These are the books you need to read to become a beer expert (& pass the Certified Cicerone exam)
If you want to be a beer guru, you have to read about beer and brewing...a lot. Books, magazines, blogs, whatever. On your way to becoming an expert, you'll tear through a shelf full of beer books. First, you need to read several "intro to craft beer" type books, they cover loads of material you need to know. Reading several of them will pound the basics into your head and give you a few different perspectives and approaches to beer. Second, you should read a few more specialized books, like one about a single family of beer styles that you really like or about the history of beer in the US. Third, if you're a homebrewer there is a whole separate list of books you should read, which will help make you very beer smart (I highly recommend you give homebrewing a shot if you love beer and/or want to become a Certified Cicerone).
OK, OK, Let's get to it and talk about what you need to read to prep for the Certified Cicerone exam. That's what you're really here for, no?
1. Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher
As you probably know, the Cicerone program and exams are largely based on Randy Mosher's Tasting Beer. It's the Cicerone Certification Program's textbook. You absolutely must read this book. Memorize it. Take lots of notes. Even if you're not concerned with passing the CC Exam, you should read this book. Tasting Beer is the best of the "intro to craft beer" books out there. It manages to cover more material in an in-depth manner than others. You understand Mosher's passion for beer through his writing, but he doesn't try to inject any moronic "internet famous" personality crap into his text like some other books in this category. It's all very to-the-point and includes loads of great insets and graphics. Mosher is an expert and it shows.
2. The Draught Beer Quality Manual by The Brewers Association
Hey, this one is free! Why is that? The Brewer's Association (BA) wants beer consumers to have a great experience when they're drinking craft beer. In order to make that more likely they've made information on how to properly operate and clean a draft system free to all those who need it. The Draught Beer Quality Manual isn't a super exciting reading, but it's critical for those taking the Certified or Advanced Cicerone exams. It breaks down what each component of a draft system does, discusses how to balance a draft system, and goes into detail about how to properly clean a draft system. If you own a bar, you need this. If you go to a bar and see overly foamy beers and bartenders pouring head off the sides of glasses and garbage like that, you should find the owner and hand him a copy of this book. Thanks BA! If you're not taking the CC Exam, you can probably skip this one unless you're just really interested in draft system tech. But hey, it's free.
3. Read a bunch of other books to drill it all in and further explore your personal beer interests.
Tasting Beer and the Draught Beer Quality Manual are two books you absolutely must read and memorize in order to pass the CC exam. You definitely need to read others, too, but you have options and should follow your interests. I'd recommend choosing at least 3 of these to read:
- The Beer Scholar Study Guide for the Certified Cicerone Exam by Chris Cohen - I'm not merely trying to hawk my own book here, I'm just being real about it, if you want to ensure you pass the CC Exam there is no better way to help yourself get there. Only 1 out of 3 takers pass. My book contains loads of key info and tips for each section of the exam, plus practice tests and flash cards. It's specifically geared to the CC Exam, so if you're not taking it, you won't need my book.
- Beerology: Everything You Need to Enjoy Beer Even More by Master Cicerone Mirella Amato - This is another "intro to craft beer" style book that covers quite a bit of ground. Mirella is one of the 10 Master Cicerones as of the end of 2015 and she has worked for the Cicerone Certification Program in the past. Even though Beerology isn't an official CCP book, Mirella largely sticks to information the program would approve of.
- The Brewmaster's Table by Garrett Oliver - Published in 2005, this remains the seminal book on food and beer pairing, but it's so much more. While the focus of Brewmaster's Table is pairing, in order to educate you regarding good pairing Oliver takes you through glorious flavor and aroma descriptions of every major beer style. It's a beautifully written, inspiring, and incredibly helpful guide to the flavors and aromas you'll find in beer. It will give you a strong base of pairing knowledge, which let's face it, is one of the best things about beer. You'll get to use this knowledge every time you have a beer with a meal out or when cooking at home. It's also one of the skills I find impresses people, that's always fun. Pairing isn't a huge part of the CC Exam, but it's on there and so are lots of questions about style, all of which this book will help you with.
- Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer by Maureen Ogle - I love this book. It's all about the history of beer in America up until about the early 2000s. It covers an epic stretch of US history, politics, and drinking culture, plus it's well written and approachable. It helped me contextualize the role "big beer" has had in US history, too, which isn't something you get a lot of objective information about if you live in the craft beer bubble like many of us. There isn't much in here that you'll see on the CC Exam, but it's a great read that will give you background on the development of some American beer styles and major companies.
- The Audacity of Hops: The History of America's Craft Beer Revolution by Tom Acitelli - Published in 2013, this is a fairly up-to-date look at the history and development of the craft beer movement in the US. It's not totally dissimilar from Ogle's Ambitious Brews, but it focuses more on craft beer and more recent history. Definitely a great read for those of us who are part of the revolution of good beer, especially now that it is changing rapidly with big beer companies buying up craft producers.
