Crack open a bottle and a book

March 29, 2019

Reading about craft beer is lots of fun, even if the landscape is littered with a lot of bad content. If you can ignore the Instagram influencers who rave about beer with off flavors in blogs, and consume enthusiast websites with the understanding that they’re just there to pump up hyped breweries, you’re in okay shape. But there’s a better way! You should divert your attention to the reporters still putting in work to ‘craft’ tales worth telling.

507 gathered a list of good beer reads a year ago, but since then, two excellent books on suds have been released: “Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out,” and “The Widmer Way.” In the fast-paced world of hot takes and blog after blog, there’s nothing like sitting down with a good book. Take one of these along on your next solo brewery visit!

“Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out”

Chicago Tribune reporter Josh Noel knows Goose Island, the subject of his book. Beer is his beat, after all, and Goose Island is and was one of the most recognizable breweries in the world. And it also sold out to Anheuser-Busch. While the tale weaves in and around the sale, the picture painted isn’t so black-and-white. While many craft breweries and fans don’t like a brewery selling out, many of them still buy Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout every year on Black Friday. That beer – considered the first barrel-aged beer in America – is a big reason the Chicago brewery’s fame rose. The dynamic between John and Greg Hall, father and son, founder and brewmaster, is interesting enough on its own. The dichotomy between the two – John was more of a businessman, whereas Greg really cared more about the actual beer – is fascinating and sad, throughout. This is the type of book you get when someone absolutely owns their beat, is a good newspaper reporter, and knows how to weave a tale worth telling.

“The Widmer Way”

Jeff Alworth will be a name people know if they’ve ever looked into top-tier books on beer. His latest is different in that he tells the story of two brothers who kickstarted Portland’s craft beer scene. Widmer Brothers is known for its hefeweizen (much like New Glarus’ Dancing Man). Before all of that, the brewery was just an idea at a time when the nation had just 90 breweries. Brothers Rob and Kurt Widmer have legendary status in Portland, but it is amazing they were even able to start a brewery. The brothers his story is centered on did things the right way. While some brewers nowadays might dump a bad batch of beer, especially a first one, Widmer dumped 10 batches of an altbier until they got it right. Oh, and wouldn’t you know it, but Anheuser-Busch also makes an appearance in this book. By the end of the book, Alworth hits home a valid point: craft beer would exist without the Widmers, but their contribution has been a good one that has shaped the industry. Alworth has great reporting chops and has lived in Portland for years, giving him an intimacy with the beer scene many writers lack.