Beer Week 2016 has come and gone, but Philly’s love of beer is a year-long obsession. So while we wait for the next brew fest, even veteran beer geeks should take a minute to explore the many quirky intricacies of craft beer culture.
“The Beer Geek Handbook: Living a Life Ruled By Beer,” by Patrick Dawson and illustrated by Greg Klestel, captures the cool creativity of craft beer enthusiasts.
Dawson chatted with us about the book’s brilliant design, the research it took for him to put it together, his love-hate relationship with collaboration brews, and his recommendation to avoid frosty mugs at almost all costs.
This is Dawson’s second book, and it’s much different from his first, “Vintage Beer,” which is about aging beer. “The publishing process is a long and tedious one,” he explained. It’s been two years since he finished writing “The Beer Geek Handbook.”
Our Q&A is below, edited for clarity.
Patrick Dawson: There’s actually no illustration in my first book. The second one, “The Beer Geek Handbook,” was illustrated, and the guy who did it, Greg Kletsel, just killed it. He’s just such a funny guy. I’m sure I’ll get some kudos about the book being funny that need to go to him rather than me.
Marilyn D’Angelo: Well it definitely keeps things moving along. I enjoyed how everything was broken into bites — or sips, I guess you could say. Tell me about the observation process it took you to put this together? You have lots of great rules and trends and all the great stereotypes that you’ve played out that must be similar across the country, I guess. Coming from Philadelphia, it kind of hits home.
PD: It’s funny because, people ask me how long it took me to research this book, and I’ve been researching this book as long as I’ve been drinking beer. When I started getting into beer, it was through home brewing. I got in with a group of friends, and it seemed like my social network just became beer lovers and that was just my thing. And we have sort of a unique little way of loving and appreciating beers. And when I finally went to write the book, it was so easy because I’d been observing and picking up all these little tidbits for so long.
MD: Now, it’s called “Beer Geek Handbook,” but I don’t think it’s just for beer geeks. I think it’s for anybody that’s interested in beer on any level. I think it gives a very nice insight. Did you write it for the layman or the geek?
PD: I think on the surface, it’s for the layman. It’s for the person that’s getting into beer and is maybe a little intimidated by the lingo and all the different styles, and whatnot, but really in the end, I think so much of the little things I wrote were just funny little observations that fellow beer geeks would get a chuckle out of. I’m excited for my friends to finally be able to check it out and be like, “Yep, that’s exactly how we all act.” When it’s on paper, it’s all a bit ridiculous. The book had to take a humorous look at it, because you know, loving beer as much as we all do is a little funny when it’s down on paper.
MD: Yeah, I totally agree. I think it’s got a lot of good information, though. Tell me about your hatred for frosted mugs. I do appreciate a frosty mug, so I’d like to know what I’m doing wrong.
PD: Ok. No, this is great. This is a really good thing to talk about. Here’s my problem with frosted mugs. You pull a beer out of the fridge and then you pour that beer into a frosted mug. So that beer’s probably about 30 degrees or something like that. If you just mowed the lawn, it tastes great, don’t get me wrong. I love that as much as the next guy. But what it does is, it’s so cold it numbs your palate, all those taste receptors on your tongue, they just can’t pick everything up. So if you’re drinking a beer, and you’re excited about experiencing all the flavors and aromas in there, you’re sort of cutting yourself off as far as what all you’re gonna be able to sense. So if you’re just looking for a nice refreshing cold beverage after mowing the lawn, by all means, use the frosted mug. But if it’s a beer you really want to experience and appreciate, it’s definitely worthwhile to drink it, not warm by any means, but not ice cold either.
MD: Now, I also found it found it particularly funny to avoid the collabo-brew with the pickled pig hearts, the unicorn farts, and the beets. There was also a bit about Sam [Calagione] from Dogfish Head and his brewer saliva. What is your take on the obscure, the left wing, the fringe ingredient?
PD: It’s a love/hate. There’s some beers out there that use some weird, obscure, Danish cloudberries that could be amazing and so enjoyable, and it’s so much fun to talk about. But there’s also some beers out there that are using weird ingredients for the sake of using weird ingredients. It’s almost like a marketing ploy, like, “Oh, we used Japanese mint tea leaves in this Saison.” And it’s like: Really? Did you really need to do that? Or did you just want to say that?
MD: Now you told me you got into beer in the home-brew stage. Have you ever done home brewing or are you strictly a taster?
PD: I’m an avid homebrewer. I love homebrewing. It’s what first got me into beer and just sort of sent me down that path of just sort of drinking the beer and not paying that much attention. There’s just so much to learn about it, it makes it, when you do drink it , so much more enjoyable, knowing what went into that beer and all the ingredients, and the process. Anybody that’s even semi-interested in home brewing, I would definitely suggest giving it a whirl. It’s a pretty worthwhile endeavor.
MD: Now, you have a section on beer-cations, is that what you’re doing in Italy? (Note: Dawson was on vacation in Italy when we spoke)
DP: I do beer tastings everywhere I go all the time. So much of what the book is about is like the social aspects of beer. There’s a million and one books out there that talk about the different styles of beer and how you make it. But this book is really more about the lifestyle of people who have a somewhat uncomfortable obsession with beer. But one of the good things is getting together with your friends and sharing beers, because everybody’s palate has strengths and weaknesses. And when everybody’s drinking the same beer together, someone might pick up on some, say an Imperial Stout, let’s say, vanilla, that I wouldn’t have picked up necessarily. And they mention it, and it’s like, absolutely, I totally get that now. And it just makes the whole experience more fun and fulfilling, I guess.
MD: I guess I should give this last moment to your wife … tell me about her patience.
DP: My wife, who I had her write a short little section, “Patience is a Virtue: Being the Spouse/Significant Other of a Beer Geek.” If you are so into beer like myself, basically our vacations revolve around beer and everything revolves around beer, you either need a spouse that has a similar level of love for beer or at least willing to put up with it. I’m lucky in both of those departments to have a wife that loves beer as well.