- The Oxford Companion to Beer edited by Garrett Oliver - This is a massive reference manual, not a book you'll ever read from cover to cover. The truth is, it'll probably mostly gather dust on your shelf, but it'll also be there for you when you want to quickly look something up. I'm not full-on recommending this one for studying for the CC Exam, plus it's also pretty damn expensive...but still, I feel that it's a solid part of any complete collection of important beer books. I enjoy just opening it to random pages now and then and reading whatever I see.
- The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks: From Novice to Expert in Twelve Tasting Classes by Joshua Bernstein - This is another "intro to craft beer" type book. It takes a slightly different angle though, with its series of recommended tastings. It has a chapter/tasting for different families of beer. Again, I think everyone should read several "intro to craft beer" books to hammer this stuff home. In combination with the must-read Tasting Beer, The Complete Beer Course and Beerology are each going to cover similar stuff but with different perspectives and language. Reviewing and repeating is the best way to learn.
- Wild Brews: Beer Beyond the Influence of Brewer's Yeast by Jeff Sparrow OR American Sour Beers by Michael Tonsmeire - If you're a sour beer lover you'll dig these books. They're going to be especially great for a homebrewer who is thinking of making, or is already experienced with making, sour beer. If you don't understand the brewing process well, these books may be a little challenging, but regardless, you'll learn a ton from them about farmhouse and sour beer styles. These books are written for brewers and they're all about how these particular sour styles are done.
- Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski OR Brew Like a Monk: Trappist, Abbey, and Strong Belgian Ales and How to Brew Them by Stan Hieronymus - These are both great books geared toward homebrewers or those who understand the brewing process. If you love saisons and other farmhouse styles or you're in love with the Trappist/Abbey styles, you'll definitely enjoy one or both of these. I love to drink and brew Belgian styles, so these books were both influential on me. Farmhouse Ales was especially helpful for getting me to understand just how broad a genre of beers those are and how beer styles evolve over time.
- IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale by Mitch Steele - This is a good one for IPA lovers who want to dig into the history and development of the style. It also contains loads of info for brewers who want to learn to make better IPAs, so be forewarned that it walks the line between being a brewer's guide and a book for a more general audience. I think everyone should read at least one book that really digs into one of their very favorite styles. If your fave is IPA, then give this one a shot. Oh, by the way, Mitch Steele is the head brewer at Stone.
- How To Brew: Everything You Need To Know To Brew Beer Right The First Time by John Palmer OR The Complete Joy of Homebrewing Fourth Edition: Fully Revised and Updated by Charlie Papazian - These are both basic/intermediate homebrewing guides that have taught millions of people to homebrew. Papzian is the original "don't worry, have a homebrew," guy, he's all about having a good time with it. I've only read an earlier edition of his guide, but it's folksy and great. I've read Palmer's guide more recently, he's more of a straight to business type and he focuses more on the science of brewing, which suits me well. Both are great options. You need to know brewing basics to be a Cert Cicerone or a beer expert, so get one of these guides and read through it, then go brew!
- Mastering Homebrew: The Complete Guide to Brewing Delicious Beer by Randy Mosher - This is another work by Randy Mosher, the author of Tasting Beer. I have a copy sitting next to me, it's beautiful. Mosher is a designer as well as a great author. Mastering Homebrew can take you from your first brew all the way to an advanced level. It is a good alternative (or addition) to Palmer and/or Papazian's homebrew guides. If you're into homebrewing, get this in addition to one of the other homebrew guides above, if you're just reading one of these as CC Exam prep, pick any of the three. FYI, one of my favorite homebrewing books of all time is Mosher's Radical Brewing: Recipes, Tales and World-Altering Meditations in a Glass. When I first started brewing, Radical Brewing inspired me to have more fun and try lots of weird stuff. It can probably do the same for you.
- Michael Jackson's Great Beers of Belgium by Michael Jackson -Reading this is a write of passage. I'm not sure you can call yourself a beer geek if you've not read any Michael Jackson. He's the original beer geek. He was one of the first real "beer writers" and his passion and dedication to good beer helped bring about the craft beer movement. He's probably the single most influential beer writer of all time. He deserves a place on this list. Sadly, Jackson passes away too early, with the result that books such as this may come across as slightly dated now, but you owe it to the godfather of good beer to read some of his great work!
Beyond books, keep up with the latest beer happenings by getting a few magazines. I like Craft Beer & Brewing for its mix of homebrew and commercial beer info, All About Beer mag for the great writing, Brew Your Own is excellent for anyone into homebrewing, I also really like Draft Magazine and BeerAdvocate. Online sources I like include Boak & Bailey, Martyn Cornell, Good Beer Hunting, Maureen Ogle, Called to the Bar, Ron Pattinson, and Stan Hieronymus among others. I check in with these sites now and again.
All the reading I've done was one of the reasons I was able to crush the Certified Cicerone exam without stressing too much, was able to write the Beer Scholar Study Guides, and have the knowledge to write plenty of articles and blog posts since. I read any new beer book that interests me to keep sharp and continue learning. Whether you work your way through a bunch of the books I've recommended as part of a CC Exam study plan, or just for fun, you'll come out the other side as more or less an expert of good beer.
If you love a beer book or website I've missed, please let me know in the comments!