Craft Beer for the Geeks - Richard Taylor, James Watt, Martin Dickie

In that pleasant little gap between recovering from my big hospital stay and my surprise shorter hospital stay, I looked around a surprisingly good little Foyles on the South Bank. I saw this, and, having got into "craft beer" via low/no alcohol beers while recovering from my ops, decided that this somewhat coffee-table book would be an interesting read.

This is "craft beer according to Brewdog", who have a somewhat... complicated reputation. Buying the book made me finally look up all the things I'd vaguely heard about. As well as the more recent "not fun work environment" allegations, their self-promotion and hype is something impressive. On the other hand, those running the place do seem to be very keen on making good craft beer, and promoting the wider industry.

"Craft beer" just came out of nowhere for me, as I'd not been paying attention for a decade-plus (it's a thing having children does). I'd heard a little bit about these American beers ages ago, but as Big American Brewing looked like a disastrous monoculture, and the country had no tradition of Real Ale, what could they possibly offer?

Turns out, bad mass-produced beer is a great incentive to start indie breweries, and while there's no Real Ale tradition, they found their own voice, and what they generated is pretty darn good. Like wine, they've stormed ahead as the traditions succumb to enthusiasm and science.

I'd never quite twigged how CAMRA and craft beer get on. Independently-produced, interesting beers that have never seen a wooden cask are a challenge, aligning with CAMRA on providing a quality alternative to mass-produced beers, but differing on how to do so. It looks like a difficult relationship, but feels generational. CAMRA was never cool, it feels like old men concentrating on history. Craft beer is cool and forward-looking, and someone somewhere (*cough* Brewdog *cough*) has done an absolutely excellent marketing job!

So within this framework, where does the book lie? Most cynically, it's amazing marketing, where I've paid to have advertising delivered to me. Less cynically, it's pretty interesting. Despite the "for Geeks" title it doesn't go into any real depth. Apparently it's the sequel to Craft Beer for the People, so I've accidentally bought the second book... but I don't think I've lost much.

The start of the book talks a bit about the brewing process, the ingredients, the science, a few different beer types, some pioneers in the field. It moves on to discussing recent developments in how people are experimenting with certain styles, illustrated with a few example beers to try. It then moves on to a mini cookbook, with recommended beer pairings (including a fair amount on the theory of beer pairing). It finishes off with a bit of a home brew section: The recipes for a bunch of commercial beers (Brewdog's and others), advice on a few more advanced techniques, and hints on eliminating various off flavours.

This contents list makes it something of a funny book. The audience for an introduction to the basics of brewing are unlikely to be the same people attempting complicated reproductions of commercial beers, and the overlap with those who enjoy cooking is not clear. I think this mix works pretty well, in that there's something for everyone, and even if you're not an active homebrewer or chef, they're interesting nonetheless.

The presentation is great. Brewdog are masters of making beer look cool, and this book is no exception. The combination of style and substance, combined with the authors' clear enthusiasm, makes a great case for why craft beer is interesting.

Posted 2022-09-14.