We Make Beer

We Make Beer

The craft beer movement keeps growing and new stories emerge daily about brewers and their beers. Sean Lewis relates several of those stories in his new book We Make Beer. Lewis brings a reporter’s perspective and also shares personal viewpoints. This is Lewis’ first book but he has written for Beer Advocate magazine and is a skilled writer.

The craft brewers Lewis visits and writes about range from small operations just starting out to the two biggest craft brewers, Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada. He finds that some are rather casual about their brewing while others exercise strict control of their beer making. Is it okay if particular brew varies in taste from batch to batch? Depends.

Because Lewis lived in Massachusetts when he began the book and in California when he finished it, those two states’ brewers get the bulk of his attention. But he also writes about breweries in Birmingham, Nashville, Austin, Lancaster/Ephrata (Pennsylvania) and Papillion (Nebraska). The craft beer scene in Portland, anchored by Deschutes, gets its due, too.

Sean Lewis author photo_ Credit Victoria Knowles

(Sean Lewis photo by Victoria Knowles.)

Lewis offers inside looks at the brewing process and the brewery business. There’s enough detail about what goes in and what comes out of a brewing tank to satisfy most serious beer geeks. Those of us who may not care so much for the technical stuff can enjoy meeting the individuals who make beer and learning about their motivations and passions.

He spends a few pages of the book addressing the 2011 sale of Chicago’s successful craft brewer Goose Island to AB/InBev. The sale “felt like a betrayal because Anheuser-Busch had long served as the face of the enemy,” he writes.

(I’ve spoken to Goose Island and A-B folks who defend the purchase, saying the main differences are stricter safety standards, better consistency in product and wider distribution. A-B also has the power to aid in sourcing raw materials plus capacity to handle demand in other locations that can’t be met in Chicago, they say.)

Lewis mentions in a footnote that naming a favorite beer is “an impossible question to answer.” But, he writes, “If I had to choose one beer to drink for the rest of my life, it would be Firestone Walker’s Pale 31.” I’ll be checking this weekend to find out if anybody in St. Louis has it!

Click HERE to purchase We Make Beer from Amazon.


Shop Like A Chef—Get This Book!

Clara Moore and Matt Sorrell (pictured below) have delivered an excellent book with great information about where to buy food in metro St. Louis. As a contributor to their Kickstarter fund which helped get the book published, I am happy to report that the book has tons of useful content.

Shop Like A Chef: A Food Lover’s Guide To St. Louis Neighborhoods assembles retail food sources first by neighborhood, then (in greater detail) by the food they offer.

Clara and Matt

And it includes recipes!  They include a variety of dishes ranging from gumbo to asparagus Milanese to Mexican wedding cookies to Sopska salata to buttermilk fried chicken to roasted eggplant “meatloaf.”

The book gives suburbanites who rarely enter St. Louis city (except for Cardinals games) numerous ideas for places to score food items not carried by the major chains. Or, if the items are available at chain grocers, the smaller shops may offer fresher versions or ethnic variations.

Likewise, for those city dwellers who have heard of places like Ballwin but never ventured there, SLAC:AFLGTSLN mentions stores like The Smokehouse Market (Chesterfield), Jalisco Market (Overland) and Piccolino’s (Ferguson).

SLAC cover

Shop Like A Chef can help you plan for entertaining whether it’s a gourmet dinner or a sports-watching party. By suggesting new possibilities or rekindling a memory of something you read about in Bon Appetit ten years ago, SLAC:AFLGTSLN is a good resource for people who like to eat and especially for those who like to cook.

Like a huge plate of baba ghanoush (recipe on page 175), Shop Like A Chef can be savored in small bites or gobbled up in one sitting. If you love shopping for food and then preparing that food, get this book. And use it.

List price is 15.95. Click HERE for a list of bookstores and grocery stores that carry Shop Like A Chef. It is also available from Amazon.

