It has been a few years since my second book, Cooking and Eating with Beer – 50 Chefs, Brewmasters, and Restaurateurs Talk about Beer and Food, was published, and the recent publication of John Holl’s The American Craft Beer Cookbook – 155 Recipes from Your Favorite Brewpubs & Breweries… actually sixteen years.
One of the first things about The American Craft Beer Cookbook that catches the attention is the visual image of the pulled meat sandwich on the cover. Flipping through the pages makes good the promise of the cover. This is food porn at its finest. Oh yeas, there are some pictures of breweries and brewers and the inside of a few restaurants. The pictures of the food whets the appetite of the reader who can only hope the text is just as satisfying.
My first reaction to holding a new nonfiction book in my hand is to turn to the index and see what the author really knows about the subject. I will scan for a familiar topic, word, or name and note the page numbers. Then it’s a quick flip to that page and a scan to find the target word and what the author has to say about it. If the author makes sense there is a good chance that, after two more search-and-find visits to the index, I’ll buy the book and read it. And so it was with The American Craft Beer Cookbook – 155 Recipes from Your Favorite Brewpubs & Breweries.
The first word was “steak”. The entry found on page 342 of the index was “Steak and Blue Cheese Tartar” on page 55.
The upper right hand corner color-coded notes tell me this recipe comes from Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, New York. The left hand page is a full page four color pub-porn picture of their wall of taps and beer glass cabinets and a side-bar describing the origin of the word “gastro pub”. On the right hand page, under the recipe title “Steak and Blue Cheese Tartar” the attention grabbing first sentence sets the table for the rest of the recipe, “There is something carnal about eating raw meat and experiencing its natural flavors.” The next sentence made sure I read the rest of the recipe, “Bison, with its tender texture and meaty taste, takes on new dimensions when served tartar,” The listing of the ingredients and the two step process are essential with a minimum of words.
The second word I scanned the index for was “pizza” and found Pizza, Cheese page 160-61. When I turned to those pages I found the recipe for Bouillabaisse.
The third word on my list was “chili”. The index had a “Brew Free! Chili” listed on page 152.
The name “Beer Free!” had me on guard. Despite my trepidation the recipe was there on page 152 with the corner-of-the-page-color-code telling me that this recipe was from 21st Amendment Brewery, San Francisco, California. A quick check of the ingredients revealed origin of the “Brew Free!” in the name of the recipe… It was named after “Brew Free or Die IPA”. The preface to the recipe notes that “For many, making chili is a sacred art.” How true that is! The rest of the preface notes that it is the tweaking of a basic meat and spice ratio. The three-step procedure is in no way intimidating. The facing page (153) has a trio of pictures of the brewery and the interior of the brewpub as well as a side-bar telling the 21st Amendment story.
Undeterred, I had to track down that Cheese Pizza recipe. It took a bit of exploring but the recipe was found on pages 188-189 under the basic moniker “Cheese Pizza”. The preface to the recipe notes that delivery is quicker but that the making of pizza at home can become an exploratory experience like no other. The seven step process is terse but most instructive. The facing page is hops-porn and a side-bar noting the attraction of beer and pizza is classic.
If you have come this far I’ll let you in on a few observations. First of all, as noted above, it is almost impossible to keep up with the growth of the brewpubs and the adjustments and adaptations of recipes that include beer. Next, it is almost impossible to do justice to any recipe in less than a few thousand words. This restriction puts writers in a difficult position. Any writer can only hope the reader knows enough about the subject to be able to get the results they want.
Having read both books I will note that although The American Craft Beer Cookbook is three times the size and number of recipes as Cooking & Eating with Beer, it still leaves the impression it is just scratching the surface of the subject. It also reads as if there is only enough time and only so many words to write that the author had to pick only the most interesting foods and beers and had to leave a good many unmentioned. There is also an unwritten reality that through both books leave unmentioned. The attrition rate among restaurants, brewpubs and breweries is such that much of what is in the book may not be relevant in a few months after the publishing date. Both seem to be aware that they are recording a snapshot of brewing history that will surly change and evolve into something quite different in the not too distant future.
Finally, no writer or author ever finishes an article or book. We are forced to stop writing. I might be off base but I believe that both John and I can assure you that our books are just starting points for your adventure into discovering the worlds of beer and food in both the kitchen and at the table.
Yes, I plan to spend $20.00 on a copy of this book to give as a present this Christmas season.