Once upon a time beer was my life. For a while it was the forbidden fruit that helped an awkward under-aged teen feel less awkward and even talk to girls. It also made me occasionally miss the driveway when (irresponsibly) driving home. As I became more and more of a “foodie”, it joined other “foods” I loved in that my interests shifted more to the qualities of the ingredients and the diversity of styles over the quantity of bland ice-cold American pilsner wannabes I could drink. I became a home brewer of beer in the 3.2% beer wastelands of Salt Lake City where I went to University in the ‘80s. I eagerly sought out the craft brewers that began to spring up shortly thereafter in beer meccas like Seattle. I studied brewing techniques and subscribed to Zymurgy magazine where I regularly read columns by the likes of Michael Jackson and other beer lovers. It turned out that beer, as simple as it is, has a lot more to it than that tingly feeling and ability to help me chat up the ladies. Beer, like so many foods, is also quite interesting to read about.
So it was with positive delight that I got a chance to review Sharp Teeth Press’ edition of Evan Rail’s Why Beer Matters. Seeing an essay that would be at home in a recent issue of Zymurgy but also has broad appeal to anyone interested in food given the fine press treatment is indeed a pleasure. And it looks like David Johnston had a bit of fun printing it as the colophon states “A large & undocumented amount of beer was consumed during the making of this book.” Even Anchor Brewing Company got in on it by providing burlap hop sacks that were used to make the hand-made paper for the cover. I would not be surprised that an ad for this book in Zymurgy would quickly send it out of print.
There are a couple of very nice touches in the design of this book above and beyond the aforementioned clever use of hop sacks. Similar to the previously reviewed edition of Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience from Sharp Teeth, the border between the cover paper and the quarter-binding of cloth is irregular, which I find striking. The hop plant seemingly growing out of the corner of the front cover adds a nice tie-in to the finishing ingredient in beer. The Rives BFK paper has a nice tactile feel and enough thickness to allow the handset Californian type to bite nicely into the paper without being so thick as to feel stiff.
Evan Rail puts a lot of thought into why beer matters to us and provides plenty of examples to expand upon his ideas. First, he elucidates upon beer’s “ambiguous relationship with the passing of time,” describing how brewers today can recreate beers of the past in ways that are impossible for other foodstuffs in general, and specifically with it’s beer’s uppity cousin wine. Second, he discusses the fact that beer wants to be drunk now, seemingly existing in the “eternal now.” Interestingly, he contrasts the strong geographic grounding of some beers while demonstrating that it lacks the sense of terroir that wine, tea, and some other beverages can exhibit. Finally, he talks about the uniquely democratic characteristics of beer’s cost and egalitarianism. It’s enough to make one want to throw the book in a carry-on (carefully, of course, it’s fine press) and head to Munich for the Starkbierzeit or to Prague to visit what may be the oldest brewpub in the world, U Fleku.
Sharp Teeth Press has created a nice edition that will appeal to book lovers, beer lovers, foodies, and everyone in between. I’ll certainly be pointing a couple of my brewpub and brewing friends towards this book.