The Brewmaster's Table

Due to the novelty of blogging I have an overwhelming desire to write about something. I originally intended to go out and buy a new beer this evening, but my overwhelming desire to not go out in the cold won out. Instead I'll attempt to write a book review.

In late November or early December I received an unexpected package from Amazon. Upon opening it I discovered two gift-wrapped books with happy birthday notes from Win (Thanks Win!). I assumed that this was an early birthday present. Win, however, informed me that it was actually a late birthday gift. Included were Bringing Down the House, and The Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food.

The Brewmaster's Table was written by Garret Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery. I actually saw Oliver at the Brooklyn Brewery's booth at Beer Advocate's Art of Beer Festival in May 2004, he served Ali a beer. I heard someone tell him how much they loved the book, and I think this is really the first time I became aware of the book. I've only had two of Brooklyn Brewery's beers, Brooklyn Brown Ale and Brooklyn Lager. I recall both being tasty. I've never explored Brooklyn's offerings further since I tend to pick up singles when I go to the liquor store, and because I haven't seen it on draft much around Boston.

The book is quite hefty, weighing in at about 350 pages. Brewmaster's Table contains brief chapters about beer making, beer history and proper beer service. However, the bulk of the book is dedicated to different styles of beer and the food that the beer best compliments.

The book begins with a short introduction in which Oliver talks about his discovery of real beer when he lived in London after college. Similar short snippets from Oliver's personal experiences with beer are interspersed throughout the book. These are always relevant to the style of beer that Oliver is discussing, but occasionally he seems to be tooting his own horn. Given that the man certainly knows his beer and food, I can't fault him too much.

One of the great strengths of the book is its thoroughness. In addition to the chapters mentioned above, there are seven chapters dealing with different brewing traditions. These include: Lambics, Wheat Beers, British Ales, Belgian Ales, Czech-German Lagers, American Craft Brewing and 'Unique Specialties'. Each chapter is divided into sections dedicated to different styles of beer that fall under that brewing tradition. I'm hard-pressed to think of a single style of beer that isn't covered. These sections include: a brief history of the style; a description of the style in terms of appearance, taste and aroma; a discussion of the style's strengths and weaknesses with particular foods; and descriptions of notable beers of the style organized by producer (Brooklyn Brewery is occasionally mentioned in these sections).

The discussions of pairing beer with food describe the major characteristics of the beer that should be considered, as well as pairing suggestions. Oliver also discusses the characteristics of a beer that will overpower or be overpowered by particular foods. Additionally he describes more subtle aspects of pairing, including how subtle flavors in the beer compliment the flavors of food. The descriptions of notable beers of the style are, in essence, tasting notes for those beers, and include suggested food pairings.

The Brewmaster's Table focuses on beer and food pairings, for which it is a great resource. However, it's also a great place to start if you're curious about different beer styles, and it gives a nice list of beers to try if a particular style stirs your interest. If you're interested in beer, or beer and food I'd pick this book up.

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