Imagine my face when I saw, several months after I had set up this site, that there was a Beer Wench in America?
To say that Ashley Routson (aka The Beer Wench) is a social media savvy beer educator is almost a disservice. She’s one of the original beer bloggers and probably the most savvy personal brand in beer around, with over 33,000 twitter followers clocked and constantly posting on most platforms. She has contributed to the Brewer’s Association’s site CraftBeer.com, is the founder of the social media holiday #IPADay, and has been featured in DRAFT Magazine, BeerAdvocate and Time.com.
So when news spread that she was authoring a beer guide, titled “The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer: An Unpretentious Guide in Craft Beer”, the main response from those following her career with interest was “about damn time”.
One of the things I kind of like about Ashley is just how much of a polarizing effect she has on people. I’ve known very few people in the middle of the love/hate sections when it comes to her. Her article on Thrillst titled “6 DIRTY LIES MEN SPREAD ABOUT WOMEN AND BEER” brought forth a MASSIVE wave of reactions. Long, thought-out articles have been devoted to tearing apart or lifting up her opinions. Hell, there are long articles and discussions devoted to her relevance, which in turn makes her relevant. It is with all this and more in mind that, with some trepidation, I go ahead with a review of her book.
A lot of beer guides for the uninitiated (and there ARE a lot of them) tend to follow a pretty standard formula. Basics of beer (ingredients, how to brew), beer style descriptions, beer tips (how to pour, how to cellar, glassware guide, how to taste), pairing beer with food, recipes to make with beer, and sometimes beer cocktail recipes. It’s standard, and something that is found in nearly all beer guide books, but they really are the foundations to understanding things. At least to start with. What makes the books unique from one another is the way this knowledge is written. Some fantastic notable examples for me are Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer, Christina Perozzi & Hallie Beaune’s Naked Pint, and most recently Mirella Amato’s Beerology. Each author brings in their own unique style and experiences to their book and, to me anyways, I like having more than one guide around because I can consult the book that I feel has a particular strength in the specific subject that I’m looking up.
For me the most notable strengths in The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer is clearly the food recipe and beer cocktail recipe sections. Food recipes have oftentimes been a bit of an afterthought, but Routson has used selected recipes of her own, from breweries, and from friends which look tantalizing. Notably there are recipes for tacos, cerveza carnitas, and beer mole, which suggest a bit more of an upped game from the standard recipes on offer in other guides.
Where Routson’s creativity really shines through though, is the cocktail sections. With most of the recipes formulated by herself, we see such cocktails made with bourbon, gin, rum, tequila, mezcal, vodka…and all with beer as an ingredient. While cocktails personally aren’t my bag, some of these look and sound quite delicious and have me looking at my cocktail shaker with a bit of longing.
When we get more into the guts of the BEER section of this beer book, things start to feel a bit disjointed. The glass section has no pictures of the four types of glasses it’s describing, which can be confusing to a newcomer. Additionally her beer style guide, while good for someone unfamiliar with the styles, doesn’t quite stand up well when stacked up against Mosher, Amato, and Perozzi/Beaune’s books.
In the end I think the biggest problem with this book is one of tone and pace. Routson does her damndest to use all these incredible raw facts about beer and work them in to her own unique tone, but the end result is something that ventures into way too internet-focused casual territory, seems slightly jammed in to make it fit, and is more rushed than leisurely in pace. For much of this book I think the knowledge would have clicked with me more if Routson and I were in a bar together and she was talking about this stuff in person, but that voice being separated from it’s source and into a book makes it somewhat jarring. Unfortunately, that’s one of the hardships of writing a book of this type. Making it all fit, working it out in a way that makes it easy to read and understand, while also setting itself apart as an individual among many books touching on the same topic. While there are several moments in this book where Routson succeeds admirably in this, there are other points where those challenges become more evident.
One of the things I admire about Routson is her ability to put herself out there, and say to hell with the haters (they are just gonna hate, after all). The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer is very much an extension of her being and so intrinsically HER that you almost have to respect it for unapologetically being there.