Three book reviews

In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America

By Maureen Ogle

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2013)

Sometimes Maureen Ogle pisses people off. And that’s just one of the things I like about her. She walks into each book a blank slate looking for historical information on the subject at hand, and she presents to the reader what it is that she finds. And sometimes what she finds is not what the reader wants to hear. But she writes based on history—she is a historian first and foremost—and the reader with a vested interest in her subject matter is forced to think. And that’s one of the other things I like about her.

(All the other things I like about her are personal, because full disclosure dictates that I mention that Ogle’s a friend of mine.)

I’ve read two of her books, Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer and In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America. Both have forced me to rethink what I thought (or wanted to think). The former compelled me to admit that cost cutting wasn’t the reason that corn first entered beer in America and Anheiser-Busch wasn’t evil in its early days; it was simply a brewery trying to make high quality beer and sell the shit out of it. In the latter, I found that I had to reconsider my broad-brushed opposition to the status of today’s giant meat packing industry, GMOs and things like “pink slime.” Its present state came about based on both innovation and customer demand, and like it or not, we got what we asked for.

If you’re set in your ways, opposed to thinking or both, don’t read this book, because Maureen Ogle is dangerous.


How to Brew Honey Wine

By Karl Stückler

Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. (2013)

A longtime homebrewer, I’ve ventured away from beer toward cider and mead but a handful of times. Though they are both easier to produce than beer, each time I make them I have to refresh my memory on the scientific details involved. I fool around on the Internet and ask my buddy Ken for advice and recipes.

Adding this book to my library simplifies all that. With comfortable prose, full-color photos and helpful diagrams, the book is easy to navigate and understand, though Americans will have to translate from Stückler’s use of the metric system when it comes to the recipes included (there aren’t many, so you’ll have to acquire another book for that kind of help).

Just over a hundred pages, How to Brew Honey Wine isn’t the Bible of Mead, but it is certainly a handy reference that I hope will motivate me to pursue this facet of my home fermentation program with greater frequency. Because, well, mead is delicious.


Locally Brewed: Portraits of Craft Breweries from America’s Heartland

By Anna Blessing

Agate Midway (2014)

A Midwesterner with a penchant for good, local beer and the people and stories behind them, I was elated when this book arrived in my mailbox. I thumbed through the listing of 20 breweries selected for inclusion and complained inwardly that not only were there no Iowa breweries included (a personal whine because of  the location of my headquarters), but there were a whopping five of twenty breweries from Chicago (Blessing’s stomping grounds). Though a fabulous choice and a brewery that I very much wish well, one of those breweries isn’t even open yet. Iowa pride aside, I just kept thinking about places like Schlafly, Boulevard, Tallgrass and Nebraska—all legit contenders for inclusion in this book, methinks.

But the book that was actually in my hand and not the perfect one in my head. What about it? I liked it. A lot. Each brewery profile painted an interesting picture of the people, the beers and the story behind the brewery, whether young like the in-planning Moody Tongue or well-seasoned like the 154-year-old Schell’s. Blessing’s full-color photos added to the book’s (and breweries’) personality.

Though some of the profiles seemed to end rather abruptly, I had a hard time putting the book down. Because I like to read about breweries. That being the case, I’d really like to see Blessing hit the road and put out a series of these books covering breweries from all over the country. I wouldn’t be alone in seeking out the entire lot, I feel sure.

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