan of the corny bar jokes that are sprinkled throughout as filler, and I think the order of the features still needs some tweaking, but all in all, it’s continuing to move in the right direction.

While I’m on the topic of TAPS – as I mentioned previously, my main contribution to the mag is a series of articles on different beer styles, presented under the horribly unoriginal title of Beer Styles 101 (a title I came up with myself, by the way, so don’t go blaming anyone else for it). Hopefully, most of my pitifully small blog readership will be buying copies of the magazine to read my scintillating words in print, but for those who have some sort of aversion to paper, I’m going to start reprinting each column here as following issue comes out.

Since the Spring issue is out now, here’s my column from the Winter issue…

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Celebrating a New Web Site

celebrator.jpgI’m not sure exactly when the changes happened, but I recently noticed that Celebrator Beer News have updated their website with a very spiffy new look and a lot more content. This is great news for those of us who live outside of the regular distribution area (being from California, the mag has a bit of a West Coast slant, and is often hard to find on this side of the continent) – although I suppose if I weren’t such a cheapass, I could always get a subscription.

There are still a few glitches to be worked out, such as the fact that links to a lot of the archive material aren’t working yet. But most of the material from recent issues seems to be available. And there’s also a Blogs page that includes links to a very well-selected list of beer blogs, including this one, which flatters me a great deal considering the others that were chosen.

For a long time, it seemed that most beer mags had websites that looked like the ones I used to code using a text editor back in the mid-90s. So it’s great to see such an improvement to the Celebrator site, along with last year’s redesign of All About Beer (both mag and site) and the changes that are “coming soon” at Ale Street News online. Hopefully, the Brewing News will take the hint and bring their online presence into the 21st Century as well.

TAPS Magazine – Winter 2007/08

taps_winter0708.jpgDuring my decade or so as a music writer and reviewer, I had my work published in a number of magazines around the world. I even spent a year or so as the editor of an electronic music section in Chart, a national music magazine here in Canada. Even so, I couldn’t help but feel a little giddy when I received some copies of the first issue of the newly relaunched TAPS magazine this past week and saw the first print byline in my beer writing “career”.

For those who familiar with TAPS from its previous incarnation as a frat-boy oriented mag filled with plenty of chicks and cars and other “lifestyle” articles, you’ll probably be happy to know that aside from the name and a couple of contributors, the new version bears little resemblance to the old. As he says in his introduction, new publisher Rob Engman intends for the new TAPS to “focus on one thing… beer!”.

My main contribution to TAPS is going to be a series of articles on beer styles. For the first instalment, I focus on pilsner, expanding on pieces that I wrote here and for Taste T.O. around the time of Pilsner Urquell’s 165th anniversary earlier this year. Also new to the magazine, besides Rob and myself, are fellow beer blogger Troy Burtch; CABA member and legourmet.tv beer host Mirella Amato; and editor, photographer and writer Karla Dudley. Contributors remaining from the old guard include Bill Perrie, a writer of pub & beer guides who has visited more than 2000 pubs across the country; renowned brewmaster Bill White; and Kevin Brauch of Thirsty Traveller and Iron Chef America fame. Between the 8 of us, we’ve somehow managed to fill over 50 pages with lots of great content.

Like any new venture, the relaunched TAPS isn’t perfect. The design is a bit busy in places – although I tend to like stark and minimal graphic design, so that complaint can probably be chalked up to personal preference. There’s also a bit too much of an Ontario-centric focus to some of the content (I’m especially guilty of this in my own article, as I focus almost exclusively on beers available at the LCBO and Beer Store), although there are already plans to have contributors from the east & west coasts in the next issue, which should help it live up to the “Canada’s Beer Magazine” subtitle. And on a personal note, I’m not really happy with the odd layout choice that was made with the end of my article (once you see it, you’ll know what I mean).

In general, though, the new TAPS is a huge improvement over past issues, and it should only get better as copies make their way into the hands of beer drinkers and brewers across the country and more feedback starts coming in. Speaking of which: TAPS is available at Chapters and Indigo stores, via subscription, and if you’re lucky, you might come across some complimentary copies at various pubs, bars, and other beer-friendly establishments. Please check it out and let Rob, Karla, and the rest of us know what you think.

