Book Review: Beer: Tap Into the Art and Science of Brewing by Charles Bamforth

Beer: Tap Into the Art and Science of Brewing (1998) by Charles Bamforth is my selection for the March Book-A-Month Challenge: Craft. Creating beer is certainly a wonderful human craft and Charlie Bamforth examines it from historical, global, and scientific angles. In a sense this could be a textbook for a science course on brewing with much detail on the chemistry, physics, and biology involved in making a good brew. For all that it is quite readable, if you keep in mind that my brain skims over the more complex scientific parts.

Here are some facts about beer I learned from this book:

  • Brewing beer is an ancient art going back to prehistoric times. From archaeological evidence at an Egyptian site, brewers Scottish and Newcastle were able to recreate an 3,000-year old recipe which they sold as Tutankhamun Ale. – p. 17
  • Since the late 80’s Coors has shipped their beer from Colorado to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia for packaging, bringing a little bit of the Rockies to the Appalachians. – p. 32
  • Boiling, fermentation, and anaerobic packaging of beer are all inhospitable to microorganisms, so drinking beer is often safer than drinking water. Something to remember when traveling abroad. – p. 73
  • Hops are unusual among agricultural products in that their solitary outlet is for brewing. “Although hopping acounts for much less than 1% of the price of a pint of beer, it has a disproportionate effect on product quality and, accordingly, much attention has been lavished on the hop and its chemistry.” – p. 102-103
  • The major starch-degrading enzyme in fermentation is the same as that in human saliva. In some cultures brewers start fermentation with their own spit! – p. 120
  • Brewing is a water-intensive process with as many as 20 liters of water used to create one liter of beer, although many brewers attempt to be much more efficient. – p. 123
  • In medieval times, the strains of yeast used for brewing were known as goddisgoode. “Saccharomyces cerevisae, then, is a busy beast. Apart from being the workhorse of the brewery, it is responsible for the production of cider, wine, spirits, and some other alcoholic beverages. And as every cook knows, it is essential for production of life’s other staple food, bread.” – p. 137
  • Beer is essentially the excretions of yeast. – p. 151-152
  • Filtration is done with one of two filter-aids: kieselguhr which is the fossils of primitive organisms or perlite which is a volcanic glass. – p. 159
  • Beers advertised as not being heat-treated are basically just marketing gimmicks since boiling beer does not significantly affect the flavor. – p. 164
  • Army Air Corps General Curtis LeMay played a role in creating the keg when US airmen stationed in East Anglia during WWII did not take a liking to the traditional cask-conditioned ales of England. – p. 167
  • Bamforth claims that being a quality assurance beer taster in a brewery is not as fun as it sounds, although I’d still love to find out for myself. – p. 183

So this is a great book, I’d reccomend to anyone who likes beer, brewing, and/or science.
Incidentally, while reading this book I came across this review of another book about beer, Fermenting Revolution: How To Drink Beer and Save the World by Christopher O’Brien, which may be next on my list when I want to read about beer.

Book Review: Googling God by Mike Hayes

I’m a fan of Mike Hayes from the BustedHaloCast so I read his book Googling God: The Religious Landscape of People in their 20s and 30s (2007). This thin volume is basically a guide for ministers to young adults in the Catholic Church, although I read it more as a young adult looking for ministry. Like libraries, the Church is good at ministering to children, teens, parents, and the elderly, but skip right over the (unmarried and childless) people in their 20’s and 30’s.

Hayes’ first lesson is the difference between people in their 20’s (the Millenials) and their 30’s (Generation X). Generation X tend to more progressive in their worship and seek community at their churches. The Millenials look more for contemplative worship and are more orthodox in their beliefs (or at least seek hard and fast answers to faith questions). Hayes conducts interviews with 6 people of each generation to learn about the typical faith stories of young adults today. I appreciate Hayes honesty when he disagrees with the opinions of the young adults he interviews, but finds value and importance in their beliefs all the same.

In the later chapters Hayes offers useful resources for ministering to Young Adults. This includes a critique of World Youth Day (the Pope’s biennial celebration with Catholic teens and young adults), a checklist for starting a young adult ministry at one’s church, and helpful tips for using technology and new media to attract and retain young adults. This is a very useful resources for those who want to learn about this important ministry written in a warm, readable style. Who knows? Maybe as I grow too old to be a young adult, I may be called to mentor the next generation.

