The Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer by Ron Pattison

This entry is part 40 of 40 in the series 2022 Reads

As always, I’m posting this a while after actually finishing the book.


Supposedly, I read this book a few years ago… but I don’t really remember doing so. Perhaps that’s the result of sleep-deprivation, since the time when I (supposedly) read it, my son was very young. In any case, I thought I’d get a refresher on English beers, and this fall I might brew up a few of them. 

I’m without the two brewing books I used to find most useful and/or inspiring while planning out my brewing, what that was a more frequent pursuit: Ray Daniels’ Designing Great Beers and Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing. I do intend to get both again—secondhand copies are very affordable, I just haven’t brewed enough to justify the expense—but when I picked up The Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer, it was because rather than feeling like wild experimentation, I wanted to know more about traditional English ales, and Ron Pattison’s more than demonstrated mastery of that topic on his popular blog, Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.

I don’t really go in for the American fixation on “beer styles”: I perceive that  as kind of a simulacrum of how brewing cultures and practices really worked historically, and a product of the artificial categorization system that was (necessarily) invented for dividing up entries into brewing competitions. In reality, every brewery and each little town kind of had their own way of doing things, in the light of the grains available, the local water profile and climate, and the preferences of those making and drinking it. 

Still, I think there can be value in trying out different historical recipes, if only to get a better sense of the range of things that were done in the past, and I can’t think of a better guide to the British beers than Ron Pattison. 

The Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beers is a smallish, spiral-bound hardback book that follows a pretty straightforward structure: after a few introductory chapters (on ingredients and historical brewing techniques), Pattison discusses a series of traditional beer types—porter, stout, IPA, pale ale/bitter, Light Bitter/Light Ale, Mild Ale, Stock Ale/Burton Ale, Scottish Ales, Brown Ale, and a couple of European styles (Broyhan, Grätzer, Salvator, and Kotbusser). For each type, there’s a short discussion of the beer’s general characteristics, history, and then a sampling of recipes Pattison collected from historical sources. 

The historical discussions are mostly brief and simple, even when Pattison takes up the challenge of dispelling some of the fantasies that have accreted around IPAs: the main attraction is the recipes and the commentary on them, and these are invaluable, an embarrassment of riches really. For me, the biggest surprise was how extensive use of invert sugars and caramels in English beers: I hadn’t known about that, and had been under the impression—due to American homebrewer propaganda, I suppose—that “all grain” (even if that meant adjunct grains, like flaked corn or oats) was how things were done back in the day, at least everywhere outside Belgium. Not that I took that all that seriously: I’ve never had a prejudice against the use of sugars or invert sugars or caramels in beers, myself, but it’s something a lot of homebrewers rail against as heretical, probably as much due to received wisdom as to bad experiences with actually putting too much raw cane sugar into beers as an adjunct. 

Of course, one can only read so many recipes in a single sitting (or, in my case, two sittings) and still process the differences between them, but a read-through helped me see which recipes I’d like to try out. I’ll post whatever I do get around to brewing up, when I do it. I’m not brewing till after my family moves next month, as I prefer not to have movers struggle with a bucket or carboy full of beer and I won’t have time for bottling before the move. Fall and winter are more salutary for brewing anyway, so it’s not a hardship to wait, especially when I have so many options to sort through, as I’m not sure I’ll be brewing more than two or three of these vintage beers this year at most.

 

Mammoths of the Great Plains by Eleanor Arnason

This entry is part 39 of 40 in the series 2022 Reads

As always, I’m posting this a while after actually finishing the book.


Mammoths of the Great Plains is a volume from PM Press’s wonderful Outspoken Authors series, of which I’ve read a few others—and have at least one or two more waiting to be read. Everything else I’ve read from the series has been excellent, and I really enjoyed Arnason’s Hidden Folk, plus my friend Justin praised it a few years back, so I was eager to give it a try. 

The book contains three pieces, and only one of them (the title story) is fiction. That story is one that really impressed me. Arnason’s handling of the subject matter—an alternate history where mammoths survived into modern times, and a Native woman developed a preservation system for mammoth tissue in the hope of bringing them back from their impending extinction—is nuanced, thoughtful, and just plain fascinating. (Especially since it’s told in the form of a story told by the woman’s daughter to the woman’s great-granddaughter.) I’m a white Canadian, so who knows if my sense is right, but it feels like Arnason’s done her homework, approached the real-world culture of her characters with respect, and drawn a picture that feels very true what I do know about the historical experience of plains Native communities in the US and Canada. But more than that, the story impressed me with how deftly its politicality are intertwined with genuinely fascinating storytelling. And it is a political story, to be sure: it’s feminist, it’s environmentalist, it’s about racism and settler colonialism in America, but it’s also a great story, and definitely a highlight of this year’s reading.  

