Sometimes love comes before understanding. Such was the case with Lucy Burningham and beer. A particularly intriguing IPA awakened her brew palate, cementing an already passionate relationship with the beverage, but before she had an expert’s understanding of what, exactly, she was tasting.
In the midst of exploding interest in craft beers, Burningham committed to up her beer knowledge by becoming a cicerone (think: the brewer’s version of a sommelier). She chronicles that complicated undertaking in My Beer Year (Roost Books), a funny, informative, and irresistible work that moves between home brew shops and beer fests, taste tests and European nations, all in pursuit of keen brew knowledge. We asked Burningham about this project and more.
Now that you’re a certified cicerone, can you suggest some pairings? The perfect beer to go with a long afternoon of reading alone, say. The perfect beer for inauguration day. The perfect beer for book club.
I love the idea that pairings can be considered for moments, places and activities (not just food). Let’s see, the perfect beer for a long afternoon of reading? I’d recommend a Belgian Quadrupel (otherwise known as a Quad). It’s a strong, rich beer that can comes alive at warmer temperatures (60 degrees Fahrenheit) and is best served in a snifter or goblet. That would make it a great coffee table companion; you wouldn’t be in a rush to drink the whole thing while it was cold. Inauguration day might call for something patriotic, like 21st Amendment’s Brew Free or Die IPA. I think it would be cool to choose a book club’s beer based on the reading selection. A British novel would definitely call for a nice ale–a smooth and sweet brown ale or a chocolatey stout.
Your book involves a lot of travel—to beer fests and Belgium and back. What adventure would you most recommend that people undertake in order to best develop themselves as thoughtful beer drinkers?
One that’s much easier than traveling to big beer fests or crossing international borders. I recommend people slow down and take a moment to really appreciate whatever beer they’re drinking. Look at its color and head. Smell the aromas in the glass. Then ask yourself what the beer reminds you of: is it a place, a smell, or a moment (real or imagined)? Then don’t be afraid to be curious. If you’re at a brewpub, ask about ingredients or how the beer was made. If you live near a homebrew shop, see if you can join a class or a brew club. I learned so much by brewing my own beer at home.
Has spending this much time learning about beer changed your relationship to it, and how?
When I was studying for the test, beer became decidedly less fun, which was a little painful, to be honest. Like most people, I like to drink beer to relax, but as a student of beer, I had to give up that luxury for a little while. But it was worth it! I appreciate beer so much more now, and I never take a good beer for granted. Not to worry, I’ve recovered from the study days, and I’m able to simply enjoy a beer now.
Can you tell us about the experience of working with Roost Books to bring My Beer Year to press?
I feel so lucky to have worked with Roost. My editor, Jennifer Urban-Brown, was incredibly supportive throughout the writing process. Some of her early feedback on a few of my chapters in-progress helped guide and shape the narrative. And I’ve felt so bolstered by the whole Roost team. They really believed in this book from the start. (Also, I’m positive not many book authors have publishers that made drink coasters printed with their book covers!)
What projects are you working on next?
I’m still writing about beer as much as possible, and I’m doing some beer judging. I’d love to work with chefs on creating deeper beer programs in restaurants. And I’m working on getting back to Europe for more beer study. My foray into Germany, which is in the book, made me thirsty for more time in that country. There’s so much to learn there.
What do you most hope that people take away from your learning adventure in My Beer Year?
Even though beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in this country (by far), the craft brewing industry is still just three decades old. So this idea of beer as something that can be paired with food and something that expresses terroir is still new. I hope my book helps people will realize that beer is a beautifully complex drink that deserves our attention. Also, I hope each chapter makes them thirsty for a pint. Or ten!
Michelle Anne Schingler is the managing editor at Foreword Reviews. She may stack up all beers against Guinness, but she’s impressed by the craft brew movement, too. You can follow her on Twitter @mschingler or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michelle Anne Schingler