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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Book Week: The Beer Wench's Guide to Beer

The Beer Wench's Guide to Beer
Ashley Routson
Voyageur Press, 256 pages, $23
  • What is it? A personal beer tour by Ashley Routson
  • Who's it For? Aspiring beer geeks
  • Reviewer Disclosure. I know Ashley a bit and have met her a couple times--and had one unintentional online fracas with her.
  • Scope. The U.S. mostly, though she touches on foreign styles

The Review
This book is aptly named. It's not a general primer, written by a faceless writer in the classic voice-of-God third-person. It's a personal book written in the first person in a very chatty, familiar voice. You have the feeling, very early on, that Ashley Routson has you by the elbow and is taking you on a tour of the beer world, pointing out the things that catch her eye. During the tour, she offers a very current sense of the way American beer geeks see the world--which I sense is also quite personal. Routson is in many ways the face of American craft beer, and folks who are entering that world will get a strong sense of its flavor. (She has an all-star list of blurbs on the back cover: Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione, Stone's Mitch Steele, Firestone Walker's Matt Brynildson, the Brewers Association's Julia Herz.)

The structure itself captures the current thinking on beer in the US.  She starts with beer types, organized by family, but only spends 40% of the book there. She points them out from her perspective, offering punchy little observations like "my take," "in the mouth" (taste), "in one word" (mild: friendly; IPA: invigorating; saison: majestic), "drink instead of" (and here she helpfully offers alternatives to wine and cocktails). Then she moves along to a section on ingredients and appreciation, which is again interpretive. For example, in describing esters, she has a table that lists the "fancy scientific name" and the associated smell. The last 40% of the book concerns food pairings, cooking, and beer cocktails, and while I am largely ignorant of those things, it seems to be a strength in the book.

The feel here is of a welcoming insider showing a newbie the ropes. The information in some sections is not always accurate. The beer styles section has some poor history* and I would quibble with the introduction to the styles in several places.  I wish these had been cleaned up a bit, but I don't actually think it's a huge problem. If you're the kind of pedant who reads Ron Pattinson and Martyn Cornell and knows what a mild really is, you were never going to buy this book in the first place. If, on the other hand, you are a Corona Light drinker who has put your toe in the Blue Moon waters, that's a good enough description.

Ashley Routson is, like craft beer culture itself, a somewhat polarizing figure. She is as close to "celebrity" as beer writers get (ain't no one paying me to write Jeff Alworth's Guide to Beer), and that means she attracts attention both positive and negative. Her rise to fame has been fueled by social media (she has 33,000 Twitter followers and 45,000 Instagram followers; Widmer Brothers have 21,000 Twitter followers), and this is a book for the social media age. It is light, breezy, personal, and filled with the personality of the writer. Although the book will no doubt draw some negative reviews, it will introduce a lot of people to beer--and they'll be the better for it.

*Mild ale: "Milds got their name for the same reason bitters got theirs--patrons used it as a way to differentiate between the two styles at the pub. They would either order the bitter (the hoppy pale ale) or the mild (the less hoppy, less alcohol and therefore more 'mild' ale)."

1 comment:

  1. Wonder what Brewpublic thinks of it...