Today, many craft-brew bars offer beer lists that run the length of wine lists at Michelin-starred restaurants. While a well-trained staff may help, a proper beer education goes a long way, and Joshua M. Bernstein has created a valuable resource to aid craft drinkers in wading through the myriad of craft beer choices in his book, The Complete Beer Course. The book gives readers a semesterlong course of beer knowledge in an enjoyable and visually appealing package. This is welcome because craft brewers are creating a wider variety of beer styles than ever before. They’re reviving extinct beers, pushing the boundaries of standard styles and inventing new varieties. While this creates an exciting opportunity to experience a full spectrum of aromas and flavors in the world of fermented barley, it also makes it more difficult for consumers to choose their next beer.
Bernstein breaks down the wealth of beer knowledge into 12 chapters, which he playfully calls classes. The first class covers the basics, taking the reader through a clear explanation of beer ingredients and the brewing process. Also provided are the tools needed to properly serve and taste beer, including beautifully illustrated temperature and glassware guides as well as a glossary of descriptive terms, broken down into negative and positive qualities. While Bernstein lays the foundation in a well-organized and visually appealing manner, providing several resources for the new craft drinker, there’s also a lot here for the experienced imbiber. He delves into gluten-free beers, the interplay of alcohol and flavor, and tips on hosting a tasting party. In addition, there are a multitude of factual sidebars throughout the book that will give even the diehards an edge at their next trivia night. He ends the introductory class by asking readers to drink as they work their way through the book, extolling that “the perfect beer is a matter of taste, and training your taste buds matters most.”
What follows is a whirlwind tour through the slew of styles that are being brewed today. He groups the world of craft beer into 10 tasting classes, providing readers with an entertaining history of each style, tasting notes and commercial beer recommendations for readers to try as they follow along. Bernstein’s delightful descriptions illustrate each style beautifully for the beer newbie yet will inspire a revisit from even the most jaded beer geek. For example, the hefeweizen is likened to a beauty pageant winner: When “poured into a tall glass as curvaceous as a Victoria’s Secret cover model, the wheat beer is a cloudy looker, all hazy gold and topped with a foam tiara that’s as thick and creamy as mousse.” He covers much more than the basics—the class on wheat beer includes a section on the sour German Berliner Weisse and Gose, two of the trendiest beer styles showing up on taps today. The last class has a different spin on food pairings, examining beer-focused restaurants and beer-washed cheeses as well as providing the obligatory tips for matching beers with food. A comprehensive guide to cellaring and aging beer rounds out the course. Brewery profiles, eye-catching graphics and appealing photos add further depth.