Jeff Alworth pens another good book
With such a title, "The Beer Bible," well, it can be tough to live up to expectations for Portland author Jeff Alworth.
It had to be content of biblical proportions, shall we say. And, with a second edition coming out Sept. 28, Alworth feels like he has done it.
"The publisher (Workman) had done a book called 'The Wine Bible' by Karen MacNeil, and they wanted to do a beer bible," he said. "Generally, the idea was to make the most comprehensive beer book on the market, and make it available for people, priced at $20.
"It was designed to reach a broader audience, it was delightful that it sold really well. I hoped it would sell really well, it was the plan, as opposed to my other books that didn't sell well."
As far as religious implications, Alworth said the title led to "awkward" conversations at monastic breweries in Europe.
"I helped the Mount Angel Abbey Benedictine Brewery (in Mount Angel, Oregon), and the first time I met the monks, I had to apologize," he said. "But, I don't think they were offended, but I wanted them to know that I understood the title."
"The Beer Bible," originally published in 2015, explores beer from all over the world, not just in the hops/IPA-rich Pacific Northwest, but beyond to Bavaria (Germany), Belgium, London and Czech Republic. It details beers and styles and, in the second edition, Alworth writes about the reclassification and explanation of IPAs (India Pale Ale), beer tourism, national traditions, how brewers operate in different cultures and more (for example, Bavarian brewers use yeast, not hops).
His research spans more than 28,000 miles, 12 countries and 100 breweries — at least, Alworth said.
"I'd like it to be considered the most authoritative book on beer in the English language," he said. "Hopefully people agree that I hit the mark."
Alworth, 53, has long been a Portland writer and podcaster. He moved here to attend Lewis & Clark College years ago, and stayed. The interesting thing is Alworth said that he "is not a very big deal in my hometown."
It's such an impressive beer city and brewers would be considered celebrities — it's an area full of experts, he added. "There's a lot of knowledge here."
Obviously, it's a "bible," so it has to be a pretty good rundown of beer creation, beer holy lands and beer disciples.
Alworth added to "The Beer Bible" with several subjects, including an update on the status of IPAs.
"I completed the first edition, the manuscript, in 2013, and it's been eight years, a period of growth in that category," he said. "That is the most important movement in beer not only in the United States but internationally. It's the most important thing that's happened in beer in 150 years."
It's interesting, he said, that IPAs were really brewed originally in the United Kingdom, but brewing became different in the United States, and the ancient beer had nothing to do with the modern one, Alworth said, except the name.
When writing about national traditions, "the one thing you learned when traveling around the world, in many countries, beer is culture and like cuisine — it's not like wine, it's not like a product of ingredients and fermentation. Brewers make thousands of decisions when thinking about making beer. Like with Germany and France, cuisines are radically differently; it's the same thing with beer, whether it's in Brussels, Munich or even Portland, Oregon."
Alworth revels in the ways beer has been made around the world.
"It's always in flux," he said.
Portland has been at the center of the beer tourism industry. Alworth began writing about beer for Willamette Week in the late 1990s, at a time when people had been drinking locally-brewed beer for years. It was one of the best beer scenes in the world, but only maybe Rogue and Widmer breweries had left the state (with product) at the time. The industry started to take hold when Portland Brewing began making Yakima brewer Bert Grant's IPA in the mid-1980s, and it exploded into a craft brewing mecca.
"You'd talk to other people and they didn't know Portland and Oregon had this insane beer scene," he said. "That started to change. … A lot of things make Portland and Oregon special for brewing: Hop fields, malt houses, a USDA hop-breeding facility, a brewing school, two major yeast labs."
Alworth said with confidence that Portland and Oregon rank right alongside Germany (Bavaria, around Munich), Brussels (Belgium), the United Kingdom and Czech Republic for beer tourism destinations.
The book also addresses lagers, pilsners, stouts, porters and more. Domestic lagers, Alworth said, continue to be the most popular in the United States (see: Budweiser), but it's a dominance that is waning fast as IPAs and others gain ground. It was West Coast IPAs that gained popularity, then New England IPAs, and now it's back local among the preferred beers, such as Portland's Breakside Brewery IPAs.
For his part, Alworth declines to enter the fray about debates about favorites, learning to love them all.
"Beer is an extremely diverse beverage," he said. "There are beers that taste like coffee, or are sour, light, heavy. If you have a flavor profile, and you go drinking with me, I'd be able to find some beers to suit your palette."
And, beer could be deemed good for you — just like they say about red wine.
"It's a balancing act. Benefits come with moderate consumption and they turn upside down if you drink too much," Alworth said.
"We're starting to learn about a huge amount of interplay of physical health and mental health. Beer relaxes you and it's a social beverage, people who have social lives and spend time in pubs with friends, there's a connection there. Beer is the one alcohol with the most social importance."
Alworth embarks on a 20-city book tour, starting Sept. 23 at Portland's Gigantic Brewing. For more about "The Beer Bible" and the tour, see Alworth's blog at www.beervanablog.com.
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