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Funny thing about being a beer writer: I receive more books about beer than actual beer. The majority of them — the ones that open with “the differences between ales and lagers” — are a bore. Lucky for me, then, that three recent releases are anything but. If you’re looking to give something to yourself or the beer-lover in your life this holiday season, you might want to consider picking one of these up. After all, a book about beer is the next-best thing to beer. Trust me, I know.
The major release of the year is the highly-anticipated The Oxford Companion to Beer (Oxford University Press, $65). Big both in size (a whopping 960 pages, or four pounds) and in concept, the OCB is the result of years of research by editor Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, and his team of 166 contributors from every corner of the ale world. Even Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio drops in with a food-focused foreword. The encyclopedic chapters include everything from history (there’s a seven-page entry on Germany) to personalities and styles. In other words, there’s a little bit for everyone, and it’s easy to drop in anywhere you want. How else would I have found out that in Japan, a man will often declare “Toriaezu biiru!” (“I’ll start with a beer!”) when he enters a bar? Yes, the price tag is steep (you can find it cheaper online), but the insight is worth it. And if you pick up a box set in person at Brooklyn Brewery, you even get — yes — a free beer.
Greg Koch isn’t shy about promoting craft beer, especially those dispensed by his own Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego. I mean, the man travels with a megaphone. Now he has a new way to evangelize: The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.: Liquid Lore, Epic Recipes, and Unabashed Arrogance (Ten Speed Press, $25). Koch teamed up with Stone co-founder Steve Wagner and spokesman Randy Clemens (who’s also author of The Sriracha Cookbook, where we found one of our favorite Michelada recipes) to create a tome that is equal parts brewery history, surprising food recipes incorporating Stone’s bottles (stir-fried Brussels sprouts?), and lessons in homebrewing. You’d want to be a Stone enthusiast already (you can pick up their pale ale many places), but then it’s just about perfect.
And anyone who’s ever held a bottle of He’Brew Beer or Coney Island Craft Lager knows something about enthusiasm. Jeremy Cowan runs his Shmaltz Brewing Co. with a fair amount of shtick, but, circus-sideshow labeling aside, it’s clear that Shmaltz owes at least part of its success to Cowan’s ability to not take himself too seriously, which is accounted for in Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah (Malt Shop Publishing, $16.99), a look at the brewery’s 13-year history. Chapter titles like “Pomegranates and Cocksuckers” are anything but conventional, but then again, neither are some of the best beers. Bar Mitzvah is another reminder of how weird — and wonderful — the industry can be. At the very least, it’s more interesting than most books about a business startup.