My Reading List and WTF is Umami?

I’ve picked up a couple of beer books lately, and they both ought to be helpful for this blog.  I will likely post full reviews when I’m done with each and have had some time to think them over.


The first one is Michael Jackson’s Great Beers of Belgium.  Michael Jackson passed away in 2007, and was universally known as the Beer Hunter, after his British television documentary of the same name.  He was equally knowledgeable about scotch and beer, and his writing prowess precedes him. 


I’m a few chapters into that book, and I am impressed.  His writing style is very straight forward and obviously well researched.  He is capable of writing quite poetic passages, but often keeps things very causal like a conversation between friends.  What has surprised me the most, so far, is his playfulness.  The history and cultural identities he writes about could be quite a chore to get through, but he injects humor into his stories like a wise man that pulls your leg every so often just to make sure you’re still paying attention.


The other one is Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink.  Randy is a beer judge, homebrewer, graphic artistic and the author of Radical Brewing.  I own and I’ve enjoyed Radical Brewing, but I avoided reading this one for a little while.  Honestly, I think the cover annoyed me and reminded me too much of the “For Dummies” crapfest of books.  I’ve gotten past that is because Randy is a smart cat and knows what he is talking about.


This one looks like a winner, too.  Its chapters cover the early history of beer, the vocabulary of beer, sensory evaluation, beer judging, the various styles of beer and many other topics.  Clearly his is trying to address the interests of the newbie and the seasoned BJCP judge, and his talent as a graphic artist is apparent in the layout of the pages and the charts and illustrations used.


The “huh?” moment for me thus far is the mentions of umami.  Where the F was I when umami became one of the basic flavors?  Did I skip school that day?



That old tongue map is out the window.  Bitter, sour, salty, and sweet are still around, but they have been joined by the flavors of umami and fat. Fat is something we all should be able to get our heads around.  Umami translates to “delicious” in Japanese, and has been acknowledged for thousand of years, but only recognized as having receptors in 2000.  Umami is a savory and meaty quality that appears in beers after extended aging.  It seems to be an important player in the hot and interesting trend of pairing food and beer.


As far as your tongue, he maintains that all sections in your mouth can sense those 6 flavors. The front of your tongue is pretty well balanced, but the back of the tongue is a little better at picking out bitterness, and sides of your tongue are more sensitive to sour tastes.  This makes a lot of sense to me because when I am trying a sour beer I feel as if my tongue is contracting and thinning at the sides.  Very interesting stuff.


I hope that reading Jackon will deepen my knowledge of Belgian beer and influence my writing in a positive way.  I imagine Mosher’s book will improve my ability to taste and review beers, or at the very least explain why I perceive beer the way I do.


Of course, I’m still pissed about the umami thing.  Seriously, how long were you going to keep that from me?


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