Just when you thought there can’t be any fresh insights into beer in book form, along comes Adrian with a genuinely fresh take on the subject.
Everything about the book is a delight. It’s well produced in a handy format. It has striking black and white pen drawings of brewers and beers, and it comes at an affordable price. Above all, Adrian’s infectious writing not only carries you along from one section to the next but also – liver and kidneys be warned – demands that you sample every one of the 350 world beers he has chosen.
In the introduction, Adrian says: “I am often asked what my favourite beer is, and I have long used the stock answer: ‘It depends on what I am doing at the time.” He echoes Michael Jackson who once told me when I asked him the same question: “It depends on mood and time of day, whether you’re drinking alone or with friends, beer on its own or with food.”
Adrian adds: “If I want to drink beer in the company of friends, then a brisk bitter or a sprightly Pilsner is more appropriate than an imperial porter, so with this in mind I began to develop the idea of suggesting beers that would go with a range of different occasions and frames of mind.”
But before he takes us on his journey round the world of beers, he introduces some of the new generation of brewers who have helped inspire his voyage. They include Stuart Ross at Magic Rock who is at the forefront of brewing American-inspired hoppy ales in Yorkshire, Yvan Be Baets of Brasserie de la Senne who has helped move Belgian beer out of the monastery, Adam Matuska who is proving there is more to Czech beer than Pilsner, and Teo Musso, the Italian dynamo who is encouraging Italians to reach for the beer bottle rather than the Chianti flask.
Each of the sections – Social, Adventurous, Poetic, Bucolic, Imaginative, Gastronomic and Contemplative – starts with a selection of Adrian’s favourite pubs and bars before moving on to his choice of beers for all occasions. Social beers include a substantial number of session IPAs introduced by American and British brewers who have got the message that not every drinker wants his or her tastebuds frazzled by a fire bomb of hops. There are pale ales, too – including the amazing Stone version — along with modern Pilsners, Dunkel dark lagers, wheat beers and Kölsch.
The Adventurous selection includes the rare beer style known as Gose from the Leipzig region, which probably escaped attention for many years when Leipzig was in the old East Germany. Adrian deserves praise for almost single-handedly drawing our attention to Gose, which belongs to a European tradition shared by Belgian lambic and Berliner Weisse of using either wild yeasts or a sour dough mash to encourage fermentation. Gose also has salt added as flavouring, a trick picked by Magic Rock’s Salty Kiss in Britain.
Why Adventurous? Because Adrian has chosen brewers prepared to go beyond narrow national boundaries and fashion beers based on styles from other backgrounds. And so you’ll find Saisons, strong IPAs, Baltic Porters (including one brewed in Canada!), hefeweiss and strong IPAs from lands far removed from those beers’ countries of origin.
There are also some Black IPAs…but let’s not go there.
Poetic Beers introduces beers with a philosophical twist, made by brewers with love and passion as well as malt and hops. Adrian quotes Andrew Cooper, co-founder of Wild Beer in Somerset, who says of his Sourdough that he was “trying to add layers of intrigue and complexity with time spent barrel ageing; the beers are ready when they are ready”. That would give the head of marketing at AB InBev a coronary. There are some fine and tempting beers in this section, including more saisons, gose, imperial porters and some splendid labels: I was impressed by the sheer stand-up-and-salute names of Dominus Vobiscum Brut from Quebec and the Austrian Engelszell Gregorius Trappistenbier.
The Bucolic section reminds us that not all craft beer is made in Legoland industrial units. There are many saisons here, the quintessential country ale. It’s one of the fascinating aspects of the modern brewing scene that a relatively obscure beer style, brewed by only a handful of brewers in French-speaking Belgium, is now nudging at the heels of IPA as the beer-of-the-moment. Saison started life on farms, brewed using grain and hops from the fields, to refresh labourers bringing in the harvest. I learnt at Dupont, the best-known of the Wallonian saison brewers and still occupying farm buildings, that a French wine yeast culture was originally used to make the beer. Now there’s a thought: a Saison fermented with wine yeast and aged in wood. But somebody is probably brewing it even as I write.
There are also true Belgian lambics alongside their modern spin-off known as Sour. Belgian brewers don’t like the term. The great lambic brewer Frank Boon says his beers are acidic like Brut Champagne, not sour. Perhaps Brut Beer should be considered, though some oldies might think it’s aftershave.
Imaginative Beers showcases brews where the practitioners have broadened the boundaries with beers made with more than grain and hops. Not all may tickle your fancy – watermelon beer, anyone? – but others are intriguing and toothsome. My good friend Martin Warren at Poppyland in Cromer makes a wheat beer with the addition of sea purslane, wormwood and fennel seeds. There are coffee porters and peanut butter milk stout, while Anchorage Brewing in Alaska weighs in with a white IPA that is seasoned with coriander, kumquats and peppercorns, then aged in oak foudres with a wheat beer yeast culture.
Gastronomic Beers will get your juices flowing. Adrian has assembled a range of blondes, wheat, stouts, smoked and IPAs that are ideal companions for just about every dish known to personkind, taking in curries, scallops, pasta, tacos, ribs and even cheesecake and ice cream.
The final section, Contemplative, is divine. If I go to the pub, I want a pint or three that I can relish without needing a taxi home. But once home, it’s possible – if the Chief Medical Officer isn’t peeking through the curtains – to up the ABV. Adrian offers some beers of 7, 8 and 9% in which malt flavours are allowed to take off like a North Korean missile. They include Imperial IPAs, Porters, the amazing Old Dubh from Harviestoun aged in Highland Park whisky barrels, Sierra Nevada’s superb Big Foot barley wine, and the literally stunning Zywiec Porter from Poland.
A few years ago, on a trip to Poland, Adrian and I came across an outpost of Heineken’s Zywiec group close to the Czech border. Like many breweries in post-communist countries, it was antique and untouched for decades yet it managed to crank out this amazing 9.5% beer, as black as Hades, packed with roasted grain, coffee and chocolate flavours and simply luscious. I can’t believe that Heineken have left it open but perhaps they’ve forgotten it still exists. Don’t let on.
But tell your friends about this book. Adrian is of Welsh stock and there’s a touch of Dylan Thomas in his writing: wit, wisdom and Celtic emotion viewed through the “wet brown walls of the glass”. Join him on his voyage of discovery.
The Seven Moods of Craft Beer, Adrian Tierney-Jones (Eight Books, £12.99)
This review was originally published on www.protzonbeer.co.uk