Book review: 'In Praise of Beer' is a refreshing surprise

"In Praise of Beer" isn't going to make you an expert on your favorite drink, but you'll learn enough to make you better appreciate what's in your mug.

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"In Praise of Beer"

  • By Charles Bamforth
  • 2020, Oxford University Press
  • 165 pages

Here's mud in your eye.
Salud! Bottoms up! Here's to the ones we've loved and lost. Cheers, and all those other things you say as you hoist a few with your pals in a pub. Drink up. To friendship. To love. To health. Actually, here's to you, then let's raise a glass to "In Praise of Beer" by Charles Bamforth.

It may not be exactly 5 o'clock somewhere, but imagine a glass in front of you, filled with something "cold, bright, and fizzy"

Thirsty yet? So what do you order?

Says Bamforth, who has worked with the brewing industry for over 40 years, the answer often "boils down to" a preference between craft beer and the big brands. What many beer drinkers don't understand is that, increasingly, the big brands own many of those so-called craft beers. Still, to be a true "craft" brewery, there are rules.


Another thing beer aficionados don't generally know is that making beer is much more complicated than making wine. A brewer must first decide on the grain they'll use ("the main location" for growing barley is Idaho) and how to process it into liquid (Bamforth says dairy cows love "spent grains").

The brewer has to know about local water sources, hops and yeasts, the kind of packaging and caps they'll use (cans are best; brown bottles are a close second), and then they'll have to know how to put all this information together.

And that will determine the kind of beer you'll ultimately get in your frosty glass, whether it's a "top fermentation" or a "bottom fermentation" beer, or something else, like a shandy or dry beer. On that note, Bamforth is not a fan of odd ingredients in the making of his beer.

Know that it's essential for you to "pour with vigor." Please don't stuff garbage into an empty bottle. Foam is important, so pay the right kind of attention to it. Keep in mind that beer can accompany fine dining. And remember: beer is good — and it's also "good for you."

Much like an icy-cold but thoroughly new-to-you brew on a blistering-hot day, "In Praise of Beer" is a truly refreshing surprise. Reading this book, in fact, is like sitting in an adult classroom, and the instructor's brought a six-pack to share.

Author Charles Bamforth teaches, but his experience also allows him to entertain with facts that only an insider would know; peeks at brews, breweries, and beer-drinking overseas; and sneaky humor of the laugh-out-loud variety, but not so much that it makes you spit out your beer. This is all packaged in a skinny book that talks the talk plainly in a way that avoids high-brow nonsense by treating average beer drinkers like the connoisseurs they are.

"In Praise of Beer" isn't going to make you an expert on your favorite drink, but you'll learn enough to make you better appreciate what's in your mug. Get this book, pull up a seat and take a sip.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is a book reviewer from La Crosse.

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