The best books for understanding beer, brewing, and civilization

Who am I?

I was that child who always took things apart to see how they worked. I was always interested in new gizmos and technology, but found myself most drawn to raw materials – how does this make that, and how can I make that better? Eventually, this led me to engineering school and the aerospace industry. Along the way, I got interested in beer and asked, “why didn’t this work?” That question, vehemently directed at my first batch of homebrew, lead to the first edition of How to Brew. Thirty-something years later, I'm the Chief Editor for the Master Brewers Association – an international professional organization for brewers founded in Chicago in 1887.


I wrote...

How to Brew: Everything You Need to Know to Brew Great Beer Every Time

By John J. Palmer,

Book cover of How to Brew: Everything You Need to Know to Brew Great Beer Every Time

What is my book about?

“Owning How to Brew is like having a brewmaster as your best friend. In the 30+ years since the American craft beer revolution got its start, countless brewing books have appeared. None, however has achieved the status of How to Brew, which is thorough, comprehensive, and beautifully organized. And now, this new expanded and enhanced edition improves on the original. It’s a considerable feat to create a book that is invaluable both to first-time brewers and professional brewmasters, but John has done it with a book that is essential for everyone who is serious about brewing.”  — Jim Koch, Founder & Brewer of Samuel Adams

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Tasting Beer: An Insider's Guide to the World's Greatest Drink

John J. Palmer Why did I love this book?

To start your journey of discovery into beer, I am recommending one of my favorite books, Tasting Beer by my friend Randy Mosher. This book teaches you to appreciate the flavors and aromas of beer. He describes flavors and food pairing with great flourish. My history teacher once told me that things are only boring until you learn something about them, “knowledge makes things interesting.” Randy makes beer interesting by sharing its past and present, and some speculation on its future. He is a master storyteller and weaves anecdotes, song, and verse into a tapestry of beer knowledge – and tapestry is the right word, because Randy is a graphic artist and has a superb way of summarizing concepts in charts and tables. You will also come away with a thorough understanding of beer styles and what makes each unique. 

By Randy Mosher,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Tasting Beer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This completely updated second edition of the best-selling beer resource features the most current information on beer styles, flavour profiles, sensory evaluation guidelines, craft beer trends, food and beer pairings, and draft beer systems. You'll learn to identify the scents, colours, flavours, mouth-feel, and vocabulary of the major beer styles -- including ales, lagers, weissbeirs, and Belgian beers -- and develop a more nuanced understanding of your favourite brews with in- depth sections on recent developments in the science of taste. Spirited drinkers will also enjoy the new section on beer cocktails that round out this comprehensive volume.


Book cover of The Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food

John J. Palmer Why did I love this book?

Garrett’s book takes a deeper dive into the world of brewing and beer pairing. He takes you with him as he explores some of the great brewing cities, the breweries, the brewers, and their beloved beers. He gives detailed descriptions of specific beers and the foods that they are typically paired with and why. Knowledge makes things interesting, but getting to know the people behind the beers is even more interesting. Be prepared to get thirsty and hungry as you virtually share these joys of the table and tap.

By Garrett Oliver,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Brewmaster's Table as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ Award for Best Cookbook in the Wine, Beer or Spirits category.

Garrett Oliver, award-winning Brewmaster and Vice President of Production of the Brooklyn Brewery, recognized by Gourmet Magazine as a “passionate epicure and talented alchemist”, reveals the full spectrum of flavors contained in the more than 50 distinct styles of beer from around the world.

Most importantly, he shows how beer, which is far more versatile than wine, intensifies flavors when it’s appropriately paired with foods to create a dining experience most people have never imagined. Garrett, along with photographer Denton Tillman,…


Book cover of Ambitious Brew : The Story of American Beer

John J. Palmer Why did I love this book?

Now that you better understand what beer is and where (and who) it comes from, it is interesting to learn more about how beer shaped the growth of the United States of America. Ambitious Brew is the story of beer in America: from the early days of the German Beer Gardens in the mid-1800’s to the rise to dominance of American Adjunct Lager beer and brewing prowess by 1900, to the dark days of Prohibition, and afterward; Maureen unveils the people and events that shaped this country. This book has long been one of my favorites, it helped me understand that people are the key – that behind every great beer are great people who often overcame great struggles to make it so. 

By Maureen Ogle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ambitious Brew as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the first-ever history of American beer, Maureen Ogle tells its epic story, from the immigrants who invented it to the upstart microbrewers who revived it.  Beer might seem as American as baseball, but that has not always been true: Rum and whiskey were the drinks of choice in the 1840s, with only a few breweries making heavy, yeasty English ale. When a wave of German immigrants arrived in the middle of the nineteenth century, they promptly set about re-creating the pleasures of the biergartens they had left behind.

