The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver

For the past several years, The Brewmaster’s Table has been the must-read tome when it comes to increasing one’s knowledge of true beer, its appreciation, and its interplay with cuisine. Last year, another book was published, The Oxford Guide to Beer, which will likely overtake The Brewmaster’s Table as the definitive book on beer. Without question, however, the genius of the author behind both books cannot be questioned. Garrett Oliver is the head brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery and probably the most learned man alive when it comes to ales and lagers. He’s definitely up there with the late Michael Jackson (not the King of Pop) as the preeminent authors on the subject.

If you had to read one book about beer, then this is it. Oliver begins with a background on the ingredients and process of brewing. I wouldn’t say that he makes it sound simple – rather, he makes it accessible without being too technical. His discussion of ingredients also lays a foundation for how they each have an effect on the final flavor and aroma of the product.

He then goes on to give a short history of beer – traced back to the Mesopotamian era, to its role in the Dark Ages as a source of health, and up to Prohibition, the rise of the industrial flavorless lager and right before the US craft beer revolution (which he takes up  in a different chapter). It’s a good general overview, and it takes into account different cultures and regions rather than focusing on just one.

The best part of the book is where Oliver goes in-depth into beer styles. Arranged by region or tradition, from wheat beers, the German, Belgian and English styles, pilsners to American craft beers, with a chapter for unique brews like smoked beer that don’t fall into a specific class. Not only does The Brewmaster give an idea of what to expect with each style, but he also gives detailed descriptions of exemplars of each – without hard-selling his own Brooklyn Brewery products. Best of all, he demonstrates how well beer pairs with food by suggesting what dishes or cuisines will go well with a certain beer. An index at the end provides an easy reference for pairing based on the style of beer or the dish which you’re searching to pair.

The writing style is casual, conversational and occasionally funny. Oliver’s passion for beer really shines through, just as much as his disdain for the flavorless macrobrewed adjunct lagers that are responsible for the negative rap and under-appreciation that beer has suffered over the past century. Aside from the occasional awkwardly-worded sentence that requires a second run-through (usually because he uses a noun as a verb, or vice versa), the writing is excellent. As a budding writer on the subject of beer, I can really learn a lot from the style itself as well as the general method of tasting.

I am much obliged to my friend and hardcore beer evangelist Francis for lending me his copy on an extended basis. This tome was an educational pleasure to read for the first time, and I’ve already revisited several chapters, especially when thinking of beer and food pairing ideas, or just deciding on what to order the next time I go out. I highly recommend this to anyone who’s interested in getting into beer. Unfortunately, The Brewmaster’s Table is not available here in the Philippines, but I’ll likely be ordering a copy for my Kindle from Amazon, just to be able to have such a valuable reference handy all the time.

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