Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cool Yule #9! Beer Books for 2011: Beer & Philosophy

Cool Yule!

Cool Yule! 12 Beer Books for 2011

Not a list of the dozen best-of-the-best books about beer of 2011, but, rather, my list of 12, some personal delights, others of unique or deserved merit. Some of the books have been published this year, while others are worthy chestnuts.

Between 20 November and the Winter Solstice, I'll reveal my selections. Then, on Christmas Day: put your feet up, pour yourself a good beer, and read a good book. Or, better yet: give a friend the gift of a beer and a book. December 22nd may be too late to arrange shipping by Christmas (unless available as an e-book), but it's time sufficient to pay a visit to your local brick and mortar —and book— store.


So ... cue nine ladies dancing

Cool Yule Beer Book for 2011: #9

Beer & Philosophy

Beer & Philosophy
The Unexamined Beer Isn't Worth Drinking
Various; Stephen D. Hales, editor
Paperback: 248 pages
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell (US, 2007)
ISBN: 978-1405154307

Three philosophers walk into a bar. What beer do they order? The eponymous choice from Ommegang, of course, says Stephen D. Hales —Professor of Philosophy at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania— in his book, Beer & Philosophy: The Unexamined Beer Isn't Worth Drinking.

My brother has an ice cream theory of happiness. For true pleasure, should a person commonly consume daily gobs of low-fat, low flavor ice cream? Or should she instead occasionally go for the fullest-flavor all-the-fat real ice cream and all of its satiating gustatory pleasure?

Joe Six-Pack, otherwise known as Joe Russell, beer columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, put it this way in a column of a few years ago:
IF YOU HAD $30 to spend on beer, would you be better off spending it on a single case of Pilsner Urquell or two cases of Miller Lite?

Ah, that is a question for the ages - to enjoy a little of something that brings you great pleasure, or more of something that is not quite so fine.

According to Steven D. Hales ... there's really only one person a beer drinker should turn to for advice on this topic.

No, not your bartender. It's John Stuart Mill, the 19th-century British philosopher and formulator of the "greatest happiness" principle.

Bringing Mill's stricture down to a mundane level (as if Miller Lite or low-fat ice cream hadn't done that already), the greatest happiness principle could easily be a tool for a personal diet. Eat flavorful things, but in smaller portions. That's the essence of Mireille Guiliano's delightful book French Women Don't Get Fat. She says, "Savor great food and wine [in moderation]".

John Stuart Mill, as seanced through Stephen Hales might riposte, "Enjoy great food and beer ... in moderation." Hales' book Beer & Philosophy: The Unexamined Beer Isn't Worth Drinking is a collection of essays on that and other philosophical topics, as seen, so to speak, through a beer glass.

As editor, Hales divides 15 essays by 15 academics, professionals, and brewers among four chapters: The Art of the Beer, The Ethics of Beer, The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Beer, and Beer in the History of Philosophy. Brewers Sam Calagione and Garrett Oliver, among others, contribute to the first more beer-oriented chapter.

It's in the essays of last three chapters that the book really entertains, such as the piece by Canadian beer blogger Alan McLeod of A Good Beer Blog. In Beer and Autonomy. McLeod, a lawyer, addresses the Canadian government's limitation and control of alcohol. The contradiction of those actions with the Canadian constitution's declaration of personal liberty could be thought of as a mirror to the United States, where the 21st Amendment codifies a like contradiction.
There is a message underlying the taxation of and restrictions on beer movement. It is that the individual in a way doesn't really fully own beer like one owns a hammer or a loaf of bread. <...> One might question the vision the state has of its own citizenry. The law of beer is used to redefine the marketplace, control communication, restrict mobility, and even dispossess the population in its relation to the otherwise commonplace product that is beer. And, to what end? In large part it would appear only to sustain government control and the source of revenue it represents.

Neil Manson —an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Mississippi— has written a somewhat whimsical Socratic dialog between three characters wondering if the fact that beer exists might be an indication of Intelligent Design. Whimsical, but enjoyable.

Editor Stephen Hales, in addition to writing the book's introduction, contributes a chapter on Immanuel Kant, Transcendental Idealism, and ... Beer Goggles. Is it beer-fueled illusion or reality when that person at the end of the bar becomes more attractive in the wee hours of the morning?
"We ordinarily distinguish quite well between that which is ... valid for every human sense in general, and that which ... is valid ... only for a particular situation or organization of this or that sense."

[Hales brings Kant, quoted above, to the example of Fiona and Dwayne who meet at a bar late one evening, and find themselves, together, the next morning.]

What would Fiona conclude when she realizes that Dwayne's added attractiveness comes and goes with beer goggles? ... Yet if you are true to holding that the beer-goggles enhanced attractiveness is a real quality of Dwayne, you might be inclined to argue that Fiona's morning-after realization should instead lead her to a more practical conclusion, such as it's time for another pint of Sam Smith's Oatmeal Stout! Well, who could argue with that?

And, of course, there's that chapter on John Stuart Mill and epicurean utilitarianism.

Finally (or should that be, initially) the Forward was written by beer author Michael Jackson. It's an essay that could easily have been a literate stream-of-consciousness conversation over beers at a bar.
Among the gifts of the Greeks were translations of the Christian gospels from the original Aramaic scrolls. The Greeks interpreted "strong drink" as "wine." I wonder, did they think Jesus turned water into Retsina or Riesling?

The Saxons were in no doubt. Their version of the miracle is much more exciting: "Suddenly, the room was filled with barrels of beer." Lest you suspect my own theological agenda, I should make clear that the translation from the Saxon was provided by a Jesuit priest, Ron Murphy, who was at the time Dean of Georgetown University and Head of its Department of Germanic Languages. Ron and I have a pint of Salvator together now and then, but I am sure my certainties have not influenced his verities.

Do we have the Greeks to blame for the elevation of wine and the subjugation of beer? It seems to me that they started it, but the Romans followed; Tacitus said that the Germanic peoples drank beer, and that it made their breath smell. I don't suppose he ever rode the Paris metro.

Gloriously witty: possibly some of the final words written by this since-deceased writer.

Professor Hales inscribed the following on the title page of my edition: "May your beer never go flat." In the spirit of this entertaining book, I might add: figuratively and literally.

Cool Yule for 2011, so far:
  • #10: Evaluating Beer
  • #11: Windows on The World
  • #12: The Story of Brewing in Burton on Trent

  • I've cribbed my review from another —mine— which I posted in December of 2007.
  • For on-line purchasing, I link to the Brewers Association book store, or to the marvelous resource, When not available there, or if published as an ebook, I link to
  • The entire list of Cool Yule Beer Books for 2011: here.
  • The 12 Books for Christmas 2009: here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment here ...