Book Review: The Misunderstood Jew by Amy-Jill Levine

The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (2006) by Amy-Jill Levine is like Jesus Before Christianity in that it puts Jesus in a historical context of his time.  Levine is a Jewish scholar with a lifelong interest in Jesus and Christianity.  Her simple thesis for this book is that Jesus was a good Jewish person who taught Jewish people in a Jewish land.  Not a hard concept, but a great amount of Christian scholarship and theology attempts to deemphasize Jesus’ Jewishness whether intentionally or not.

Levine is particularly concerned with anti-Judiasm that arises from certain interpretations of the Gospels and epistles.  This particularly happens when in attempt to set aside Jesus as unique, the Jewish people and/or leaders of his time are depicted as monolithic, obsessively rule-following, unconcerned with the poor and outcast, and particularly oppressive to women.  The danger is that such polar views create dangerous stereotypes of Judaism in the 1st century and today.

This is an excellent work, and I learned a lot about Judaism and Christianity.  It also helps understand and emphasize Jesus and his teachings in new and exciting ways.

Book Review: The Rapture Exposed by Barbara R. Rossing

Revelation is a difficult book of the Bible to understand so I turned to The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation (2004) by Barbara R. Rossing for some insight. I was particularly intrigued by the subtitle since Revelation is known for his scary, albeit symbolic, imagery. First order of business for Rossing is pointedly unraveling the theology of the Rapture. I’ve long known this to be a bogus teaching, but didn’t know a lot of the details. Turns out the Rapture originated less than 200 years ago in a school of thought called dispensationalism and is based on some selective literal readings of scripture verses sprinkled through the Bible mixed with some complete fabrication. Rossing points out the disturbing implications of Rapture belief including a lack of concern among dispensationalists for the earth and its people today as well as our government’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

The second half of the book works through the imagery and symbolism of the book of Revelation. In Rossing’s interpretation, Revelation is a book of love and hope for a future where the earth is renewed and God dwells among us. Not that Revelation is so much a prediction of the future as a depiction of the world in the time it was written when Israel and many other lands were under the wicked domination of Rome. The victory over Rome and evil is led by a meek, sacrificial animal the lamb (representing Christ) who fights not with swords but with words and love. This is a great book for a hopeful understanding of this oft-misunderstood book of scripture.

While “Revelation has acquired the reputation of being a book of considerable blood and terror,” [Lee] Griffith argues, this reputation “may not be so well deserved.” Revelation does not advocate the use of violence or bloodshed. Revelation is more a book about terror defeated than terror inflicted, “which is why worship and liturgy are such a central feature of the book.” – p. 119

As I have suggested, Revelation carefully redefines the word “conquer” to make clear that the Lamb and his followers conquer only by their testimony and faithfulness — not by making war or killing. War is something done against God’s people by evil beasts and by Rome, not something that God’s saints or the Lamb practice in this book. Two verses of Revelation do indeed refer to Jesus as “making war” — Revelation 2:16 and 19:11 — but the way he makes war is crucial. Jesus makes war not with a sword of battle but “by the sword of his mouth.” The word is Jesus’ only weapon — this is a reversal as unexpected as the substitution of a lamb for a lion. These reversals undercut violence by empasizing Jesus’ testimony and the word of God. – p. 121

Revelation gives us eyes to see God’s tree with lights on it, the biblical tree of life in our midst! Revelation gives us eyes to see the whole world with a kind of sacramental vision.

One of the most powerful ways to experience such a sacramental vision is through worship. Whether in first-century Ephesus or on the place where you live today, the “Aha” experience of worship takes you on an apocalyptic journey again and again, bring Revelation’s visions to life through singing, praying, hearing the words of scripture, and sharing in bread and wine. In the liturgy you actually go into heaven to taste and see God’s water of life, given without price. You gather with God’s people at the river, you join with all the living creatures in praising God around the throne. You journey with them to the radiant, holy city, and you taste its gifts, given for you. — p. 161

Revelation’s vision for us, for our world, is a vision in which we do not leave earth behind. Instead, we go more deeply into the world — into the world that God created and still calls “good.” We follow the river flowing under our feet; we see the world with new eyes. The message of Revelation is that the place where we will see the river of God flowing from the throne is in the world, in the middle of our city. The storyline of Revelation ends on earth. — p. 169