Book Review: Grilling With Beer by Lucy Saunders

Grilling With Beer
by Lucy Saunders
F&B Communications, 224 pp.
US$21.95

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a manly man. I don’t care much for any sports besides hockey, I don’t own any power tools besides a simple drill set, and I don’t have any interest in cars (in fact, I don’t even have a driver’s license).

The one manly pursuit I do enjoy, however, is barbecuing. At our previous place, my wife and I had use of a large backyard with a great deck, and we invested in a decent quality gas grill. While my wife is a fabulous cook, she always let me man the grill (even though she actually did all the prep work), and even during our years of being almost-vegetarians, we still did up some great grilled fish and veggies once in a while. Last year, we moved into our current yard-less and balcony-less apartment, which meant leaving the BBQ behind. I sort of missed it last summer, and now that I’ve started eating meat again, I’m really missing it.

Rubbing salt in the wound was the recent unexpected arrival of a review copy of Grilling With Beer by American food and beer writer Lucy Saunders. If only this book existed 5 or 6 years ago when I was at the top of my grilling game and getting more and more interested in exploring different beers – I would’ve been in beer & BBQ heaven! Sigh.

Still, even as a member of the unfortunately grill-free set, this is a great book to own. Logically arrayed into 10 main chapters – 5 covering sauces, glazes, marinades, rubs and other basic BBQ condiments, and 5 covering various meats/seafood and sides – Grilling With Beer features well over 100 recipes to match everyone’s tastes (yes, even vegetarians – the recipes for Grilled Herbed Hazelnut Flatbread, Brined Grilled Eggplant, and Grilled Potato Salad all look delicious). And thankfully for kitchen klutzes like me, most of them are pretty simple as well, with clearly written ingredient lists and instructions.

Saunders has also brought a lot of her friends to the party, and features recipes from such beer cuisine luminaries as Brian Morin (beerbistro), Gary Marx (Pike Brewing), Mario Gongora (Marin Brewing) and Scott McGlinchey (Q Real American Food). Also pitching in are the Jason & Todd Alström of BeerAdvocate.com, who provide convincing argument for grilling with beer (in case you needed one) in their preface, and the legendary beer writer Michael Jackson, who explains why Saunders is pretty much the best person in the world to have written this book.

Making this book even more of a treat are the segments between the chapters. Written by Saunders and other beer scribes such as Anne Ausderau, Dan Rabin and Jay Brooks, these interludes provide profiles of festivals and events that feature craft beer and grilled/barbecued food, ranging from the New Mexico’s Rio Rancho Pork & Brew and a BBQ Oyster Fest in San Andreas, to events in such exotic locales as Hawai’i, Australia and New Zealand. And as if that weren’t enough, writer and brewer Stan Hieronymus gives some tips on pairing beers with the dishes that the book helps you prepare, and Saunders wraps things up with a list of mail order resources for all of your grilling needs, and a fantastic run down on the flavour profiles of various beer styles.

And it would be remiss not to mention how visually attractive the book is. The spot illustrations and font choices give it a slightly retro look (although not to the point of parody, like so many faux-retro cookbooks that are on the market), and the event profiles feature some nice photos, as do a number of the recipes. All in all, it’s a slick little package.

Like most self-published books, the best way to get your hands on a copy of Grilling With Beer is directly from the author. Mail order instructions can be found on the book’s website, grillingwithbeer.com, as well as at Saunders’ main site, beercook.com. If you prefer the in-person method and live in Toronto, there’s a good chance that she’ll have some copies for sale at beerbistro this coming Tuesday, July 10th when she’s there to present a special dinner as part of the restaurant’s month long American Beer & Barbecue Fest.

Book Review: Craft Brewers Of Ontario by Bill Perrie

It will probably be a day or three before I’m able to get my Michigan Road Trip report finished and posted. In the meantime, here’s a beer book review that I originally wrote a couple of weeks ago for The Bar Towel:

Craft Brewers Of Ontario
By Bill Perrie
WMI Books, 128 pp.
$19.95
Reviewed by Greg Clow

In the past decade or so, there have been numerous proclamations that the days of reference books are numbered, and sometimes it’s hard not to believe it to be true. After all, in an age where so much up-to-the-minute information and reference material can be Googled or Wikied at a whim, who needs a shelf full of yellowing books that are often out of date before they even leave the warehouse?

