Sunday, December 10, 2017


There are many myths surrounding lager, that it's flavorless, lacking in depth or alcohol content, that it's easier and cheaper to make than ales or other types of fermented beers, that it has to be drunk ice cold to mask off flavors etc, etc.  Author and editor of Zymurgy magazine and all around beer nerd and renaissance man Dave Carpenter begs to differ.  This encyclopedic book contains a thorough treatise of lager and associated food and history.

Roughly the first 10% of the book deals with ancient history including the archaeological and historical evidence of very early brewing, malting, and the spread of brewing techniques and beer to Europe.  The history chapters are well referenced with footnotes to provide further reading and reference hunting for the enthusiastic beer historians.  I was tickled to read an ode to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of brewing. There are also nifty pictures of cuneiform tablets and other relics of the very earliest brewing in the fertile crescent and Egypt.

Thereafter follows an interesting (really!) layman accessible treatise on the microbiology and chemistry of brewing.  All of the terms are painlessly well defined and understandable.  Even though I've been a home brewer for years, and I'm a professional bionerd by day, several things he says suddenly made a lot of sense to me. (He provides the best definition and explanation of selective pressure/re-pitching I've ever read).

Scattered throughout the book are tantalizing little sidebar snippets (fun facts!) about a variety of subjects.  For example, I never knew why Anheuser-Busch uses beechwood strips boiled with baking soda in their aging process.  That is explained very well in a sidebar in the book.

Sandwiched in the segue between the early history chapters and  the regional food and brewing chapters is a discussion of the reinheitsgebot (500 year old purity law, some say the first food safety law ever).

Thence follows an information rich chapter about microbiology and refrigeration vis a vis lager yeast and brewing, pasteurization and other info which explains why the industrial revolution and refrigeration made modern lager possible and practical.

The book moves along through the ages to modern brewing history, especially as it relates to the USA, along with with marketing and market building, advertising campaigns and associations with sporting events.

Chapter 7 includes a very thorough essay on how to pour and enjoy  lager.  Most of us, even beer enthusiasts, pour our brew into glass and more or less call it a day.  There are a lot of glass profiles which I've seen but wasn't really clear over when and where to use them.  This chapter clears up any confusion.  

Chapters 8 - 10 discuss the different types of lager, from old world pale and dark lagers to North American lagers (for better or worse).  Each section includes specific examples along with comments on alcohol content, bitterness, color, etc.

Roughly the last  30% of the book is a tutorial on wort production, yeast selection, how-to and recipes for creating a wide range of different lagers based on or reminiscent of famous craft beers. There are 20 very well written recipes included which should keep the home brewer happily crafting for a long while.

After the recipe and tutorial section is a very useful chapter with further recommended reading and an exhaustive bibliography and index.

This is a solidly usable reference book and one that could definitely become a staple of any beer enthusiast's library. Really really useful.  Since I'm a complete medieval recreation dork, I'm personally inspired to batch up some gruit in time for international gruit day (1st February). The recipe's in the book!

Five stars, I just don't see a book on this topic being better than this one.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher.

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