Beer has always been here. Or at least, that’s the impression one gets from Jeff Alworth’s latest work, “The Beer Bible.” Featuring an array of information, from the history of beer to examinations of various beer styles, the book is dense with information, but always keeps one eye trained on the human element.
“Just one question about one beer precipitates a story that, told fully, is the biography of the people who brewed it,” Alworth writes, and this forms the guiding principle for the rest of his book. Whether it’s the tale of Munich brewers threatening civil war against the arrival of pale lager, or “The Great Porter Flood of 1814,” Alworth’s book is filled with rich anecdotes.
Those stories combine to tell the story of beer, which Alworth presents as being intimately linked with the story of human civilization.
From Sumerian priestesses making beer in honor of the goddess Ninkasi, to the millet and sorghum beers of China and Tanzania, or the plethora of new styles made possible by industrial refrigeration and shipping technologies, Alworth shows beer as a product of humans using whatever they have at hand. Each culture turns the best of its science and art to the production of ales and lagers.
Buoyed by an engaging, conversational prose style, “The Beer Bible” provides compelling material for readers at any level of familiarity with beer. Alworth’s writing is never pretentious, but always full of heart. When recounting a particular tale, it’s with epic scope. When he’s explaining how to taste beer “like a brewer,” it has the elegance of guided meditation.
He gives mass-market lagers like Budweiser and Miller more attention than beer nerds normally do, but also offers a series of “If you like this, try that” suggestions for branching out of one’s comfort zone. Those who think beer begins and ends with amber liquid from Milwaukee are sure to be shocked by the wide range of possibilities.
At the same time, even experienced fans of beer will learn something. Readers who claim to have tasted every brew will have to expand their bucket lists after reading about the ever-changing world of gueuzes and wild ales. Detailed breakdowns of the characteristics defining each style can offer further inspiration to amateur homebrewers and the like.
“The Beer Bible” functions effectively on both micro and macro levels. Readers can skim through to a favorite style or brewery and find an informational story, or move through from first page to last. No matter the approach, they will be entertained and educated.
Alworth takes a detailed eye toward the cultural history of beer, its developments with changes in law and technology. He includes the technical end of the entire brewing process for those interested, but most sections require no advanced knowledge of how beer is made. It’s a very modular work, and readers can begin by opening to almost any page.
“The Beer Bible” includes a series of maps in its appendices, perfect for planning tours of local brewing hotspots, whether in America or abroad. It’s especially thrilling for local PNW readers to realize the abundance of great breweries nearby. Other bonuses include a guide to glassware selection, and instructions on proposing a toast in several different languages.
True to its “Bible” appellation, Alworth’s “Beer Bible” is a repository of stories and information, and a great single-volume entrypoint to a particular lifestyle: the lifestyle of a true beer lover.
The verdict: A stunningly well-written book, and an essential addition to the canon of beer literature.
Reach Arts & Leisure Editor and Podcast Editor Dylan Teague McDonald at email@example.com. Twitter: @DylanTM708