Jeff Alworth talks about the new edition of ‘The Beer Bible’

Author will be in Atlanta Nov. 1 at New Realm Brewing
Jeff Alworth, author of "The Beer Bible," will visit Atlanta Nov. 1 for a discussion with New Realm Brewing brewmaster Mitch Steele.
Courtesy of Sally Alworth

Credit: Sally Alworth

Credit: Sally Alworth

Jeff Alworth, author of "The Beer Bible," will visit Atlanta Nov. 1 for a discussion with New Realm Brewing brewmaster Mitch Steele. Courtesy of Sally Alworth

Jeff Alworth is a Portland, Oregon, author who writes the Beervana blog and co-hosts the “Beervana” podcast and radio show. His best-known book, “The Beer Bible” (Workman, $24.95), first published in 2015, was substantially revised and updated for a 2021 second edition.

I caught up with Alworth by phone last week during a leg of a national book tour that will take him to New Realm Brewing in Atlanta on Nov. 1 for a discussion with brewmaster Mitch Steele.

Here’s an edited version of our Q&A, which started with Alworth noting that he’d visited Atlanta during the book tour for the first edition.

"The Beer Bible" by Jeff Alworth (Workman, $24.95).

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

Q: Could you talk a bit about the beginnings of “The Beer Bible”?

A: The idea came from the publisher. They had a book called “The Wine Bible” that was really successful, and they thought it would be cool if they did a “Beer Bible.” So I had to take what was essential from “The Wine Bible” and convert it to beer. It took two years. There was historical research, and fieldwork, and then the writing. The book is 230,000 words, so there was a lot of writing.

Q: What’s new for 2021?

A: When I wrote the first edition, I had the idea that it would be an evergreen book. What I didn’t anticipate is how much American IPA would transform things. They had not only changed beer in the United States but they had begun influencing beer worldwide as the important and popular craft style.

Q: Is it a good thing that IPA is becoming dominant in American brewing and spilling over to other countries?

A: In one way, it’s completely predictable that the United States, as it became a more mature beer culture, would focus on a particular type or category of beer. That’s exactly what happens in other places where you have a mature beer culture. You’ve seen these periods in the history of beer where national traditions are born. Brewers start brewing in a way no one else has brewed before. And it always looks weird to everybody else. But we haven’t had one of those in well over 100 years. The fact that we’re seeing that happen now is very exciting.

"The Beer Bible" by Jeff Alworth includes a beer map of the U.S.
Courtesy of Workman Publishing

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

Q: I see a return to Old World tradition at some smaller American breweries. I couldn’t be happier with the number of Atlanta breweries making lagers now. What do you see?

A: The American craft beer brewery model has revolutionized the way people make beer worldwide. In one way, it seems really new and a novel way of thinking about beer. Really, it’s just because following the world wars, everything became ultra homogenized. But, historically, there has always been small-scale brewing. In fact, often in many places, it was a domestic task, not a commercial one. So we’re really returning to a traditional way of making beer. And it’s in that small-scale approach where all the dynamism has always been. Craft brewers are both the keepers of tradition and the innovators.

Q: What’s your take on the term “craft beer”? Is it less useful than it once was? I tend to think so.

A: I agree. Humans have to use language to try to distinguish between a brewery that’s making 5 million barrels of beer at a big industrial plant and a brewery that’s making 500 barrels of beer at a tiny little corner brewpub. But if you scratch the surface, it doesn’t really make very much sense. That small craft brewery may be making a seltzer, just like Anheuser-Busch. I have always had a lot of problems with the Brewers Association defining craft breweries and craft beer. Big breweries sometimes make exceptional beer, and often extremely traditional and interesting beer. And little breweries often make crappy beer or seltzer or stuff that we wouldn’t consider highly artisanal.

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