Beer guides can be especially prone to obsolescence. Open up Stephen Beaumont‘s The Great Canadian Beer Guide (2001) or Jamie MacKinnon’s The Great Lakes Beer Guide: Eastern Region (1997) and you’ll find numerous beers that are no longer being brewed, or breweries that are long out of business. While these two books – and many more like them – are well-written and enjoyable, they don’t exactly have the timeliness and accuracy of a web-based resource.

But their instant out-of-datedness is actually part of their charm. They provide a snapshot of a particular place and time in the craft beer world, and flipping through one of them 2 or 5 or 10 years after it was published can bring back memories of long gone favourites, or tell you about some great beers that you missed out on back in the day. And sitting and reading one of them – preferably while enjoying one or two of the beverages featured in their pages – can be a great way to spend a lazy afternoon or evening.

Bill Perrie’s Craft Brewers Of Ontario is the newest guide book to our region’s brewing scene, and the timing of it’s release is impeccable given the relatively high profile currently being enjoyed by the year-old Ontario Craft Brewers association. While not an official OCB publication, it has strong connections to the organization: all of the breweries featured in the book are OCB members (except for recently departed Church Key Brewing), and OCB president John Hay provides the forward. Also in on the fun is beer historian Ian Bowering, who provides a brief but enjoyable – and lavishly illustrated – history of brewing in Ontario to open the book.

And speaking of “lavishly illustrated”, this book is easily one of the most colourful and graphics-heavy beer guide books that I’ve ever seen. Each of the eighteen brewery profiles features photos of the brewery owners, brewmasters and the breweries themselves. This lends the book a personal touch, giving the reader some familiarity with the folks that work behind the scenes on their favourite brews in a way that a text-only publication just can’t do.

This familiarity is also enhanced by Perrie’s text which is written in an almost conversational tone. Each section of the book starts with a brief history of the featured brewery, which is generally presented in the context of the town where the brewery is located, emphasizing the community oriented nature of many of Ontario’s microbreweries. Attention is also given to the people behind the beers, with founders and brewmasters receiving more ink than the beers themselves in most cases. And if you’re familiar with Perrie’s previous books – The Pub Lovers Guide to Ontario and The Pub Lovers Guide to Canada – you won’t be surprised to learn that each profile includes several suggested pubs in the area of the brewery where their beers can be enjoyed.

Observant craft beer fans will notice that the “eighteen brewery profiles” mentioned earlier in this review falls short of the thirty brewers who are members of the OCB. The exclusion of well-regarded brewers such as Denison’s and Scotch Irish is understandable given that they don’t own their own brewing facilities, but there are still several conspicuous absences in the book, most notably Amsterdam and Black Oak. Those unfortunate exclusions aside, the brewers that are included run the gamut from old-timers like Brick and Wellington to newcomers like King, Niagara’s Best and Robert Simpson, so a good cross-section of Ontario’s brewing scene is represented.

As far as the descriptions of the beers themselves, Perrie doesn’t use any sort of rating system and steers clear of offering much critical analysis. Brief tasting notes are given for all regular beers from each brewery, but they are very objective, offering little in the way of judgements. Instead, there is a blank page for “personal tasting notes” at the end of each section, encouraging the reader to make their own call on what they like and what they don’t. This approach may be too diplomatic for some, and a few of the tasting notes can come across more as PR fluff than the opinions of a serious beer drinker, but in the context of the book, they serve the purpose of informing the reader of what is available and steering them towards trying something new and (hopefully) enjoyable.

On the negative side, I found some of the profiles to be a bit light on content. Rather than just talking about the breweries and the people behind them, it would’ve been nice to see Perrie actually talking to them in the form of short interviews, or at least a direct quote or two. There are also some typos and editing/proofreading errors that are very distracting, most notably in John Hay’s forward where he refers to the book several times as Ontario Craft Brewing rather than the proper title.

But these are minor quibbles. On the whole, I enjoyed this book, and I wouldn’t hesitate to point it out to friends who might be interested in exploring our province’s burgeoning craft beer scene. It may go out of date, but I’ll be holding on to it, and maybe I’ll pull it off the shelf a few years from now and remember the many beers that are mentioned in its pages. Hopefully, most of them will still be around.

[Craft Brewers Of Ontario is currently available for purchase at the breweries featured in the book, and will start appearing on book store shelves in late summer. It can also be ordered directly from WMI Books, 161 Frederick Street, Toronto, ON M5A 4P3 for $19.95 plus $3.50 shipping – cheques or credit cards accepted. Contact James Williamson for further details.]