Artisan Beer: A Complete Guide to Savoring the World’s Finest Beers
Gary Monterosso throws around a lot of terms for the same subject of his latest book. He discusses “microbrews,” “these ‘new’ beers,” “craft beer” and “boutique beer,” and he ultimately settles on “Artisan Beer,” a phrase rarely found in the vocabulary of today’s beverage world, for the title of his new guide. But the term fits the approach that Monterosso takes to distinguish his book from the thousands on each side of it on the beer shelf. Like the artisan brewers who “opted to create their own take on how beer should taste,” he teaches the reader not about drinking beer, but rather about how to savor it for the utmost beer experience.
Monterosso’s appearance as a beer expert on the History Channel’s “The Epic History of Everyday Things” shines through in the introduction of his book as he gives a history lesson on beer by beginning with an ancient Sumerian tablet, wading through the English Channel on his way to the etymology of the word “groggy” and ending with recent scientific findings that moderate beer consumption may prevent cell damage that leads to cancer. One more, barkeep!
It’s clear in the introduction that the intended audience for Artisan Beer is not the hardcore beer geeks or even the relatively educated beer enthusiasts. This book is tailored for those who may have recently had their craft beer epiphany, or “love at first sip,” and want to know more.
Monterosso provides one-paragraph style descriptions and four to five “among the best” examples for each style in the initial chapter, which is divided into ales, lagers and hybrids. The descriptions typically include history, alcohol-by-volume (ABV), brewing process and tasting notes, and the style examples present a range of beers from across the world.
Perhaps the most interesting chapter of the book for both beginner beer lovers and aficionados is “How Do I …?: Beer Q&As.” He answers “… Decide What Beer to Order at a Brewpub?” by advising the reader to order a flight of beers to sample, look for recommended food and drink pairings and take home a growler “[s]hould you find a thoroughly enjoyable beer.”
Monterosso approaches how to select beers for aging not only by providing an overview of appropriate styles and ABV ranges to keep in mind when tucking away a few bottles, but he poses cellaring questions to some of the beer world’s biggest names and experts. He asks Stan Hieronymous, “[W]hat advice would you have for the novice who is thinking about laying down some beers”? Hieronymous advises to “[l]abel the bottles when you bought the beer and when you lay it down. You might end up with a 1992 Thomas Hardy you’ve owned since then and a four-pack you found in a cooler last year. Monitor your stash. … Take good notes every time you taste a beer.” Seasoned enthusiasts and new craft beer drinkers alike will find insightful and interesting tidbits in these answers that are hidden in the middle of the book.
Artisan Beer winds down with “The Dream Team Case of Beer” that “should appeal … to aficionados as well as those who always wanted to see what the ‘good beer’ revolution is all about.” Monterosso does not stray from the classics in his selections. He chooses Ayinger Celebrator for his Doppelbock, Saison Dupont for his saison and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale for his American pale ale, and he includes brief histories and tasting notes for each. For beer geeks, this section is a lovely reminder and reference of beers truly brewed to style when they want to return to the basics. For beginners, the list is an excellent starting point in developing their craft beer palate.
And a starting point is exactly what Monterosso intends this book to be. Artisan Beer succeeds in introducing the beginner craft drinker to the wonders the beer world has to offer without intimidation or guilt. “You don’t have to explain your choices to anyone,” he writes. “Ultimately, you are the final critic, and that’s how it should be.”