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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book Review: Brewed Awakening by Joshua Bernstein

Brewed Awakening
Joshua Bernstein
On sale November 2011
Sterling Publications, 304 pages

Most beer books are aimed at the very general reader. They assume a person has interest in good beer, but very little experience with them. Brewed Awakening is one of the first books that aims at a slightly more experienced audience--evidence, I assume, that publishers now think there are enough such people to support a decent print run. Beyond that, it features an interesting and innovative structure--which at times pleased and at times infuriated me. More on that in a moment.

The book attempts a few things simultaneously. It aims to be introductory enough for the everyman while at the same time it highlights obscure, advanced styles and themes; it aims to be comprehensive, covering the usual slate of beer-book topics (ingredients, processes, styles, food pairings, enjoying/drinking, homebrewing), yet it also wants to capture cutting-edge trends in craft brewing. Here's where the innovative structure comes in. The sections are structured roughly in the order I listed, but Bernstein spices them up with commercial examples. So, after he describes malt, he offers "Five to Try"--beers made with wheat and rye the reader can buy to get a sense of their qualities. This concept--a selection of beers to try that illuminate the topic at hand--pervades the book.

(This was the part that irritated me, for idiosyncratic reasons. I'm the kind of person that likes to go back and locate a certain beer or category of beer but, because my brain is old and leaky and these are sprinkled throughout, they'll be hard to find. This is especially true if you're looking for a particular style, which will be placed somewhere to highlight something else in the brewing world. Or it may not be in there at all.)

I was pleased to see current developments addressed in the book. Things like gose, gypsy brewing, nanobrewing, collaboration beers, cans, and low-alcohol beers are all in here. It doesn't feel like a rehash of other books, but a serious attempt to capture the full scope of good beer in America. It's like a snapshot--or even a long, extended blog post. It's written in a breezy style and lacks the detailed scholarship you'd find in a Mosher book--but this may be more virtue than defect. Bernstein's not targeting Mosher's turf.

You'll have to wait until November to buy a copy--probably so you can buy two or three and give them away. You could do worse for the average beer geek than putting a copy of Brewed Awakening in a friend's Christmas stocking.

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