In the world of beer books there is very little unexplored territory. There is space for new books that update and reinterpret our thinking on important beer subjects, but they likely won’t be creating a category. I experienced this idea firsthand when two other books, both with the words “craft beer cookbook” in their title were published within a few months of my own. This spring, Mirella Amato published her first book Beerology: Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Beer…Even More
(published by Appetite by Random House). It fits squarely into the category of beer appreciation guides and I think a comparison to Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer is natural and automatic.
In addition to full disclosure, I should tell you that I was familiar with the author before the book was published. Mirella Amato was one of the four Canadians I chose to profile in my cookbook to give some context to readers about the craft beer scene in Canada. She has an established reputation as one of our country’s most prolific beer writers and as the leader of beer tasting workshops and beer tours. I’m happy to cop to the fact that I approached her book with a slight, positive bias.
Beerology is divided into four parts and then further into 17 chapters. About half of its pages are devoted to “the what” – describing the characteristics of various beer styles – while the balance focus on “the how” – the basics of understanding beer, how to plan a beer tasting and pair beer with food.
Amato does an admirable job with the style descriptions. Each major one gets its own page, a straight-to-the-point description, and a legend for quickly telling the style’s family (ale or lager), defining characteristic, colour, and alcohol content. My only complaint about these is that the ABV meter is an unnumbered gradient, which represents something that is precise (a number or range of them) and in an approximate way.
Fellow Canadians will appreciate the examples in the beer styles section, I think. Each has a handful of specific examples that are divided fairly evenly between US and Canadian labels (with some recognizable international standards thrown in where appropriate). Amato is one of the leading beer educators in Canada and was our first master Cicerone, so it seems entirely appropriate that she offered Canadians and easy route to understanding her style descriptions.
One of Beerology’s main focuses and best features is the section about pairing food and beer together. Here we go well beyond, and get away from the standard three C’s guideline. It holds that a beer should complement, contrast with, or cut an aroma, flavor, or texture in the food it is served beside. The difficulty with that previous standard is that it can be tough to tell which of the three questions is critical. A pairing can be complementary, but not succeed at all on the other two counts.
Instead, Amato leads us through an easily understood system that starts by matching intensities, then considers flavour interactions, and finishes by fine-tuning taste and mouth-feel and considers few standard counter indications.This systematic approach that builds a pairing from the ground up seems more likely to yield delicious results than a set of three, sometimes contradictory questions. I appreciate that the section starts with a few examples of pairings from well-established beer cultures and finishes with an easy pairing rule of thumb (that food and drink of like colour often go well together), but feel I could have used a few more specific, this-beer-and-this-dish examples to augment the discussion in between.
On to that question that I’ve left hanging since introduction is – how does Beerology compare to Tasting Beer? It limits itself more to what’s in the glass (as opposed to the history of beer or the science and technique behind how it’s made) and will have slightly less appeal for advanced readers, but I think it’s an excellent introduction to beer appreciation. The well-thought-out layout and attractive photography help augment easily understood ideas that will help introduce important beer ideas to a general audience.