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Books About Beer and Spirits: A Holiday Gift Guide

If you’re shopping for a BC beer lover this season and they haven’t read Island Craft by Jon C. Stott then congratulations—your search for the perfect gift is over. (For an extended review and why this book is a must read, please see my article in the my article in the Summer 2019 issue of What’s Brewing. However, if you’re looking for even more books about drink to gift this season, there is much to think about. With the golden age of beer in full swing, there has also been a revolution in craft spirits. Publishers have taken notice, and it’s been a good year (or two) for books about spirits, specifically Canadian spirits.


However essential the BJCP style guidelines are, they are not great fun to read. The Brewers Association’s style guide, The Guide to Craft Beer, is just as informative but is an easier and a more engaging read. Fifteen style families are broken down into 81 styles and the listings are very up to date. As the title implies, this book focuses primarily on modern craft beer and the latest interpretations of styles, without getting bogged down in historical detail. The listings also include glassware and food pairing suggestions, unlike the BJCP guidelines. But the Guide to Craft Beer’s finest characteristic may be its dimensions: it’s perfect to pop in your purse or pants pocket on the way to the festival, bottle shop, or taproom.

Beer at My Table by Canadian chef Tonia Wilson is the beer cookbook you’ve been waiting for. The opening chapters are some of the best explanations of beer and food pairings you’ll find. The recipes are mouthwatering, approachable, and motivating, and each is paired with a classic beer style. Wilson recommends a specific product with each recipe but also suggests some backups and explains why that beer and that beer style pairs well with the recipe. For anyone interested in beer and food pairings, I cannot recommend this book enough.

A bit further afield we have Viking Age Brew: The Craft of Brewing Sahti Farmhouse Ale by Mika Laitinen. Sahti is one of the most unique beer styles in existence today and provides a look at one of the last remaining preindustrial brewing cultures. As I found was the case with Jeff Alworth’s Brew Masters, you will be greatly diminishing Laitinen’s work if you think of this as simply a homebrewing book about an obscure style. Almost three-quarters of the book explores the tradition and culture of Sahti brewing; only the last bit is devoted to doing it yourself.

Laitinen knows his subject very well, having spent extensive time with the Sahti masters, thoroughly investigated the ethnographic data, and brewed the beer himself. The bibliography is impressive. Even if you only have a passing interest in Sahti and pre-modern brewing, this book may have you thinking seriously about that stovetop kitchen recipe.


For the English Lit majors on your list, look no further than A Sidecar Named Desire: Great Writers and the Booze That Stirred Them. There are undoubtedly many great beer, wine, and spirits writers both past and present, but none of them are James Joyce, William Faulkner or Carson McCullers. However intimate the relationship between humankind and alcohol, it’s even more pronounced between great artists, particularly writers, and booze. Alcohol was often important, if not essential, to many great writers’ processes. Not all of these stories end well (for example, Malcolm Lowry). This extensively illustrated book distills what the great writers had to say about booze. Want to know where Maya Angelou kept her sherry? How about Jane Austen’s recipe for spruce beer? You’ll find them here.

I am fond of the writing of Stephen Beaumont (as I wrote in my article in the my article in the Spring 2018 issue of What’s Brewing), and was excited when Stephen told me he was working on a book about Canadian distilling. In Canadian Spirits, Beaumont teams up with well-known spirits writer Christine Sismondo to write the book that was begging to be written. It’s a broad field, but this book avoids becoming overwhelming by focusing on just the spirits that distilleries believe most represent them. It’s a great way to discover or rediscover some of the amazing and diverse spirits being made in this country. Among much else, it has a brief showcase of the author of the next book on this list.

So you have all these new and exciting choices in Canadian spirits, but what to do with them? Let some of Canada’s best bartenders, from small town to big city, give you some ideas. Great Northern Cocktails is the new book by Shawn Soole, a fixture in the Victoria cocktail culture and an essential participant in its ongoing evolution. This book’s great strength, apart from the amazing recipes, is that Soole leaves no reader behind. Each recipe is graded for difficulty (with one, two, or three asterisks) and the book includes a nice mix of all three levels. The preparation section is detailed, and the glossary will help even a novice. This book features some of Canada’s most creative bartenders, but don’t let that intimidate you. The recipes are tasty, and the short biographies of the bartenders are inspiring. Your home bartending skills are about to get much better.

Island Craft: Your Guide to the Breweries of Vancouver Island

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