I have a book idea. An idea that, quite unincredulously, is for a book that is about beer.
In fact, I have much more than an idea: a full proposal, a complete outline, several (somewhat) fleshed-out sample chapters, pages upon pages of notes and research and scenes.
I have a proto-beer book. All the elements of primordial literary soup that just need a bolt of publishing lightning to create new bookish life.
Unfortunately, I am not going to talk about that particular idea (but if you are an agent or publisher type who would like to know more, I am always available here). While I realize it’s very difficult for someone to steal and then properly execute a complicated project, I also think it’s intellectual folly to tell too many people about something that is not yet, and a waste of creative energy to let the buzzing singularity of the idea dissipate across the infinite reaches of the internet.
So no, I won’t be talking about my book idea. But that doesn’t stop me from talking about other book ideas, and trends I’d like to see emerge on the more formal side of beer writing.
Of all the books I read in 2014, only six of them were specifically about beer: Capital Beer (Greg Kitsock), Maine Beer (Josh Christie), Baltimore Beer (Rob Kasper), Yeast (Chris White with Jamil Zainasheff), Malt (John Mallet), and The Craft Beer Revolution (Steve Hindy). I know some other, fantastic beer books came out this year (I still haven’t read Boak and Bailey’s Brew Britannia yet, and feel great shame), but many haven’t made it into bed-time reading rotation yet due to me only having two eyeballs and a finite number of conscious hours.
Two technical books and four history books. I enjoyed them all, if I’m being honest. But mainly because each one taught me a lot, not necessarily because they were fun to read. We seem to be in the middle of a trend about trying to teach everyone about beer: guide the rookie through styles and brewing techniques; introduce the journeyman to newer, more complicated topics; inundate the veteran with rehashings of not-so-long-lost histories. It’s a trend I applaud, given that the understanding of beer – even among some of those who calls themselves “beer people” – is still generally poor. If contemporary beer books finally break that guy of claiming he hates hops while he exclusively drinks IPAs, or make a new drinker feel more confident in ordering a beer she knows she’ll like, I’d call that a victory.
The peddling of beerish lore to the receptive student will always be a great thing for the industry, and I’m clearly guilty of trying to spread lupulin-laced education. But writing (blogs and magazines and books), need not always be lectures given by the learned to the not about fundamental facts, doesn’t always have to be grounded in the dry and practical, and most certainly doesn’t always have to be so tangibly tethered to the drink itself.
So, in 2015, I’d like to see some books that are about beer, but also distance themselves from the particulars of beer at the same time:
- Beer and Psychology: While the psychology of alcohol dependence seems obvious, I’m especially curious about the psychology of taste: how does the psychology of our processing of flavor support the trends toward more complex and bigger beers? Is there any connection between economically depressed Americans being disillusioned with the world and the trends to seek out the biggest, boldest flavors they can find? Is there an inverse relationship with this connection and the decline of subtle lagers? Is an evolving palate a psychological phenomenon or a physical one (or both)?
- Medicine and Beer: A spin off of the first idea, but with a focus on the positive and negative aspects of beer consumption. Are we doing to see more illnesses from a generation who drinks more and more? How are high calorie, high ABV beers contributing to America’s struggle with obesity? Will we ever consider beer a “whole food” and find some health benefits in moderate consumption, ala red wine?
- Green Brewing: Are our barley and hop farming processes sustainable? Is brewing helping or harming the planet, as it stands? There is no GMO barley now, but as demand grows, might that change? What does the future agricultural landscape of brewing look like? Are modern breweries concerned about (and making plans to address) waste water and spent grain practices and other sustainability related issues?
- Homebrewing Revival: Has the surge in beer’s popularity given homebrew shops a new lease on life? What about the National Homebrewer’s Association and its sundry branches? There have to be some stories behind how those groups benefited from the economic boom of beer, most of which are untold at this point, I think. Will the increase in homebrewing ever compete with or put a dent in the economics of beer? Has homebrewing created a group of consumers who know more about the nuances of a product than ever before?
- Big Beer Fear: This may be difficult to pull off, but I’d love a probing look into Big Beer in 2015, potentially a real look into what they think about “craft” and how they plan to react. I think the time for casually dismissing smaller, local breweries is over, and there’s probably some fascinating corporate group-think going on in boardrooms that would potentially make for an excellent book.
- Beer Fiction: I know I may be in the minority of wanting this, but I get giddy every time I see a fictional character drinking beer, like Switters from Tom Robbin’s Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. I think there is a lot of room for fiction grounded in beer, or for protagonists who happen to adopt the modern beer drinker’s attitudes and behaviors (for better or worst). Or even a historical novel about brewing during colonialism, or during pre-industrialization, or hell something wacky, like during the black plague.
In 2015, I would not like to see:
- Any new “guides to beer” that don’t add anything to the already massive pile of beer information available, well, pretty much everywhere.