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Filling your head with beer

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There are a lot of us who don't share an all-consuming passion for beer and we're made acutely aware of it when it comes time to socialize and entertain. When called upon to pick up a couple of six-packs, there's always a quandary. Go for cheap-but-generic for quantity? Or expensive-but-exotic for flavor? There are so many options and opinions between those two extremes, and everyone who can hold a can is an expert. Choose wrong, and the party could be over. Here's where Duane Swierczynski's just-released The Big Book o' Beer can be a face-saver.

Subtitled Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Greatest Beverage on Earth, the book sports a larger-than-life sweating can of beer on the cover – it's an eye-catcher. There are pages and pages of color photos and graphs inside, making for a fun and easy-reading introduction into the history, culture and business of beer. The author calls his chapters "cans," and there are six of them – "The History of Beer," "The Atlas of Beer," "Beer Connoisseurship," "Beer Crafts and Gear," "Beer and the Applied Sciences," "Beer and the Arts – plus a bonus can filled with beer resources, a beer glossary, toasts and roasts and drinking songs.

The entry on the United States in the atlas section gives you a taste of Swierczynski's wry voice. "American beer eerily mirrors American foreign policy: It's everywhere, yet nobody seems to like it very much. The British, in particular, have had a good old time mocking American beer, starting with the Monty Python joke about why American beer is like having sex in a canoe. (Answer: Because it's fucking near water.)"

After reading this, you'll know how to build beer-can votive candleholders, to sing the words to the "Beer Barrel Polka", and that July is "American Beer Month" because the Association of Brewers says it's so.

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