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TPFI got a feverish email from a publishing house, last week: “Did you receive the copy of “The Beer Bible” I sent? What do you think? Did you like it? Think you might write it up?

I was a little stumped because I hadn’t gotten any books and, in fact, had routinely turned down requests to review books, mainly because there are a LOT of the damned things being written lately, here in the heart of the craft beer boom. The last one I actually sat down and read was Ashley Routson’s “The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer”, which I really enjoyed for its free-rolling irreverence and gonzo style and for the fact that, underneath all the wit, Ashley really knows beer, inside and out.

Two days after telling the publisher folks that I hadn’t gotten any Bibles of any description, a large envelope shows up in my mailbox, full of Jeff Alworth‘s meaty, substantial tome, “The Beer Bible“, a 644-page attempt to offer a one-stop crash course that will take a clueless newbie in at page one and spit out a generally beer-savvy newbie at 644. And the fact that he pretty much pulls off this unlikely trick was noteworthy enough that, between that and the determined effort to get it to me, I felt compelled to write this review.

F25A3771-B7C2-4ED7-BE09-74484CA107F5“The Beer Bible” is good; in some ways, very good. If you read through this volume, you will come away with enough solid, usable knowledge to grease the rails on your beer exploration for life. Jeff makes it easy to stay tuned. The writing, if not terribly entertaining, is also not dry as dust and packs maximum information into the reading, with a minimum of horsing around. The style is direct, straight-forward, and friendly; like a really pedantic pal who’s paying your bar tab for the evening, prompting you to keep an amiable silence and let him ramble.

Unlike a TON of other, more-scholarly attempts at this sort of all-in-one beer guide, Alworth does not spend all of his time and your attention span mercilessly genuflecting to European breweries. Yes, there is a lot of material about German, British, Belgian, Eastern European, and Italian breweries, but an appropriate amount, and absolutely zero of the lofty condescension so often dripping off the struts of anything written by import beer weenies. Alworth pays due respect to American breweries that do an admirable job of rethinking Euro beer styles and covers our emerging native styles with all due seriousness. “Fair and balanced” would be an excellent summation of this book’s content, if that phrase had not been eternally corrupted by Fox Noise.

Newbies who want to cram about beer can certainly do that, here, and Jeff’s egalitarian attitude will give them a nice, firm grounding in world beer, while encouraging an un-snobbish exploration of our native craft breweries. That is all to the good and is something that’s been lacking in beer literature, aside from the lower-ambition “Beer for Dummies” and that ilk. Those newbies – as well as more experienced beer fans – would do well to treat Alworth’s repeated “The Beers To Know” sections at the end of each stylistic category as simply quick ‘n’ dirty suggestions, not hard ‘n’ fast statements of those beers’ supremacy. He’s made an admirable effort, for a Portland native, at getting a nice geographic spread in his recommendations, drawing examples from, literally, all over the American map.  Devil’s Backbone, Jester King, Three Floyds, and The Alchemist are highlighted, right along with Double Mountain and pFriem and Upright. There is even – much to my complete delight! – a mention of one of my favorite, unhearlded NW beers, Alex Ganum’s epic Upright Brewing “Billy The Mountain”, a huge, dark, complex, gingerbread-y  sour ale that’s still (no bubbles!) and weird and completely wonderful. Back when I started my annual “Best of The Northwest”, I had my first Billy and named it one of my three Beers of The Year for 2010.

Upright Brewing

Upright Brewing “Billy The Mountain”

There are little pockets and nubbins of erudition sprinkled throughout this book, including a very untrendy acknowledgement of one of the classics of West Coast Stout, Rogue “Shakespeare”, that appears right next to a similar mention of one of my new fave Stouts, Duck Rabbit Milk Stout. The NW beer-geek Attitude against Rogue is and has been irrational and unfounded for years and it’s great to see someone giving Jack Joyce’s life’s work its proper due, minus all the trendy disdain. For those beer fans who are more regionally bound and seldom encounter gems like these from other parts of the US, this will be a gold mine of intrigue and, tragically, something that will lead you smack into that hellish nether-world of trying to find online beer shippers who can get you stuff like Duck Rabbit and Devil’s Backbone and LoverBeer and St. Arnold. Good luck with that and keep a fire extinguisher handy to cool off your credit card.

Jeff YorkThe only place where The Beer Bible left me cold was the lavish injection of beer history,  of which I have amassed a fairly extensive storehouse, along my beery path, and heartily wish I hadn’t. My focus with The Pour Fool is as a buyer’s guide (aside from copious railing at insanity and inanity) and What’s In The Glass. This book can, easily, be mined for information about current and emerging beer styles and what’s likely to happen in your mouth, should you taste them. It’s quite possible to ignore the historical aspects altogether which, if I were just reading for enjoyment, I would certainly do. You do NOT have to know the evolution of the IPA style to appreciate a great-tasting IPA. But, if you have that wonky, uber-detailed gene, The Beer Bible will hit your wheelhouse squarely in the pocket and stay on your desk, quite likely, in perpetuity.

This is a very good book that does what it claims to do and does it simply, in a down-to-earth manner, and never once lapses into that annoyingly boorish tone that pervades so much “serious” beer writing. Jeff Alworth has done his homework…and yours. It may not exactly live up to the description of “Bible” but it comes closer than any other beer guide I’ve ever read and requires no gritted teeth in the reading. That, in itself, is a major accomplishment.

Speak yer piece, Pilgrim.

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