“If you need a little beer brush-up, or know someone who does, Drinkology Beer is one of the most fun educational beverage reads we’ve had in years” (LA Weekly).
So a guy or a gal walks into a bar and orders a . . . what? A Belgian lambic? A German Hefeweizen? An American barley wine? Today, with thousands of beers being made in the US and many imported ales and lagers available at taverns and retailers, the once-simple decision to have a beer may feel a little like drowning. Drinkology Beer to the rescue. James Waller’s book is written especially for beer lovers who have no idea what “sparge” or “IBU” might mean.
After covering the basics of brewing, Waller provides an informative, witty, and accessible compendium of the globe’s beer styles, ranging from Abbey Ale to Zwickel. With special features including a roundup of “beer culture” (such as beer songs and movies about beer), notes on touring breweries, and a selection of beer-cocktail recipes and food dishes you can make with beer, Drinkology Beer is a beer book completely unlike any other.
“The budding beer aficionado in your life will smile when you hand him a gift-wrapped copy of James Waller’s Drinkology Beer: A Book About the Brew.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
"If you need a little beer brush-up, or know someone who does, Drinkology Beer is one of the most fun educational beverage reads we've had in years."– LA Weekly
BEER WAS THE FIRST ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE I EVER DRANK. IN the German-American household in which I spent my formative years—I lived with my grandmother, two unmarried uncles, my divorced mother, and my little brother—beer flowed like the River Rhine. Children were occasionally allowed to sip from an adult's glass—mostly, I think, for the adults' diversion. Like most (though not all) children, I hated the stuff, and whenever I took a sip, I made my displeasure known with a scrunched-up face, a stuck-out tongue, and a loud declaration about how bad it tasted. This always made the adults laugh. (Adults are so easy to amuse.)
Let it be noted that, despite my dislike, I did keep trying.
The beer that flowed so endlessly and so freely in my grandmother's house was, for years and years, of a single brand: National Bohemian. "National Boh" was one of Baltimore's leading local brands; another was called American Beer. (Both brewers went out of business years ago, though the National brand has been revived by Pabst.) Just as some Americans in those days—the 1950s and early 1960s—drove only Chevrolets while others drove only Fords, Baltimoreans were divided into irreconcilable camps when it came I conquered my fear (well, kinda sorta) only when I recognized that one could—I could—begin my research from the perspective of someone who didn't know anything about wine, and that the resulting book might be of some use to others who liked wine and wanted to know a little something about it but who were intimidated or simply bamboozled by most wine writing. I could, in other words, write a wine book that presupposed exactly zero knowledge of wine on the reader's part—the kind of book that I myself yearned for.
Two years ago, I proposed to my publisher that I write a book on beer. I'd become dimly aware that there was this thing going on in the culture at large—a phenomenon that was being referred to as the "craft beer movement" or the "beer renaissance." Of course, this movement/renaissance had been going on for about four decades, but, having long convinced myself that I didn't like beer and therefore wasn't interested in it, I'd paid it scant attention.
To my delight—and my fright—my publisher accepted the proposal: delight because I needed the cash; fright because I realized, going in, that I knew as little about beer as I'd known about wine when I'd begun work on my wine book. Correction: I knew less about beer. What's worse, I quickly discovered that beer, as a subject, is every bit as complicated as wine. Correction: It's more complicated. And what's even worse, I found that I was joining this movie in the middle. The world turned out to be every bit as soaked with knowledgeable beer lovers—credentialed and uncredentialed—as it is saturated with experts on wine. Perhaps worst of all, from a prospective beer-book writer's viewpoint, beer had already become "the new wine." Oh, dear Jesus. A culture of beer snobbery was spreading, like a culture of E. coli in a petri dish, to their city's brews: some people drank only National Boh; others drank nothing but American. When it came to beer, the drinkers in my family were committed National (Boh) leaguers.
My distaste for beer lasted only till adolescence. With puberty, a young man's body undergoes some radical alterations. Little noticed among that list of changes is a transformation of the taste buds: the previously unpalatable becomes, suddenly, tolerable—and potently desirable. By the time I was in my mid-teens, my mother had remarried, and she, my brother, and I were living in a ranch-style house in a distant suburb of Baltimore with her second husband, Rod. It will not surprise those of you who've had stepfathers to learn that Rod and I did not get along. Part of our trouble was ordinary Oedipal struggling, but the warfare between us was surely exacerbated by the era we were living through. My stepfather was a clean-cut, politically and religiously conservative Catholic; I was a long-haired hippie who trumpeted my atheism, carried around a paperback copy of The Communist Manifesto, and shouted "Sieg Heil!" whenever Rod expressed a reactionary opinion at the dinner table (which was frequently). He, in turn, referred to me as "the Animal."
