A Review of The Brewer’s Tale

Although there are less than 250 pages of text in William Bostwick’s The Brewer’s Tale, A history of the world according to beer, it is quite remarkable how many undiscovered facts are found in this book. It might be considered somewhat of a hybrid between the writings of Charlie Papazian and the late Alan Eames, in its focus to make sense of the world’s oldest beverage. But what sets Mr. Bostwick’s report apart from other encyclopedic reporting, is that he is also a home brewer, which gives his understanding of the subject a humility arrived at through his personal recipe experimentations that often involves subsequent failure, to achieve the desired results. As a beer writer of 20 years, I understand its one thing to write about beer, but quite another to create the product you are writing about. William Bostwick bridges that divide.
The Brewer’s Tale is very extensive covering the many facets of brewing production. From artisan startups to global behemoths, Bostwick makes it quite clear that brewing beer, whatever the size of production, is first and foremost a business, and it has been this way for many centuries. But also, as a home brewer, he has witnessed the poetic alchemy of its creation. Which gives this book a very readable, poetic center.
For myself, he touches my home base with his discussion of Maris Otter barley, a winter-harvested malt that is a personal favorite. First developed in 1966, its use vanished in the last decade of the 20th century, only to be revived in 2002 (to my Brooklyn Winter Ale delight).
Bostwick is also kind to point out that the great Fuller’s London Pride use of Maris Otter is one of the reasons it is so admired. The book also strikes a balance between tradition and modernity, quoting a brewmaster at Fuller’s, John Keeling, who said: “some people think that the best way is the traditional way. No. Making consistent beer is about making small adjustments”.
But those adjustments, in the case of mega brewing can be quite life changing. As Bostwick discovered after meeting hop farmer John Segal Jr., when his Yakima valley farm lost its contract to produce Willamettes for Anheuser Busch, after it became A-B INBEV.
William Bostwick does an admirable job covering the history of hops, pointing out that East Kent Goldings in British ale, are “the spring-green jewel in pale ale’s crown”. Coverage of that mother of American invention, pumpkin ale, is given proper historical context, with the home brewer working on a batch of his own. (With that in mind, I wonder if Mr. Bostwick has sampled Schlafly Pumpkin Ale? An outstanding recipe that uses Polish Marynka hops.)
The Brewer’s Tale recognizes greatness in beer, mentioning Westvleteren XII and Affligem’s “equally stellar beer” brewed by Heineken, which caused me to recall Affligem Pater’s Vat Christmas AleAffligem-PatersVat-75cl_1 a holiday treat produced 18 years ago, when dry-hoping in Belgium brewing was quite rare.
In fact, Bostwick’s The Brewer’s Tale is often a reconteur delight in explaining the industrialization of porter, the use of the Sierra Nevada torpedo, along with the archaeological ramifications of ancient culture from Sumeria and nearly everywhere else. There is an optimism in this report that obliterates both snobbery and bland cynicism that all beer is the same. A kind of testament I found on the August Schell website. where America’s second oldest family own brewery states: WE Repeatedly Introduce New Beer Varieties Under The Simple Truth: The World Can Never Have enough beer.
That is why I have always said there is no such thing as too much beer. The brewers Know it is a continuous work in progress.

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