The second piece in the book is “Writing Science Fiction During World War Three.” It’s a speech she gave at Wiscon in 2004, except she updated it for the publication in 2010. In it Arnason asks questions about what kind of a time we’re living through, working through (and connecting) several really timely ideas about the changing nature of nation states, warfare, and the state of the world, as well as the role that speculative fiction can play in what hope Arnason finds in the very dark view produced by the intersection of those ideas. The essay feels even more timely now than in must have felt in 2004, and rattled around in my brain for days after I read it. 

The book closes with an interview: Terry Bisson asking Arnason questions, and Arnason answering them with her usual thoughtful, interesting responses, closing out a very worthwhile book. 

 

Modern Jazz Voicings: Arranging for Small and Medium Ensembles by Ted Pease and Ken Pullig

This entry is part 38 of 40 in the series 2022 Reads

As always, I’m posting this quite a while after finishing the book.


Despite having gotten a decent foundation in classical music theory, and some jazz theory of the sort a young improvisor learns, I never managed to find a good source for horn arrangements. A while back, I was inputting an arrangement I did for jazz quintet and orchestra (meaning classical orchestra), when I realized that I didn’t know much about how one goes about actually doing proper jazz arrangements, especially the kind of classic block chords used in sax soli, horn section arrangements, and stuff like that.

Not that I necessarily plan on writing anything for big band, but really, I feel like I should be able to write for a horn section at least as well as I can write for a string quartet, given than I’m a saxophonist myself. 

I got a recommendation online for Ted Pease and Ken Pullig’s Modern Jazz Voicings: Arranging for Small and Medium Ensembles and figured I’d give it a shot, with the loose plan to proceed on to Pullig and Lowell’s Arranging for Large Jazz Ensemble next, or maybe Gary Lindsay’s Jazz Arranging Techniques

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Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel by Milorad Pavić, translated by Christina Pribićević-Zorić

This entry is part 37 of 40 in the series 2022 Reads

As always, I’m posting this weeks and weeks after I read it. Well, weeks, anyway. (I read this in August.)


The Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel is a very strange book. I guess I’d sum it up as dueling untrustworthy historical accounts by three sources, one from each of the religions of the book, about the Khazar people. The idea is that the accounts were compiled hundreds of years after whatever actually happened with the Khazars, and those compiled accounts have been translated and edited by a modern scholar. So you have a bunch of points of view, and you have a semi-encyclopedic approach. Of course, all of this immediately calls to mind what Edward Said wrote about novels having these same properties in Culture and Imperialism (1993):

Of all the major literary forms, the novel is the most recent, its emergence the most datable, its occurrence the most Western, its normative pattern of social authority the most structured; imperialism and the novel, fortified each other to such a degree that it is impossible, I would argue, to read one without in some way dealing with the other….Nor is this all. The novel is an incorporative, quasi-encyclopedic cultural form. Packed into it are both a highly regulated plot mechanism and an entire system of social reference that depends on the existing institutions of bourgeois society, their authority and power. (71)

Dictionary of the Khazars, of course, predates Said’s comment above, but the Said feels like it offers some contrasting insight into the text anyway: Dictionary of the Khazars is definitely incorporative and quasi-encyclopedic. But Said’s point was that these features exist in realist fiction, implicitly, because realist novels exist in part in service of in the service of empires. Yet the Dictionary is not really realist at all—the Khazars of the book have little to do with the actual Khazar people of history in our world, the social references that do exist in the book are both occulted and outright occult (as in, supernatural and mystical, and also in the sense that they present a kind of magical puzzle for the reader), and although there is to some degree a plot, it is not direct but rather shattered and distributed through the text, working through echoes.   

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Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure& Folk Magic From Appalachia by Jake Richards

This entry is part 36 of 40 in the series 2022 Reads

As with other posts in this series, these #booksread2022 posts go anywhere from a few weeks to a month after I’ve read them. I read this particular book last week, though! 


Backwoods Witchcraft is kind of a memoir of Appalachian folk magic. This is the second book by Richards I’ve given a look. The first—Doctoring the Devil—was more recent, but also not particularly interesting to me: it’s more of a highly organized magical cookbook than a cultural history, and not the sort of thing I was really after.  

Unfortunately, Backwoods Witchcraft ends up feeling a bit like a less-well-organized stream-of-consciousness magical cookbook with family and regional memoir and some folklore thrown in. I skimmed it for a few occasional interesting bits, but didn’t get much from it, beyond being astonished that people living in our modern world still believe you can make someone fall in love with you by soaking your toenails in liquor for three days, straining it, and then giving it to the person you want to fall in love with you, or that magical little people dwell in the woods, or that you can do magical things with your urine.

Well, okay, I’m not that shocked that people still believe such things, but yeah, it’s always going to shock me a little. More interesting were the bits struck me as fascinatingly particular and bizarre at the same time, like the assertion that Moses—yes, as in, that Moses—enjoys offerings of cornbread. 

I suppose I’d hoped that the account had been written at a much farther remove from these traditions, something that could give me a bit of insight into the work of Manly Wade Wellman or the stories in the Old Gods of Appalachia podcast, but instead found a somewhat unexciting magic textbook, which is of little use to me since I don’t believe in this stuff at all.