The Comic Book Story of Beer: The World’s Favorite Beverage from 7000 BC to Today’s Craft Brewing Revolution

The Comic Book Story of Beer: The World's Favorite Beverage from 7000 BC to Today's Craft Brewing RevolutionPerhaps it depends on the topic and the artist depicting it, but I’ve become convinced that the graphic novel as a medium for narrating history–at a high level, at least–is a large well of untapped potential. Jonathan Hennessey’s contributions in this vein are simply fantastic, and although I give this third entry one fewer star than the others, it’s only because the first two (on the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address, respectively) are top-notch and hard to beat.
The Comic Book Story of Beer starts with pre-historic man and the fermented drinks they consumed, and then touches on the many ways beer has been a sidekick to most of world history. Long before science came along to articulate what was actually happening with the drying of grain, the fermenting process, the discovery of yeast, and more, people interacted with beer in ways varying from mysticism and superstition to economic exploitation. Along the way, as the book covers the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and European peoples, we get “profiles” of different styles of brew: Lambic, Trappist Dubbel, Bock, Porter, India Pale Ale, Pilsner, American L ager, American Pale Ale, and Belgian Wit. The reader will learn about international bitter units (IBUs) and other qualitative measurements of beer that have only been developed in the twentieth century.
My favorite part of the book, composed of the final two chapters, chronicles the decline of beer (due to Prohibition in the USA and homogenized mediocrity in Europe) followed by its incredible resurgence in recent years. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, virtually all of the small craft breweries were extinct and only the big corporate ones had enough capital and energy to get back into the market. This led to the much-maligned era of mediocre, mild-tasting, homogenous American lagers sold by Coors, Anheuser-Busch, and others. But starting in the 1970s and 80s, a craft beer resurgence began in earnest, and it has exploded in popularity–even to the point where Europe, the grandfather of modern brews, is now importing American beers. It was American ingenuity and entrepreneurship that brought back experimentation to the brewing process, as well as broaden the market and Americans’ tastes, and they managed to revitalize and save many different styles that were all but extinct in Europe.
The numbers are telling. In 1979 there were only 44 breweries in America. As of 2015 there are over 3,200 of them, and over 2,000 more are reportedly in the works. We truly are living in a golden age of beer creativity. I fully agree with the book’s closing sentence: “The rising and falling oceans of history make themselves known in every sip of beer.”

The Comic Book Story of Beer: The World’s Favorite Beverage from 7000 BC to Today’s Craft Brewing Revolution Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

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