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More than a pint: New beer and cider books fill the need for more information

December 5, 2018

Did you know that beer could be used to shine pots? Or that in the 1950s, government tests determined that beer in kegs and cans was safe to drink following a nuclear detonation?

These are only a sampling of the tricks and tips youll find in Ben Robinsons new book, Beer Hacks: 100 Tips, Tricks, and Projects (Workman Publishing, 153 pages, $16.95), one of a number of new books on beer released this year.

Beer Hacks is ultimately a silly book, filled with fun, sometimes useful, but often frivolous bits of beer ephemera eight ways to pop a bottle without an opener, multiple methods to chill a beer in under a minute, using beer to remove coffee stains from carpets. Robinsons jokey tone feels appropriate at first, but becomes annoying taken in large doses. He does provide good information on glassware, beer storage and surviving a beer festival.

But there are also factual errors such as the assertion that cask-conditioned beer is not carbonated. In fact, it is carbonated, but at a lower level than regular kegged beer.

Beer Hacks would make a great stocking stuffer or gift for the beer nerd in your offices secret Santa pool. But beware. Its the kind of book that could make an already insufferable beer nerd even more insufferable. Beer Hacks comes with a bottle opener the original beer hack. So maybe you wont need all those bottle-opening tips after all.

The world of beer is full of jargon. The sheer volume of subject-specific terminology thats casually bandied about both scientific and culturally developed is overwhelming. The Craft Beer Dictionary (Octopus Publishing, 254 pages, $20), by Richard Croasdale, seeks to demystify the language of beer.

From ABV to zythos, Croasdale provides definitions written in ordinary language. The entries go beyond simply defining the words. Each one expands on the literal meanings to include cultural references and more in-depth technical insight. The entry for keg for instance, explains the anatomy and function of the vessel. The one for malt extract explains how it is made and the potential pitfalls of using it to make beer.

Perhaps whats best about the dictionary is the list of related terms that accompany each entry. Its easy to lose yourself on an entertaining and informative trail of terminology. On one excursion, I casually strolled from pouring beer to draft systems to carbonation, conditioning and on to fermentation. I could happily have kept going. The Craft Beer Dictionary is a must-have for anyone with a thirst for beer knowledge.

In 1859, Sidney Luce and August Busch opened Duluths first brewery at the corner of what was then Washington Avenue and 1st Street, kicking off a storied history of beer and brewing in the Twin Ports. That sudsy tale is compellingly retold in Naturally Brewed, Naturally Better: The Historic Breweries of Duluth Superior (Zenith City Press, 214 pages, $24.95) by Tony Dierckins and Pete Clure. The well-researched book traces the industry from those early pioneers through the rise and post-Prohibition decline and fall of the larger breweries such as Fitgers Brewing Co., Peoples Brewing Co., and Duluth Brewing and Malting. The final chapter recounts the return of brewing to the area with the rise of craft beer.

Naturally Brewed connects the reader not just to the places, but to the people who built them. Although the flood of names and ownership changes is sometimes confusing especially early on the book gives interesting insight into the personalities of the men behind the breweries and the roles they played beyond beer in the development of Duluth and Superior, Wis.

The pages are filled with photographs that bring the history to life. Historic images document the people and places, particularly showcasing the beautiful architecture of long-demolished buildings that must have dominated each citys skyline. Extensive color photography of items from private breweriana collections provide a tangible connection to the histories of the institutions. This is a handsome coffee table book that also happens to be an interesting and enjoyable read.

Following in the footsteps of craft beer, craft cider is on the rise. But there are precious few resources for ordinary consumers to get information on the history and appreciation of the drink. Gabe Cooks new book, Ciderology (Spruce, 224 pages, $19.99), fills that void. Its a great primer on all things cider from a man who has devoted his life to the beverage making it, selling it and teaching folks about it.

Ciderology starts with a broad history of cider from the first evidence of apple cultivation in Central Asia through today. It tracks the beverage through the Roman Empire into Britain, traces its rise and fall in the United Kingdom in the 20th century, and chronicles its utter demise in the United States after Prohibition. A chapter on the current state of cider starts with the Magners effect that repopularized cider in England after 2006, and describes the revival of interest in heirloom cider apple varieties in the U.S. among the new craft cidermakers.

The next section goes into some detail on the production and sensory enjoyment of cider. There is an illustrated description of how cider is made from harvesting and pressing the apples to packaging the finished product. A treatise on apples explains the difference between cider and culinary or dessert apples, and gives the broad flavor characteristics bitterness, sweetness and acidity that cidermakers blend to create a balanced cider. Its written in plain language and colorfully illustrated so that even a layman can understand.

Ciderology takes the reader on a grand tour of the worlds great cider regions, offering descriptions and recommendations on the types of cider found in each. From the funky ciders of Spain to the sweeter selections of Normandy and Brittany in France and the bone-dry styles of Englands West Country, the book gives sweeping outlines of the drinks, landscapes and cultures that make each place unique. Profiles of individual cideries give the tour a personal touch.

Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at michael@aperfectpint.net.

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