Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Great American Beer Festival: The Essential Reading List

Yes, the GABF is all about tasting as many beers as you can and trying to keep your taste buds about you and fighting off the urge to call into work sick with a hangover on Friday morning. (And I'll detail some ways to do that tomorrow.) But in recent years, the festival also has added an exciting new feature that lets you enjoy the thrill of beer you felt long after last call has been uttered on Saturday night: The GABF Bookstore.
I could go off about the wondrous guides to making beer here, but the truth is that if you're a true home-brewing geek, you likely know about them already. Instead, I want to highlight a couple of the books and other reading materials that I've pored over in the past year that should be on everyone's to-read list.

Red, White and Brew by Brian Yaeger

Brian is a fascinating case study: A self-taught beer geek who quit a good job as a college spokesman and set off to interview 14 brewers who he thought represented the true spirit of American ingenuity. What came out of it is a road trip that winds through every mindset in American culture and reveals what makes iconic brewers - those from Dogfish Head to New Belgium to East Coast favorite Yuengling - want to be who they are.

Yaeger spices his extensive and sometimes very personal interviews - you will cringe when D.L. Geary describes the role his brewery played in the breakup of his marriage - with relevant anecdotes from his own life. And in the end, you'll get a feel for why brewers become brewers and will envy Yaeger for his cross-country adventure, appreciating all the more the nature of American beermakers.

The Beer Guide, edited by Josh Oakes/published by Barry Shlachter

Compiled from the comments listed on about more than 2,700 brews, this is simultaneously the most informative and caustic quick-hit description of beers that's ever been produced. Rating every beer that's even semi-widely available (at least as of 2008) on a one- to five-star scale, this bulky pocket-sized guide could be helpful to you as you decide what to order off of a great beer bar's menu.

But more likely, it will make you double over in laughter when remembering some of the worst beers you've ever drank. (Among my favorites: A description of France's 33 Export as "corn, rice, hay, sweat socks and wet dirty dog and some other maltiness"). And in describing other fine brews in the complexity of their flavors that few magazines touch, it will make you realize why the beers we love are the beers we love.

33 Bottles of Beer by Dave Selden

This isn't a reading book so much as a pocket guide to your own personal thoughts, but it's done quite skillfully. Selden wanted a book small enough to take notes during beer festivals but large enough to give you space to explain their primary qualities in charts, and this may just be a beer geek's dream.

I personally have tried a number of beer guides (though I still think nothing works as well as the actual GABF guide with a steady hand to back it during the festival), but many have been too big or given you too little room to express your thoughts. Selden's version is a pocket-storable guide that gives you a little of both and allows enough room for you to recall which beers you need to try again.

Beer Drinker's Guide to Colorado, 4th edition

This is not a book but a map, and what a map it is. Laying out the whole of the state, it pinpoints the locations of 126 breweries for you, including those with multiple sites (think Breckenridge or Rock Bottom) and those that have yet to open but will be doing so in the near future (anyone ready to visit Caution Brewing Co.?)

Creator Mike Laur broke ground with the first edition of this guide, and its staying power is demonstrated by the fact that you can pull into many breweries throughout the state and see it hanging on the wall and for sale behind the bar. The newest version has an increased amount of coupons, a decent style guide and a drive-time map and should be hung on your wall at home before you set out on any type of beer-tasting road trip.

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