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Two Beer Doctors Talk About Their Atlas of Beer

DCBeer had a chance to interview National Geographic’s Atlas of Beer authors Nancy Hoalst-Pullen and Mark W. Patterson. The self-described beer doctors are PhDs, so please don’t come to them with your dumpster-smelling, rubbery-tasting pale ale. Do come see them tomorrow, at their event, a tasting and promotion of their book at National Geographic. Tickets can be purchased here for:

...a geographical journey with the world’s foremost experts on beer. Gain insights from renowned “beer doctors” NANCY HOALST-PULLEN and MARK PATTERSON, authors of National Geographic’s very first Atlas of Beer—an indispensable and unparalleled guide that includes beer recommendations, stunning photography, and beer history, geography, and trends—while James Beard Award–winning brewmaster GARRETT OLIVER of Brooklyn Brewery leads a guided tasting with food pairings.

The following transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

DCBeer: Where did you travel for the book?

Patterson: We went to all the continents except Antarctica. For the book we went to 28 countries. This was probably over a dozen trips.

Which countries, if any, do you think are primed for a US-style craft beer explosion?

Patterson: I think China is. They're not quite there, but they’re getting primed. So we're starting to see a number of craft breweries being opened by expats in China. The middle class in China is 300 million people, and they haven’t even begun to tap that market, so I think once that catches on in China, perhaps [brewing will grow] even bigger than the US. China drinks a ton of beer, but it’s the macro brew that they're drinking. CR Snow, Snow is the most popular beer in the world in terms of the amount consumed. But Snow is owned by AB InBev, so just like here in the US, the macro brewers dominate in terms of volume.

Hoalst-Pullen: I think there’s gray area in making beer for microbreweries because the rules and regulations are not that it’s illegal, but [the legal framework doesn’t exist for smaller breweries]. Compared to some of the macro beers you find, the craft beer is more expensive. So for many people there is that hurdle to I think almost mentally get over, “I’m willing to pay this much money for a pint.” Do you want two pints of craft beer or do you want a six-pack of Snow?

Patterson: Recently the Chinese government banned the use of formaldehyde [in beer].

Hoalst-Pullen: I think there's a lot of European countries who are going to start adopting American-style beers. I don't know if they'll necessarily be American beers, but you see a lot of locals adopting, particularly, American IPA, but when [other countries] do it they reinterpret [and make] their own American IPA. So they'll use the local hops or the local grain so it is an American-style IPA in terms of how you would make one. Nuances that reflect the location [are often] being made.

Patterson: I think what we see happening in places outside the US [is] they have for a large part looked at the US experience and learned from it. Take what’s been great, and incorporate it, and try to avoid some mistakes being made. We were just kind of writing the book as it went along as the craft brewing industry developed. We found one of the things the breweries would do is they would send brewers to the US go talk to breweries and then come back and then do it here.

As homebrewers, what do you like to brew?

Hoalst-Pullen: I usually tend towards the Belgian styles. Interesting to make. The last one I made was a Gose so a little outside my normal realm.

Was it sour?

Hoalst-Pullen: Yes, it was tart. I'm not divulging my secret. I also put in a little bit of passion fruit to give it an additional adjunct, so that made it nice, and it was good for the summer. Living down here in Georgia, it just started getting cold enough for us to brew again.

Patterson: I did a chocolate raspberry milk stout. I went to Beersmith. I know a guy who owns a homebrewing shop [in Georgia], and he found a recipe and he tweaked it.

Do you think there is enough diversity in craft beer?

Patterson: This is still a white man's game. Fortunately, and increasingly, we're getting minorities. They're starting to brew, starting to open up their own breweries. I do count women as minorities in this sense. And I also think that, to generalize, the craft beer industry has started to realize, “Hey, you know what? Some women do drink craft beer. We should try and market to them as well.” Outside the US, it’s all white males brewing in Asia, and to a lesser degree South America, it’s the expats, the white expats [in] craft brewing.

