There is that moment when you cross the divide. You go from Miller to Sierra Nevada and there’s no turning back. Fizzy yellow is replaced with the good stuff. Hallelujah and amen, you’ve found real beer.
But do you know what really makes a good beer? There’s a lot of different stuff in there – water, barley, hops, yeast, and sometimes more. It can be quite confusing if you are just getting started.
Fortunately there are a few really smart people in the beer world who are willing to share their expertise with the rest of us. One of those people is Randy Mosher, author of Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink.
Mosher has actually written several books on beer. He has been a major voice in the brewing community for over 20 years, and is a frequent guest lecturer at brewing conferences and other industry events. In other words, this guy really knows what he’s talking about.
In Tasting Beer, Mosher provides an easy-to-read deep dive into the art and science of beer. He describes the beverage’s history, its composition, its sensory characteristics, and much, much more.
Mosher is first and foremost a fan of beer. He writes in the book’s introduction:
Beer really is the world’s best beverage. It may be quenching or nourishing, cooling or warming, simple or worthy of deep meditation. It is a drink of a thousand aromas, a rainbow of color, and a range of character as diverse as the people who brew and enjoy it. It has ten thousand years of history, with gods, goddesses, heroes, and songs to celebrate its glories. It brings us together. Beer makes us happy.
The first part of the book focuses on beer’s history. Here Mosher writes that the Sumerians, Babylonians, and ancient Egyptians all had a fondness for the beverage. Beer, he surmises, may have been the catalyst for some of the world’s earliest civilizations.
Perhaps most helpful to readers is the following section on sensory vocabulary.
It’s often difficult to describe what you are tasting or smelling in your beer. The right words can help bring those characteristics to life. Herbal, floral, resinous, nutty, and roasty are a few examples that can relate what you are experiencing when the beer rolls across your palate.
There are also words that can help you describe the off-putting flavors in beer, such as horsey, buttery, phenolic, and Band-Aid (a descriptor for chlorophenol, a chemical compound that often results from the incomplete rinsing of chlorine cleaners from brewing equipment).
Having the right words to describe flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel allows you to actualize what’s going on in your glass. Maybe, for example, there’s a flavor you can’t quite put your finger on. Then you read about clove being a common yeast characteristic in German weizens. Cloves! That’s it!
Other topics Mosher covers in his book include tasting and evaluation guidelines, beer presentation, and style categories. One particularly interesting chapter describes the power of pairing beer and food. He writes:
Beer and food transform each other. Contrasting elements balance and sometimes blend into one another, like matter and antimatter, into a powerful, singular experience. These effects are often quite stunning and are at the core of a well-chosen match.
While some consider wine the superior dinner drink, Mosher disagrees:
Beer’s lively carbonation tackles problems that make wine shrink in horror. Carbon dioxide bubbles literally scrub out your palate, which is sometimes helpful with intense or rich foods – cheese for example.
You might be asking yourself why beer is worthy of all this attention. Mosher sums it up best in the book’s conclusion:
Three ingredients – grain, water, and hops – are transformed by yeast. Beer is shockingly simple, yet dazzling in the range of rich sensations it can offer. Its amber depths contain more ideas, sensations, and stories than can fit in a single lifetime.
As you can see, Mosher’s prose is quite enjoyable to read. And with equal parts history, art, sociology, and science, Tasting Beer is a great way to start your education on the world’s greatest drink. So pick up a copy, pour yourself a pint (with a proper head, of course), and start learning from one of the beer industry’s most respected figures.