When it comes to books on our favorite suds, “There are endless amounts of books on beer that will keep you busy reading for years to come,” says Wrigley Mansion bar manager Anthony Escalante. “They range from ‘beer fiction’ to encyclopedia-like ‘bibles’ that will provide you with everything you will ever need to know about beer.”
Regardless of your level of expertise, there are books for every type of beer drinker. Some tackle pairing beer with food, others dive into the botanical bases, while some just act as a useful reference book when you need to look up a style or brewery. One thing they have in common is they will all impart new knowledge to even the most experienced beer drinker. Crack your favorite beer and settle into these expert-recommended beer books.
Best Overall: The Oxford Companion to Beer
Garret Oliver’s compendium of beer is Saint Archer Brewing Co brewing and R&D manager Greg Garrity’s current favorite beer book. "While I was studying for my certified cicerone certification, I would get so bored of reciting the same information. I loved taking "breaks" from the monotonous studying and learning some random piece of information about beer, like what 'Kneifl’ (barley) is. It is a great resource for random knowledge as well as key concepts in beer. If you have friends who are studying for any level of cicerone certification, get them this book!"
Frederic Yarm, formerly of La Brasa in Boston, notes that the Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster’s tome is “an amazing book for teaching about the various styles of beer from around the world and how to properly match them with food. The wisdom comes from Garrett not only being a knowledgeable beer expert but from years of experience being the head brewer of the Brooklyn Brewery, and he proffers many examples of how beer can be superior to wine in food pairing situations.”
Related: The Best Beer Glasses
Runner-Up Best Overall: The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks
Penned by regular Liquor.com contributor Joshua M. Bernstein, who also writes about beer for The New York Times and Bon Appetit, “The Complete Beer Course” breaks down every component that makes a beer a beer, from the grains and the yeast, to the hops.
This comprehensive book received an overwhelming number of co-signs from bartenders. Datz Restaurant Group beverage director Dean Hurst noted it’s “the starting point for all your beer knowledge. Beer is a corner of the beverage world I’m always trying to learn more about, so it’s nice to have the subjects broken down into pint-sized courses. I use it as a quick reference when I need a refresher.”
Benjamin Pozar, a bartender at Fogo de Chao in Texas, likes it because “it guides you through a more hands-on training than most books. It gives a great amount of information of both modern and historic beer styles.”
Deena Sayers of Drinks by Deena has always been a beer drinker, but “after the craft beer explosion, it became my least knowledgeable category. Beer is the third oldest beverage in the world, and having a good understanding of the modern aspects is important. This book really helped me—it’s an informative read for anyone looking to dive into the world of craft beers.”
Related: The Best Beers
Best Gift: The Scratch & Sniff Guide to Beer: A Beer Lover's Companion
Gavin Humes, the food and beverage director of Scratch Bar & Kitchen thinks Justin Kennedy’s picture-fueled book is “entertaining and amusing, which makes it a fun gift.” Think of it as the book version of a tasting flight; via the scratch-and-sniff stickers sprinkled throughout the book, you can compare the scent of everything from aged lambics to light lagers.
“That said,” continues Humes, “It also has some good beginning information about beer. The nice part about it is that if you give it to an experienced beer drinker, it’s an amusing gag gift that will get a chuckle. If you give it to a beer novice, there’s actually useful information in it.” Though the name is cheeky, Kennedy dives into the different aspects of making and drinking beer over eight informative chapters. Even beer geeks will learn some useful tidbits from this book.
Best for Beer Pairing: Beer at My Table: Recipes, Beer Styles and Food Pairings
Nicole Ross, the head bartender at The Gansevoort Hotel’s Chester in New York City, highly recommends "Beer At My Table” by Tonia Wilson. "I love spending my spare time in my kitchen crafting ideas I have while I’m losing sleep thinking about what I want to eat or drink the next day. I constantly think about flavor pairings and what beer or cocktails would go best with which dish or dessert, so this book immediately made it onto my coffee table when I came across it.“
Wilson is both a chef and a cicerone, giving her the perfect background to craft thoughtful food and beer pairings. Throughout the book, she profiles 35 different beer styles and pairs them with seasonally appropriate recipes of her own creation.
