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The Comic Book Story of Beer: The World's Favorite Beverage from 7000 BC… (2015)

by Jonathan HENNESSEY, Aaron MCCONNELL (Author), Mike SMITH (Author)

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853254,530 (3.58)7
A full-color, lushly illustrated graphic novel that recounts the many-layered past and present of beer through dynamic pairings of pictures and meticulously researched insight into the history of the world's favorite brew.

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Put it in comic book form, and I will pretty much read about anything, even the history of a beverage that I have only sipped a couple times in my entire life and rejected as tasting godawful. This book isn't godawful, but the reliance on hyperbole, mythology and conspiracy theory makes it of dubious value as a history even while making the early chapters sort of fun. The majority of the book is quite dry in art and writing and descends into a stiffly-illustrated concordance of every mention of beer throughout recorded time. It ends on a rah-rah note about the awesomeness of craft brewing and the golden age of beer in which we now apparently live. It's almost Christmas, so I suppose this wouldn't make a bad bathroom book to give to the beer aficionado in your life you don't know well enough to give a meaningful present. ( )
  villemezbrown | Jul 28, 2018 |
Interesting, great gift for the beer enthusiasts in your life! ( )
  kmajort | Feb 9, 2018 |
Many thanks to NetGalley and Ten Speed Press for a digital Advanced Reader Copy in exchange for my review.

Don't let the fun comics format lull you into thinking this is simply a light romp about drinking beer. Sure, that may be where it starts, but it is so much more. This is a history book, complete with footnotes and references (a few are in the book, but the full list of chapter notes can be found on their website) and an index! Not only will you be entertained, you will be educated. This is a history class you wish you had in college. Like a good brewery tour, you will learn about the process of making beer, though an even more detailed account. But that's only the beginning.

My favorite way to study history is take a topic and follow it over time and throughout a geographic area, noting its cultural, religious, and economic impact. Beer makes a good such focal point because it has been around (in one form or another) for millennia, and is drunk the world over. (Also, I'm a big fan, and can be rather beer-snobish.) "Around the globe, people consume more beer than coffee, wine, and even Coca-cola."

Yet, the industry as we know it today, is vastly different than it has been over time. "For nearly all of human history, brewing and serving beer has been an almost exclusively female enterprise!" In ancient Summaria, the goddess of beer, Ninkasi, was worshiped for bringing this sweet nectar to the people. Only a few centuries ago, "Beer made a decided emergence from the kitchen. Brewing became a male business that generated manly profits. In large part, women were squeezed out. Ninkasi would have wept. The death knell had sounded for the millennia-old tradition of Alewives and Brewsters."

The basic ingredients of beer today have been the same for centuries, but the addition of hops was no less than revolutionary. The preservative qualities meant that consumption did not need to happen within a week or so, but the drink could be stored for longer times, and therefore shipped beyond the immediate brewing area. A current beer trend is to play with the flavors, varieties, and intensity ("an arms race with hops"), but hops is frequently an acquired taste. In fact, "for most of beer's history, adding hops would have been about as common and acceptable as using, say, asparagus, as a flavoring." (For those with allergies, beer without hops can be found, though you may need to do some searching.)

The second half of the book focuses on the US. Even the pilgrims were fans of beer, but the country (officially) went dry during prohibition. During that time, alcohol manufacturers had to find other products to produce ("some breweries turned to making ice cream”), but the smaller companies weren’t able to last. After prohibition was repealed -- during your next argument over who may claim the Greatest President title, keep in mind that "newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt proposed to immediately reauthorize the manufacture and sale of beer” -- the largest surviving breweries got even bigger, and began to compete within a narrow flavor profile. “The desires of American drinkers led them to the same sort of product: inoffensive, mass-produced blonde, light-bodied, 'drinkable' lagers with little or no cumulative bitterness.” American Lagers are often snubbed by today’s craft beer drinkers, yet “remains the most widely consumed beers brewed in the world.” It may be no coincidence that it pairs well with "hot dogs, peanuts, and cracker jacks.” (And, perhaps, apple pie?)

Despite this being the vast majority of beer consumed today, there have always been those on the fringes who seek something different, something unusual. Even during the mid-1400s -- when Bavarian purity laws began to require that beer could be made with nothing other than water, barley, hops (and yeast) -- there were “home brewers [who] experimented with a variety of ingredients." Today’s craft beer movement was born “in reaction to American Lager's ubiquity,” and has exponentially increased the number of producers. Post prohibition, but before home brewing was again legal in the US, “American breweries fell to an all-time low of just 44 breweries." Just 36 years later, “there are over 3,200 breweries in the U.S. And more than 2,000 are reported to be in planning!” Craft-beer drinkers may be in the minority, but, along with modern home brewers, we are driving an expansion of the market. “Brewers discovered that some American drinkers were willing to pay top dollar for handmade, flavorful, premium beer,” a fact which has led to us creating “a wider diversity of beers than any other nation in the world.”

Since I working in a library where there is an amazing collection of reading material available at no charge (not counting late fees), I rarely buy books. But I enjoyed this book so much, it is one of my exceptions for this year. I picked up my own copy at a local bookstore so I could bring it to show off at Bier Klasse and loan to friends. (I may even buy copies as gifts.)

Read this book with your favorite brew (perhaps one mentioned in the story), and with your next beer, raise your glass to Ninkasi! ( )
  MCHBurke | Jun 22, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
HENNESSEY, JonathanAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
MCCONNELL, AaronAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
SMITH, MikeAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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A full-color, lushly illustrated graphic novel that recounts the many-layered past and present of beer through dynamic pairings of pictures and meticulously researched insight into the history of the world's favorite brew.

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