Tag Archives: books

Proof-A Review

I recently finished Proof by Adam Rogers, which is about the science around alcohol.

Longtime readers of the blog know that I really like the science behind beer; the  processes that go into making a glass of lager or ale can easily connect damn near everything in the world. A book like this is definitely in my wheelhouse.

Proof, however, slides past beer pretty quickly and focuses more on distillation and the science around it. The book makes a pretty solid case for doing so; it’s discussion about fermentation goes into how this is a natural process, whereas making spirits is something humans have engineered.

But that was fine by me, because the science is still the science and discussions around yeast, ethanol, chemistry and how these things interact with humans generally apply regardless of the style of alcohol you consume.

However, the science was occasionally a little unclear for me: discussion on how fungus evolved in Japan to make sake, for example, didn’t have much depth and felt like they were being pushed quickly through. Similarly, the chapters on ethanol’s interactions in the human body used a lot of new terms without giving me enough distinction between them for me to feel like I understood the subject. This may be to prevent getting laypeople confused but I wish it had been clearer, even if this meant more explanations.

But Proof is no less fascinating for these flaws: many parts of the book detailed scientists working on things I was surprised that we didn’t already know-for example, how, exactly, does alcohol affect people? What happens when you’re hung over? What happens to alcohol inside a barrel?

Along with other questions that I just didn’t know and found cool answers too, like How many flavors can a person detect? How did different cultures approach getting fermentation to work?

The dive into these questions were intriguing! I got windows into different cultures, history lessons, science lessons (turns out people can easily detect about six scents if trained, four if not, and then the brain starts to lump things together!) and of course, the people who invest their lives and time into this subject. I enjoyed this read and recommend it if you have any interest in the subject.

Brewed Awakening review

I don’t recall how Brewed Awakening came to my attention but it was put on my ‘To Read’ list and finally Mr. Bernstein’s book arrived via the wonderful Multnomah County Library’s system. I finished it just a few days ago and this seems as good an opportunity as any to share what I thought about it.

Brewed Awakening is a nice overview of the state of craft brewing in America. There are some short diversions to brewers in Canada and Mexico which I found pretty informative, but for the most part the book is centered on America’s craft brewing trends. It doesn’t go very deep into any one style, brewery or brewer, content instead to provide a lot mini-shots.

One thing I have to mention is the visual design of the book. It frequently evokes brewing notes or things written hastily at a pub, with torn notebook sheets, beer coasters and other similar paraphernalia used as the backdrop for the text, which helped set the scene for me even when I was reading on a bus. I liked that and thought it was a nice way to gussy up a book that didn’t get too deep on its subject.

Bernstein does talk to a lot of people though and even provides anywhere from five to eleven different beers to try that correspond to the subject he’s exploring. The descriptions of the beer were pretty interesting and the selection was from all over the country, so readers are likely to find something from their region. Bernstein ends up exploring not only underdeveloped styles of beer but also movements in brewing, such as the promotion of female brewers, as he talks to brewers who are looking to stand out which allows him to really highlight how creative brewers are being right now.

It gets a little too cutesy for me: I can really only stand one hop-related pun per year and his use of puns and alliteration points out how non-threatening he’s trying to make the subject. It’s a friendly style that probably works for everyone who isn’t me and I can see being very welcoming to anyone who is not very familiar with craft brewing in the US and that is who I believe he’s writing for.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t find it to be informative and worth my time: overall, I enjoyed Brewed Awakening. While I didn’t learn much about styles, I did hear about a whole lot of breweries and new beers to keep my eyes open for, which is what any craft ale devotee might find worthwhile.

Drinking With Men (review)

Dad turned me on to Rosie Schaap’s book, Drinking With Men and after a bit of dawdling, I finally got around to reading it.

I think I’d like to drink with Ms. Schaap. She seems cool.

That said, the book seems to split it’s time between her personal experience and the bars she has inhabited throughout the years and it suffers a little bit for that. When she’s able to speak about her experience in full, it’s very captivating but in many of the middle chapters, I got the sense that there was something not being discussed and it felt a little off as a result of that.

I understand why this might be the case: not every experience in life is worth exposing to an audience. Certainly, some events may not always relate to the top and I appreciate Schaap’s desire to keep private things private, or focus on  her topic, depending on how you want to think about it. Unfortunately, the emotional resonance that is needed to make the place she’s talking about compelling becomes more like an echo than a voice and occasionally I felt like: I guess I had to be there. This comes on especially strong in one of the last chapters of the book, where she describes herself weeping in a taxi and I didn’t know why she was upset.

On the other hand, she’s quite good at giving a sense of place and what may draw people in towards that place. The community that reels someone towards a pub over and over is always present, even if it is in the background. When she’s able to combine the place with her life, as she was in the chapter involving the Fish pub and her experiences right after 9/11/01, I really understood why people would take to a spot and make it their own.

I don’t know that Drinking With Men is quite as compelling for me as Pete Hamill’s A Drinking Life was, but Schaap is a solid writer who knows how to keep things moving, never overstaying at any one joint or leaving the reader bored. I liked it and say it’s worth your time.

Viking Ale

My friend Ed sent me this post on making viking ale. Shortly thereafter, he sent me instructions for dandelion beer.

It’s rather timely (for me, anyway) to talk about it because I have just finished Martyn Cornell’s Amber, Gold and Black, which is a history of British ales and included in there is a chapter on herbal beers. That chapter includes historical data on the kinds of things used to make beers before it was regulated (read: taxed) by the government, including sage, yarrow and of course honey or dandelion. From what I gather, a whole lot of plants were tossed into water for beer.

But this leads me to my next point; If you are interested in the history of beer styles such as porter, stout, and IPA, then Cornell’s book is well written and worth your time. Cornell’s style is witty and concise, which manages to keep things moving along, even when he’s writing about the Original Gravity and prices of a beer that has gone extinct, while ensuring that the reader is well informed. Amber, Gold and Black often details how styles changed over time due to war or political winds, and how technology allowed for new styles to come about in Britain. It’s quite nice and worth a read.