“This book has also been loads of fun to share with my other bartender and sommelier friends,” Ross adds. “It helped get us through quite a few zoom dinner parties!"
Best for Bartenders: Cocktails on Tap: The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer
“I may not be an avid beer drinker,” says Bryson Downham, the beverage director of the award-winning Toups Meatery in New Orleans, “but I do love the potential of beer as an ingredient for cocktails. It can be tough to conceptualize cocktails this way because we are so used to beer being a stand-alone flavor. So this book contains a wealth of great recipes to help you get started and get the creativity flowing.”
Outside Micheladas and self-made Shandies, beer and cocktails tend to live in separate realms. In these pages, Grier catalogs over fifty different recipes that blend refreshing beers with spirits and other ingredients. Think Mai Ta-IPAs with tropical flavors and lots of hops, or the Green Devil—a Belgian beer dosed with gin and absinthe. Many of the recipes are over a century old, though Grier also includes his own contemporary creations.
Best for Beginners: Beer School : A Crash Course in Craft Beer
“For the beginning enthusiast, I would suggest some lighter reading before committing to the limitless amounts of information that is waiting for you out there,” describes Escalante. “This book by Johnny Garrett is a great place to start, as it will provide information on how beer is made and how to distinguish between its various styles from around the world. Depending on what your plans are for the beer world, whether it be to become a master home brewer or a cicerone in the service industry, this will give you a better understanding of beer. From here, the possibilities are endless.”
A big draw of this book is Brad Evans’ illustrations—they back-up Garrett’s information in an easy-to-digest format. If you’ve zoomed through the aforementioned Bernstein’s Beer Course, this is a great follow-up read.
Best on Belgian Beer: Michael Jackson's Great Beers of Belgium
Belgium has one of the most historic and lauded beer scenes in the world, with the majority of the best beers brewed in monasteries—some even date back to the early 12th-century. With a history like that, the category produces incredible, multifaceted (and delicious) beers, ranging from Trappist, abbey, to Duvel. Michael Jackson provides your roadmap to all of these styles via meticulous research on Belgium's brewing history.
“I was obsessed with Belgium beers for a long time, and when I finally got a chance to go there, this was my guidebook,” vouches Jordan Gardenhire, founder, and brewmaster for Baja Brewing Company. “It is well used!”
The book is dotted with personal accounts on the brewing scene, plus historical tidbits and in-depth profiles on notable Belgian breweries and brewers.
Best for Experts: Brewing up a Business
Anyone interested in beer has heard of either Dogfish Head Craft Brewery or its co-founder, Sam Calagione, who helped catapult the brand from being America’s smallest brewery in 1995 to one of the most beloved craft beer brands in the category. How did he do it? In “Brewing Up a Business” he tells all. From working through recipes with a home brewing kit to building a strong social media following, Calagione covers what it takes to grow a successful beer business.
“This is a fun read from one of my favorite breweries,” continues Gardenhire. “It's great to hear the stories of other breweries and be able to relate to the ups and downs.”
Whether you’re a budding beer entrepreneur with a big dream, or you own a brewery and you’re looking to distinguish yourself from the competition, this book will benefit your business.
Related: The Best Home Brewing Kits
Best Unconventional: Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation
If you’re looking for an unconventional option that covers more than pairing and brewing, “One I go to for more than just beer is "Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers" by Harrod Buhner,” says Elina Malkin, a Pittsburgh-based bartender. “Part folkloric history and part in-depth research of global fermented beverages, it contains so much information on the roots of beer as we know it today, as well as history and recipes for a multitude of herbal tonics. It's great for anyone interested in using herbs in their beverage program, into foraging and spontaneous fermentations, or who is just geeky about beverage history.”
If you’ve read every book on history or brewing under the sun, we promise this will impart new information. Buhner covers how beers have been used as herbal healing tools, psychotropics, and as key parts of indigenous rituals throughout history. The term ‘beer’ is rather loose, but it provides a fascinating insight into the world of fermented beverages.
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Kate Dingwall is a seasoned beverage writer and sommelier and has spent the last five years writing about wine and spirits and the last decade as a working sommelier. Her work appears in a variety of national outlets, both print and digital. She’s the niece of an award-winning Belgian brewer and is always kind enough to help test his new brews.