 Just fifty years later, the American-style lager beer they invented was…


Book cover of Historical Brewing Techniques: The Lost Art of Farmhouse Brewing

John J. Palmer Why did I love this book?

I met Lars at a brewing conference in Norway several years ago when he was researching and writing his blog on the history of beers in the region. He had spent years visiting farms across northern Europe, tasting the farmhouse beers, talking with the brewers, and learning the techniques that had been passed down through the generations. That blog eventually became this book, and along the way, he “re-discovered” and introduced a new class of brewing yeast to the world. This book is an incredible journey back in time to places that continue to exist in the present day. In fact, I bet if you ask 100 professional brewers for their top five reading list, this book would be on every one. 

By Lars Marius Garshol,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Historical Brewing Techniques as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ancient brewing traditions and techniques have been passed generation to generation on farms throughout remote areas of northern Europe. With these traditions facing near extinction, author Lars Marius Garshol set out to explore and document the lost art of brewing using traditional local methods. Equal parts history, cultural anthropology, social science, and travelogue, this book describes brewing and fermentation techniques that are vastly different from modern craft brewing and preserves them for posterity and exploration. Learn about uncovering an unusual strain of yeast, called kveik, which can ferment a batch to completion in just 36 hours. Discover how to make…


Book cover of American Sour Beers

John J. Palmer Why did I love this book?

This book was a difficult choice because there are a plethora of great books on various beer styles and ingredients that make for engaging reading. But this book is notable for pulling back the veil of mystery around a whole class of beers that most people are not familiar with, and those are sour beers. These beers are produced by fermentation with both yeast and bacteria, instead of yeast alone. Sour beers are not new, they have, without doubt, been around as long as beer itself, with many different techniques for producing them. These techniques often took years to produce a consistent and palatable product. This book documents the renaissance of sour beer production in American craft brewing and teaches you how to brew delicious sour beers yourself. 

By Michael Tonsmeire,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked American Sour Beers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the most exciting and dynamic segments of today's craft brewing scene , American-brewed sour beers are designed intentionally to be tart and may be inoculated with souring bacteria, fermented with wild yeast or fruit, aged in barrels or blended with younger beer. Craft brewers and homebrewers have adapted traditional European techniques to create some of the world's most distinctive and experimental styles. This book details the wide array of processes and ingredients in American sour beer production, with actionable advice for each stage of the process. Inspiration, education and practical applications for brewers of all levels are provided…


You might also like...

The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

By Alexander Rose,

Book cover of The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

Alexander Rose Author Of Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men's Epic Duel to Rule the World

New book alert!

Who am I?

A long time ago, I was an early-aviation historian, but eventually realized that I knew only half the story—the part about airplanes. But what about airships? Initially, I assumed, like so many others, that they were a flash-in-the-pan, a ridiculous dead-end technology, but then I realized these wondrous giants had roamed and awed the world for nearly four decades. There was a bigger story here of an old rivalry between airplanes and airships, one that had since been forgotten, and Empires of the Sky was the result.

Alexander's book list on Zeppelin airships

What is my book about?

From the author of Washington’s Spies, the thrilling story of two rival secret agents — one Confederate, the other Union — sent to Britain during the Civil War.

The South’s James Bulloch, charming and devious, was ordered to acquire a clandestine fleet intended to break Lincoln’s blockade, sink Northern merchant vessels, and drown the U.S. Navy’s mightiest ships at sea. Opposing him was Thomas Dudley, an upright Quaker lawyer determined to stop Bulloch in a spy-versus-spy game of move and countermove, gambit and sacrifice, intrigue and betrayal.

Their battleground was the Dickensian port of Liverpool, whose dockyards built more ships each year than the rest of the world combined and whose merchant princes, said one observer, were “addicted to Southern proclivities, foreign slave trade, and domestic bribery.”

The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

By Alexander Rose,

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Washington's Spies, the thrilling story of the Confederate spy who came to Britain to turn the tide of the Civil War-and the Union agent resolved to stop him.

"Entertaining and deeply researched...with a rich cast of spies, crooks, bent businessmen and drunken sailors...Rose relates the tale with gusto." -The New York Times

In 1861, soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, two secret agents-one a Confederate, the other his Union rival-were dispatched to neutral Britain, each entrusted with a vital mission.

The South's James Bulloch, charming and devious, was to acquire…


3 book lists we think you will like!

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