By David Nilsen
As craft beer continues to mushroom in popularity, so to does beer publishing. More books about brewing and appreciating good beer are being published than ever before, and while not all of them are Pulitzer-worthy, I find myself enjoying and learning something from most of them. Still, there tends to be a lot of overlap. I’ve talked before about the accepted format beer books tend to stick to, and the amount of redundancy between many of the titles purporting to be one-stop guides to the world of beer. Kudos then to Patrick Dawson and the Storey team for eschewing the normal format altogether and creating something unique with The Beer Geek Handbook: Living a Life Ruled by Beer, lovingly illustrated by Greg Kletsel.
The Beer Geek Handbook is an internet-era, graphics-rich love letter to beer geeks. The book embraces its own nerdiness with fun lists like “The Beer Geek Ten Commandments” and quizzes to determine the type of beer geek you are. These are silly, but brief and harmless. Some lists attempt to actually impart real information, such as hall of fame pioneers of the beer world or cult breweries of the world, and these tend to be as incomplete and disputable as most “Top [blank]” lists usually are, but I imagine provoking arguments was half the point of these lists in the first place. Dawson and Kletsel seem to have as much fun at their own expense as beer geeks as they do at the expense of the uninitiated who are still drinking Bud Light.
I wasn’t expecting a whole lot when I picked up The Beer Geek Handbook, but having read and respected Dawson’s Vintage Beer, I thought I would give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun I had with this one. There were several points at which I laughed audibly and read a humorous paragraph to my wife, as with this one in which Dawson is explaining the disappointing joke that most brewery tours end up being:
“As for brewery tours, though they may seem appealing in theory, you will quickly discover that almost all of them consist of 20 to 30 minutes of viewing large conical metal structures. As a rule, tours are led by the employee with the least amount of knowledge of the brewery’s beer and brewing practices.”
These spot-on jokes that wink at the in-crowd are probably how the book will most endear itself to beer geeks. When the funny illustrations and clickbaity listicles are shaved off, there isn’t a whole lot of actual information here, though there are some useful pointers. The guide to how to best attend a beer festival was helpful for this uninitiated writer, as was the guide to navigating the etiquette and parlance of online beer trading. I know a good deal about beer and even teach tasting classes, but I’m not much of a social butterfly, so I’m the exception to Dawson’s assertion “The recluse beer geek is nearly a nonentity. A huge part of living the beery life is sharing experiences with like-minded individuals.” As such, the area of beerdom I am least acquainted with is navigating these kind of social spaces. My wife and I do a lot of beer travel, but we’re not out to make sixteen new best friends at every brewery or bar. Patrick Dawson is, I think, but he also manages to socially assist those of us who aren’t.
It’s hard to say exactly who this book is for. It’s not deep enough for most students of beer to buy it for themselves, and it’s hard to picture a novice seeing this as their guide to their new hobby. I imagine a lot of well-meaning moms will buy this for their twentysomething kids who love beer this Christmas, and those kids should appreciate it, because it’s a fun book. This isn’t Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer; you’re going to want to look elsewhere to actually beef up on beer knowledge. But The Beer Geek Handbook is quite entertaining, at points irreverent, and embracing of the headfirst geekery of appreciating the world’s best drink.
Oh, but Patrick? We don’t use the word transvestite anymore.
The Beer Geek Handbook is available now at GPL.