If you have a permanent spot on your bookshelf for whatever James Waller publishes on beverages (the original Drinkology cocktail guide and his Drinkology Wine follow-up), you probably already know that the third book in his series, Drinkology Beer, has just been released.
For the Waller uninitiated, the author is known for writing about his personal explorations of the subject at hand -- and admitting that he knew exceedingly little about wine (and now, beer) when he started each book. Some may balk, but we find it a refreshingly honest confession in today's online world of everyone-is-an-expert. That novice researcher's viewpoint is exactly what makes all of Waller's books so great. Add his highly entertaining writing style, and you've got a book that is a heck of a lot more interesting to read than the beverage industry's equivalent of the Oxford Dictionary:
"Oh dear Jesus," Waller, intimidated by the beer research ahead, says in the Introduction. "A culture of beer snobbery was spreading, like a culture of E. coli in a petri dish, across the agar-agar of our land. I didn't yet know that beer snobs are nicer than wine snobs."
Waller, in his typical sarcastic, self-deprecating tone, goes on to recount his German-American childhood in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a time when Baltimore was a city divided by those who claimed allegiance to National Boh (Bohemian) beer and those who stood staunchly behind their American Beer cans. Essentially the same Bud/Coors/MIller commercial light beer battle fought today.
He then delves into those always-charming teenage years. For Waller, a stepfather came into the already angst-driven adolescent picture ("Rod and I did not get along. Part of our trouble was ordinary Oedipal struggling, but the warfare between us was surely exacerbated by the era we were living through."). Waller says his stepfather was a "politically and religiously conservative Catholic." Waller was a self-described "long-haired hippie who trumpeted my atheism, carried around a paperback copy of The Communist Manifesto, and shouted 'Sieg Heil!' whenever Rod expressed a reactionary opinion at the dinner table (which was frequently). He, in turn, referred to me as 'the Animal'."
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As to be expected in a beer book, the brief moments of peaceful family therapy memories came in the form of cheap beer. "One of Rod's good qualities (in long retrospect, I do see that he had several), was his easygoing attitude towards booze." And so they bonded over Archie Bunker versus Meathead television moments and good old American light beer.
Such is the tone that continues in the four chapters, from a survey of beer history/brewing to an "A to Z of Beer Styles with Several Digressions." And sure, that last chapter, with a handful of recipes for maple-stout glazed pecans, beer-steamed mussels and a beer cocktail or two, is a nice little diversion for your friends who have yet to understand why anyone in their right mind would voluntarily drink a Schwarzbier-style brew (a dark German lager; many local brewers refer to their riffs on the brew as a black lager).
No, this book is probably not for the beer snob on your gift list. He or she will likely laugh (behind your back) when you hand over a book on beer basics that also includes quirky sidebars (In one, Waller philosophizes about the reasons why beer is the stepchild of the movies, yet the celebrated prodigy of the television sitcom in shows like Cheers). But if you need a little beer brush-up, or know someone who does, Drinkology Beer is one of the most fun educational beverage reads we've had in years.