Before Garrett Oliver visited our wine/beer shop, I hadn't read a word of this book. Now, I can't put it down.
It was obvious, during his hour-and-a-half visit/tasting that he was a wizard. Grabbing various cheeses and beers from our shelves, seemingly on a whim, I wondered what he was up to. But tasting Ommegang's Three Philosophers Quadrupel alongside the ubiquitous Humboldt Fog; tasting Dupont's Miel with a sheepsmilk beauty; tasting Garrett's own Brooklyn Monster Barleywine alongside a stinky Stilton, it made us all realize that this guy was the brew master.
After that, I opened his book, and my world was changed forever. Food, which I had always tried to pair with wine, was transformed into a whole new experience. And the rows of weird-looking bottles that I used to simply stare at for hours during a slow shift at the store, now made sense. Who knew that the $5.50 Le Coq Imperial Double Stout was a "world classic"? Garrett did. Who knew that the $3.79 Schneider Wiess was a "tour de force"? Garrett did.
His book is at once a recipe for a culinary celebration, and an encylopedia of beer styles and producers. The simple organization of the book is perfect! He starts with the chapter: Wheat Beer, for example. Then, within that chapter, he addresses different styles and regions-for example, German weissbeer. That section is then divided into 3 parts: a history of the style and an explanation of the beer itself; pairing that beer with food; and, notable producers of that style. This simple yet intelligent organization lends to a broad base of interest and knowledge within each chapter.
Garrett doesn't get too technical, but he doesn't dumb it down either. There always seems to be a real passion flowing over the pages, and he is not shy about letting this passion show like a neon sign. Of course, he harbors a bit of arrogance over wine when it comes to pairing beer with food. However, the more I test out his suggested pairings, the more I realize that his arrogance is pure genius. The extent to which he has "researched" food pairings (groaning work, to be sure...) is simply amazing. With any given beer style, he will list ten or twenty different dishes or styles with which to pair that beer. I also enjoy his ability to invoke the essence of "place", as it relates to the beer experience. He writes of an experience in amsterdam, watching the barges, drinking beer with his salmon, and enjoying the moment. He recalls the homely atmosphere of London beerpubs with fondness. He describes the musty, cobweb-filled Belgium lambic houses in great detail.
And somehow, he manages to never drift too far on a tangent, and always pulls whatever experiences he has had back to history and the beer itself. The amount of knowledge in this book is astounding. His food pairings are exquisite (though sometimes, I think he is a bit too generous). The historical information is both interesting and helpful in understanding the beer and its roots. And his introduction and description of each style is impeccable. If you walk into a store like ours, and the sheer selection of beer scares you, just thumb to the index of The Brewmaster's Table, and you'll probably see a reference to whatever bottle you're holding in your hands.
Warning: this book will drastically change your culinary world! It will consume you, and turn every meal into a new opportunity to turn a good beer into a magical experience. As you pore over each chapter, you'll want to run down to the store and hunt down that particular style, just to see what Garrett's making such a racket about. The pages, with the absolutely beautiful photography and descriptions, will consume you to the point that you've just gotta have that Imperial Stout, right now! And if it hasn't happened already, this book will certainly make sure that you will never again let the likes of Budweiser fizzy water pass your lips.