A Century of Restaurants

Rick Browne traveled 46,000 miles over three years to visit America’s oldest restaurants. He has included 100 of them in his new book A Century of Restaurants: Stories and Recipes from 100 of America’s Most Historic and Successful Restaurants. (You may know Browne from TV’s Barbeque America.)

Century bookDid anybody from St. Louis make the list? Sadly, no. Crown Candy Kitchen turns 100 this year and it’s apparent that the author and his editors assembled the lineup of one hundred eateries before 2013 began.

There is one Missouri restaurant included. It’s the Savoy Grill in Kansas City. (Hey, the book is published by Andrews McMeel whose HQ in KC is just a few blocks from the Savoy!)

It is admirable that Rick Browne included funky joints in out-of-the-way places along with classy establishments in large cities. M & M Cigar Store in Butte, Montana and Hudson’s Hamburgers in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho are included along with Peter Luger Steakhouse in Brooklyn and Columbia in Ybor City (Tampa-St. Pete metro), Florida.


I have dined at two of the featured restaurants, Antoine’s in New Orleans and The Bright Star in Bessemer, Alabama. In fact, my wife and I threw a 50th anniversary party for my parents at The Bright Star.

The book is leans a bit to the northeast in its choices, mainly because that is the oldest part of the U.S. The state of New York has 12 restaurants, Massachusetts has 8 and Pennsylvania has 6.

When thumbing through A Century of Restaurants, I thought of the country song recorded by Hank Snow, Asleep at the Wheel and Johnny Cash called I’ve Been Everywhere (click title to hear it). Rick Browne has been everywhere, even to Winnemucca, Nevada (made semi-famous by the song) to spotlight The Martin Hotel.

A Century of Restaurants has gorgeous photos—Mr. Browne takes great pics to go with his words—along with recipes that look amazing. If you love food and travel, get this book! List price is 40.00. Amazon has it for 24.00, with a Kindle version for 7.99. Available 10/15/13.

My review of Cooked by Michael Pollan

Like one of the whole grain bread loaves he bakes in Cooked, Michael Pollan’s new book is dense. He packs a large amount of information and opinion in this volume, almost all of it enlightening and entertaining.

With a combination of scholarly research, field reporting and personal experiences, Pollan brings us a book whose style ranges from breezy conversation to collegiate textbook.

In Cooked, Pollan suggests that cooking was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, boon to human civilization. Because cooked food was easier to digest, we didn’t need to spend as much time chewing as our ancestors did. Therefore, early man had more time to do other important things. Cooked food allowed more consumption of meat, resulting in bigger brains for our species.


Pollan offers a long list of reasons why cooking is a good thing. He bemoans the fact that we are outsourcing more and more of our cooking to corporations. Those include food manufacturers, fast food chains, even your local grocer.

He breaks cooking down into four categories: fire, water, air (baking) and earth (fermentation). His travels take him across the US and the world to visit and, in some cases, work with knowledgeable figures in the world of barbecue, bread making, cheese making and home brewing. He also visits a Wonder Bread bakery to see how they do it.

He tries different kinds of cooking at his own home in Berkeley, California. He roasts a whole pork shoulder. He braises meats and other foods with one of his writing students, who just happens to cook at Berkeley’s acclaimed restaurant Chez Panisse. He bakes loaf after loaf of bread in his kitchen. He brews beer at home and at a friend’s home.

Pollan is not an impartial writer. He incorporates his opinions freely, but seems to be a generally fair observer of all that he sees, hears, tastes, smells and touches. He can be funny. He admits that kneading bread dough is a bit of a turn-on.

You may want to read this book with a highlighter in hand, so you can mark memorable passages and refer to them later. Cooked has factoids and metaphors galore.

You may, after reading, have a sudden desire for slow-cooked barbecue or fresh whole grain bread. You may also want to spend time in your own kitchen tonight, cooking from scratch instead of picking up a meal to reheat at home. Such a choice would make Michael Pollan happy.