Saturday, January 4, 2014

Book Review: The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook

I have been looking forward to reading The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook ever since David Ort mentioned it on his twitter feed. 

This is a good base book for someone wanting to understand the intersection of beer and food and why it is a better choice. This is in contrast to wine. I'm not sure that wine is this versatile and I'm not sure that I want to use an expensive wine to figure out that I don't like a recipe. Give me a cheaper alternative like beer and then it is less of a barrier for experimenting, more latitude for making mistakes.

The introduction goes over some basics that will be familiar to those that are both beer drinkers and foodies. It covers subjects like beer styles, beer ingredients, and recipe ingredients. There is a pragmatic tone to most of the prose. Where you don't need a particular piece of equipment but it is nice to have, the note is there. This is not a dogmatic recipe book. It is not an over expansive section and that makes it accessible to those starting on this crazy journey. The basic information is there to act as either a guide for the novice or a set of crib notes for those who have already begun.

Sprinkled throughout are profiles of interesting craft beer people and places. This shows off David's blogging and magazine background. These are interesting little snippets to break up what could be the regular monotony of a cookbook. I appreciated these bits but his head notes are so thoughtful that I am not sure these were needed. Sometimes using specifics as a touchstone can date a cookbook but I have a further thought on that later.

Not all recipes have beer or beer ingredients as part of the recipe but all have recommended pairings. The pairings tend to have a Canadian element along with a more internationally available beer. This highlights Canadian beer while  recognizing that the beer might not be available across Canada.  This also makes the book relevant to a larger international audience for books about beer pairing and food.

There are many traditional recipes that are adapted to some brands of today. Classic beer culture countries are well represented with a few Asian treats. Some of the pairings intrigued me but it was always clear why the choice was made, largely because David Ort tells you why he made the choice and what the purpose was. Along with the notes in the front about beer styles, you can begin to approach your own pairings.

I was suprised to find two recipes that call for hop shoots. I never thought about eating hop shoots but in the space of a few weeks, I have come upon two other references. In Elizabeth David's, On Vegetables, there is great story on bruscandoli or loertis or brucelando or wild aspargus or luppoli. It turns out that this extremely limited seasonal ingredient is available all around Italy where it is available only for a short time in the spring. There is mention of how it was served and it is nothing like the recipes in David Ort's cookbook. Though there is something in his style that reminds me of her writing. There are other cultures that serve hop shoots, for example in Belgium, they are called jets de houblon. The second reference was in a bathroom type reader How to be a Better Foodie by Sudi Pigott where it was talked about as being a seasonal foodie treat like ramps or wild mushrooms.

This genius of this book is that with the continued proliferation of breweries and resuscitation of styles in Canada, there is definitely going to be an updated version at some time. As more restaurants take up the beer pairing, there are other options for a good blog on beer pairings and possibly a continuing series. Of course, that might be wishful thinking on my part. The recipes are fairly safe, standard and beer friendly. It would be nice to see a few more recipes that push the envelope but this is a good first book about Canadian Craft Beer and food. It would make a good choice for the budding beer geek on your list.

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