But there were truces in the ongoing combat between Rod and me, and beer played an important role in calming the tensions. One of Rod's good qualities (in long retrospect, I do see that he had several) was his easygoing attitude toward booze. He certainly never encouraged me to get drunk, but he did sometimes invite me to have a beer with him. On those evenings, we'd crack open our cans of Miller (I think it was Miller) and settle down in the living room to watch TV together. I was flattered to be treated as the adult I so wanted to be. I especially remember the times we'd watch the sitcom All in the Family—a show that Rod and I equally if contradictorily enjoyed: I'd hoot at Archie Bunker's right-wing idiocies; Rod would bust his gut whenever Archie's pinko son-in-law, Mike (a.k.a. Meathead), was the butt of a joke. Peace—punctuated by laughter—briefly reigned between us.
"MR. BOH," THE ONE-EYED MASCOT FOR BALTIMORE'S NATIONAL BOHEMIAN BEER
At eighteen, I went away to college, where my relationship with intoxicants, including beer, grew more complicated. It was the early 1970s, and I and most of my college chums spent much of our time stoned, or drunk, or both. I'm not proud of my excesses, but I'm not about to be dishonest about them either. In the drink- and drug-saturated environment that was my college dorm, beer played a relatively minor role. Oh, we certainly liked to drink while smoking dope, but my friends and I generally opted for cheap, sweet wines rather than beer; when it came to pairing booze with marijuana, Mateus beat Miller, Boone's Farm beat Bud.
Still, a couple of beer-sodden memories do stand out. There was, for example, the evening following an oral exam for a philosophy course. I'd never taken such an exam before, and I was sure I'd perform disastrously. To calm my nerves, I laid in a six-pack of Budweiser, chilling it in ice I'd loaded into my dorm-room sink; it would be there, waiting for me and ready to help me drown my sorrows when the hour-long one-on-one session in my professor's office was through. (It somewhat astonishes me, now that I think about it, how very easy it was for me, a nineteen-year-old in a state where the legal drinking age was twenty-one, to get hold of a six-pack. But it was.)
Anyway, much to my surprise, the exam went well. It turned out that I had understood something about Kierkegaard and could even vaguely articulate what I knew. So instead of consoling me, that six-pack offered me a means of celebrating. I drank all six cans in rather rapid succession, then, reeling, went out with friends to eat at a local pizza parlor. And of course I spent the whole of the long, long night that followed throwing up.
I was, gradually, becoming acquainted with beer's various meanings: beer as a cultural marker and ensign of group identity, beer as a medium for peacemaking and fellowship (and, especially, for male bonding), and beer as a consoler and co-celebrant (a friend in whatever need one happens to be having). As time went on and I continued to drink, I grew familiar—as either participant or observer—with even more of beer's many purposes: beer as a stimulant for sexual desire and a catalyst for hooking up, beer as a spur to bad behavior, beer as an antidote to boredom, beer—icy cold beer—as one of the few genuinely satisfactory thirst-quenchers on a hot, hot summer day.
What I did not really learn, through all of this, was very much about beer's taste. Almost all the beers I drank throughout my early life were mass-produced American pilsners—Miller, Budweiser, Pabst, and the like—that were light on flavor even when they were not calorically "lite." There were occasional exceptions—but not many, since American pilsners so completely dominated the market back then. (They still do, of course, but the number of alternatives is now infinitely greater.)
And so it went. Through my mid-thirties, I continued to drink lots of beer without, however, particularly liking it. What I never realized, over those many years, was that the reason I didn't much like the taste of the beers I was drinking was because there wasn't, in fact, very much to like about their taste.
So I gave up beer drinking, more or less completely, when I was in my late thirties. I'd discovered whiskey. I'd discovered cocktails. I'd discovered wine. I'd discovered, in other words, that one could drink for both the effects and for the taste. Granted, I'd still have a beer occasionally—on one of those hot, hot summer days when only a crisp, cold lager will really do, or at a party where the only thing on offer besides beer was some really crappy wine.
Then, back in 2003, I was given the opportunity to write a cocktail guide. The result of my labors, Drinkology: The Art and Science of the Cocktail, sold surprisingly well, and my publisher invited me to follow it up with a book on wine. I began that book (Drinkology WINE: A Guide to the Grape) with trepidation. I liked wine, but I immediately realized that I knew nothing about wine. And who was I, anyhow (I asked myself), to be writing about wine in a world that already possessed a more than sufficient quantity of bona fide wine experts? across the agar-agar of our land. I didn't yet know that beer snobs are nicer than wine snobs, and so the intimidation I felt growing in my gut was, I began to notice, as paralyzing as the intimidation I'd experienced when setting out to write my book on wine.
There was, for me, only one possible way of overcoming that intimidation: I could admit my vast ignorance (consider it done!) and then proceed to write the book that, as someone who knew nothing about beer, I myself needed in order to begin to understand something—a little something—about the subject. And, as I went along, I could hope that my efforts would be helpful to others who are likewise interested in beer but humbled by their lack of knowledge. In this regard, part 2—which amounts to a dictionary of beer styles—is the core of this book, bringing together a diversity of basic information that I, when doing my research, felt I most sorely needed. This being a Drinkology book, it contains much that I hope you'll find engaging and fun, but part 2 amounts to a book-within-a-book that I dare think any beer neophyte will find useful.
And, finally, let me announce that I'm happy to be drinking beer again—and to have discovered, through my "diligent research," that there's lots and lots of beer out there that tastes just great.