Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book review (#7 of 2013) Beer is Proof that God Loves Us: Reaching for the Soul of Beer and Brewing by Charles Bamforth

This book popped up as free for Kindle one day in 2010 and I downloaded it because it reminded me of this Keith Walters post on alcohol and Scripture. I hadn't thought about it much until we were in Turkey, where we befriended a Lutheran family via our church, the husband of which is an avid home brewer (as is apparently a requirement of Lutheran males). He hosted  beer-brewing & NFL-watching nights attended by many expat Christians and curious Turks, good times had by all.

Bamforth is a PhD chemist from the U.K. who holds a chair endowed by Anheuser-Busch at UC Davis. He has worked in research and development in the beer industry and has chronicled its development over the last few decades. To my surprise, the book was nothing about God at all, it's simply a treatise on the art and economics of beer brewing.

Bamforth chronicles the merger/buy-outs of the beer industry as centuries-old companies swallow other centuries-old companies. He discusses the economies of scale and what they mean for brewing. He explains some of the history, the quality control, and health benefits of beer. (Beer has many more potential benefits for you than your Coke, Dr. Pepper, etc.) He also provides some anecdotes from his international travels about the various types of beer being produced abroad.

Beer has been brewed for thousands of years (Bamforth claims the Sumerians were first, but this NY Times article last month put forth even earlier dates) and anthropologists consider it to be important to the development of civilization. Bamforth laments that such a sophisticated drink is now marketed as a juvenile product to college-aged delinquents:

"It certainly has been an uphill battle for me endeavoring to spread messages of moderation and that beer ought to be a beneficial, welcome, and wholesome aspect of an adult’s lifestyle when I am confronted by imagery of flatulent horses and soccer ball juggling turtles as an aide to selling beer." (Loc. 1260)
Bamforth has been annoyed by the neo-prohibitionist culture in the U.S., and does spend a chapter or so defending beer consumption from its critics. He points out the irony that the original colonists migrating from England believed that alcohol consumption was essential for their survival (the title of the book is from a Benjamin Franklin quote). Beer was actually not in the crosshairs of early prohibitionists, seen as not a problem compared to stronger alcohol. (The author would find Kentucky's free-smoking but anti-alcohol laws quite annoying, I'm sure). Bamforth is Episcopalian by upbringing. He offers a quote from C.S. Lewis, who was known to enjoy a pint in his day:

"An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons—marriage, or meat, or beer, or cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning." (Loc. 1741)
But for Dr. Bamforth, beer isn't his passion-- it's his job. I appreciated his candidness that although he is a renowned expert on the subject, he could take it or leave it:

"I work with beer as I do the thing that fills me with joy: teach. In truth, it would not matter what I was teaching. My joy is in the performing, the transfer of information."

I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5. If you want to know a lot more about beer than you currently do, check it out. Alas, it appears it's no longer free for Kindle.

1 comment: said...

I snagged this back when it was a free on kindle too. Sounds interesting.