Hoalst-Pullen: But homebrewing is a lot different.

Patterson: In Brazil, we met the woman who was the President of the Brazilian Homebrewing Association, and she was every bit as knowledgeable as every brewer I've met.

Hoalst-Pullen: A lot of the homebrewers you find are women, so it depends on the type of beer you're talking about.

You are self-proclaimed beer doctors. Can you tell me what that means and how this title reflects your work?

Hoalst-Pullen: We're both PhDs. So if you think we’re doctors as in someone brings in a bad beer and tell you what’s wrong with it… not so much of that. But I can tell you if it’s a bad beer.

Patterson: There are a lot of great writers out there that focus on beer and we focus on beer culture and the industry. One thing you won’t find [in Atlas of Beer] is that Nancy and I don’t make any recommendations.

Hoalst-Pullen: Garrett [Oliver] does, and that's part of the reason we brought him on.

Patterson: [The recommendations in the book] are recommendations that brewers from those countries made, those are not our recommendations.

How has being a geography professor helped your understanding of beer?

Hoalst-Pullen: I think to really understand a style you can figure out its origins, culture, history, economics, [and the] political history behind it. You get a deeper sense of what it is you're drinking. I think geography plays an extremely important role. Not just what you drink now and historically, but what was popular and where it came from.

Since your last beer book was published in 2014, what has changed that surprised you in 2017?

Patterson: The shift from IPAs to sours. It wasn't much of a surprise. I think the number of collaborations with beers. So between not only breweries but between brewmasters.

Hoalst-Pullen: We had to write out the entire book when we started. There's a lot of countries now that, when we started, if we did it again, would have their own spread. [Some countries] either made huge leaps or we have recognized how underrepresented they are. There's a lot of places that have great beer culture that should be talked about but are not. A lot of the same information is recycled, and there's a lot of stories out there that we're just surprised we don't hear about. There's this funny lag that we've seen with the things that are happening and covered. Buyouts and sellouts, they're covered right away. But the stories and the history and the culture behind beer, it's surprising that some of the stories are not, even if they are covered, really not well known.

Patterson: An example is the Nordic countries. When you think of farmhouse ale you think of Belgium and France and now the US. But for centuries, the Nordic countries have been making farmhouse ales. We're going to Norway in a few weeks to start investigating it.

Hoalst-Pullen: We went to Lithuania, and the beer culture is weaved into their everyday life so it makes sense. I just think, “Why isn’t this covered more?” So it's quite interesting how underrepresented some things are.

In any event, in terms of fact checking, was your worked intensely checked?

Patterson: [That question requires] a Martyn Cornell level investigation! I have a lot of respect for him, and that he's that particular. We had three fact checkers who knew nothing about beer. And they each went through basically every page with a fine-tooth comb. We got the chapter of Europe back with 4,800 things that they had wanted to go back and [have us] say yes or no.

Hoalst-Pullen: It does help when you go to the location and place where you can get the information.

Patterson: We read some reviews online. Being academics we don't take criticism personally, we look at criticism as an opportunity to improve. The critique [was], “This book is too big to be used as travel size.” It’s a coffee table book; it's not a travel guide. It’s a book that explains the history behind the culture, the geography, and the culture of beer.

Hoalst-Pullen: Our hope is that when someone reads this book even if they don’t like beer, they'll at least have an appreciation for it. And have an appreciation not just for the beer, but the locations where the beer comes from. It's important to really know the origin of the style. Even if you can go to your local brewery and order every style, it’s good to know a bit more about everything you’re tasting. People [will] know more about what it tastes like and where it comes from. I also want to say if anyone thinks we left something out, we probably did. We never assumed it was going to have everything. And there's a lot of amazing places [we did not travel to,] so hopefully we'll get to do it again.

Patterson: We're already planning the next ones in our mind.

Hoalst-Pullen: Many, many more places. The only real critique we get is the fact that there are many many more stores, and we get a lot of people who say, “do Oklahoma next,” “do Norway next.”

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