Joshua M. Bernstein‘s hefty and beautifully produced tome is sub-titled “Behind the Beers and Brewers Leading the World’s Craft Brewing Revolution” and presents a snapshot overview of the current state of craft brewing.
It’s couched as the culmination of the author’s personal journey from frat-boy bog-standard beer-quaffer to hugely experienced beer connoisseur and professional beer writer and with its notebook and jotter-style page backgrounds, and main articles interspersed with tasting notes and recommendations, Brewed Awakening has a distinctly blog-like feel to its presentation. But the author’s strong narrative approach to the project holds everything together quite nicely as Mr Bernstein takes us through a number of key elements of the brewing process and introduces us to a few of the vast number of craft beers available today.
The focus of the book is mainly on the US market, quite naturally given the author’s background, although he does venture outside his homeland with a selection of ‘international spotlight’ profile pieces – on the likes of on Epic (New Zealand), Mikkeller (Denmark), BrewDog (UK), Dieu Du Ciel (Canada), Nøgne ø (Norway) and Cucapá (Mexico) – which provide a nicely non-parochial angle.
Along the way we’re introduced to a wide range of beery topics, including hops, grain-types (including a fair-sized section on gluten free brewing), yeast strains, barrel ageing, home brewing, seasonal drinking, local terroir and organic brewing.
Throughout Brewed Awakening, Bernstein’s tone is always talkative, never patronising; he explains the essential characteristics, function and variety of key ingredients at an interested layman’s level, and it never feels like you’re being lectured to by someone just a bit too eager to show off their vast store of superior knowledge.
There’s also plenty of input from the craft brewers themselves, which adds the weight of professional expertise to discussions of everything from barrel ageing or the challenges of brewing with Brettanomyces yeast, to the groundswell of US demand for good session beers or the joys of extreme beer events like Dark Lord Day and Sexual Chocolate Weekend.
I learned a few handy nuggets of info that I’d not come across before as well, such as:
• Roggenbier / Dunkelroggen is a dark, spicy German beer style brewed with up to 50% rye for a slightly sour, dry finish, which sounds rather interesting. One to watch out for.
• Duchesse de Bourgogne – definitely my favourite sour Belgian to-date – is a blend of two beers: one wild-yeast beer that’s been aged for 18 months, one eight months old.
• The other week I was idly wondering whether anyone had tried using tea leaves as a flavouring or bittering agent in beer. Now I know that Toronto’s Mill St Brewery makes ‘Lemon Tea Ale’ with lemon and black tea leaves, which the author describes as “good and quenching”. Something else to watch out for.
The one paragraph of the book that I didn’t appreciate was on page 127, in the section of advice on sourcing cask ales. Here the author says “no sparkler please” and yes, he has his reasons and they might apply to cask in the US. But I’ll happily challenge him to come on over to the UK, be disappointed by a pint of flat, dull, sans-sparkler London-dispensed ale, then head Up North to Manchester, where the Port Street Beer House will provide him with a properly sparklered pint of the finest quality cask ale that’s ever likely to pass his lips. Mr Bernstein, consider that an open invitation… my shout! :)
Anyway, to summarise: Brewed Awakening is informative, fascinating and eye-opening in equal measures. It seems unlikely that you’ll find a more interesting and readable overview of the current state of the craft beer market than this. Admittedly Great American Craft Beer by Andy Crouch (which I reviewed a while back) and Beer is Proof God Loves Us by Charles Bamforth both come close for readability, albeit with a slightly different focus in each case (the former is more of a straight-up Beer Style Guide, the latter more of a personal memoir).
Recommended for hop-heads and stout-hearts everywhere.