Talk about change. In just the past 25 years or so, the entire world
of American beer has been radically altered. What was once simply a
working-class staple, in one singular style, has boomed into a
thriving industry ripe with creativity, inventiveness, and innovation.
Brewing styles from all over the world have been integrated into an
international beer culture, with countless independent craft brewers
popping up everywhere and anywhere, each attempting to create a tasty beverage that excites the palate and ignites the imagination, or at least complements a variety of foods. Unusual and complex flavors are now commonplace in beers, as are variations in consistency, alcohol-by-volume, color, and texture. With the influx of artisan brewers, there are plenty of books out there, and it's a lot to take in. Here are a couple I found to be superior, for both the novice and experienced alike.
"World's Best Beers -- One Thousand Craft Brews From Cask To Glass"
(2009, Sterling Publishing, $29.95)
This book, written by English beer statesman Ben McFarland, is a wonderful oversize coffee table-style tome that gives a nice, and relatively deep look into the beverages that the author feels are the "1000 best" in the world. A tall task? Sure. But certainly, even the most experienced beer aficionado will find something he/she has never heard of. Kudos to the author for including some fascinating close-up articles highlighting some of the more innovative craft brewers like Duvel (of Belgium), or the San Francisco-based Anchor Steam Brewery. And McFarland includes an abundance of photos, for those of us who require some visual stimulation. The book does touch upon the basics of beer, and some food pairings, but these are merely footnotes. The photos of the ornate bottles, and concise reviews (with web links) are definitely the focus here. "World's Best Beer" is a hefty, attractive, and colorful travelogue of the world's beer, and thus would make an ideal gift for the beer lover on your list.
"Tasting Beer" (2009, Storey Publishing, $16.95)
Lovingly crafted by noted beer enthusiast and writer Randy Mosher, this handy softcover reference is a perfect introduction to just about everything about beer, from its' storied history through the ages and continents, to different styles, to how to properly taste and judge a beer. If this sounds a bit academic, don't fret. Mosher's style is very conversational and easy to read. I consider this to be a layman's starting point in brewing and brew appreciation. Really, any of the basics about beer can be found in "Tasting Beer", so this one would make a solid counterpart and accompaniment to the aforementioned "World's Best Beers".