I received a couple of excellent books for Christmas.

With the weather being so ...um ... Michigan-esque, I’ve been able to really hunker down and read both of them.

They have been a joy, and I’m thankful for good friends who keep me well supplied with the things I like best - books and beer!

The first book has actually already been mentioned in an earlier column.

“The Craft Beer Cookbook: From IPAs and Bocks to Pilsners and Porters, 100 Artisanal Recipes for Cooking with Beer”

By Jacquelyn Dodd

The “blurb” for this book on Amazon encourages readers to “Transform your dishes with the tremendous flavor of craft beer!”

Now, truth be known, I’ve been cooking with beer for years, but largely it was in the Jim Crees stumble and fumble approach to cooking, which involves trying “this” and if it doesn’t work, well, trying “that.”

This book has already lifted my cooking with craft beer experience by a couple levels.

It is filled with stunning recipe ideas, and a lot of timely and tasty hints and tips.

Just some of the recipes include:

  • Sausage and pale ale frittata
  • Salmon with Dijon beer cream sauce over drunken couscous
  • Slow-roasted maple stout baby back beef ribs
  • Chocolate stout cake with chocolate raspberry ganache and whipped cream

I have already cooked up a pot of the roasted mushroom and brown ale soup. Oh! My! Gosh!

My soups are usually pretty dang good.

This, however, was exceptional.

You really must give it a try.

There are more than 100 recipes, and exciting recipes at that.

Then I received:

“Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion: The World’s Great Beer Styles, Gastronomy, and Traditions Hardcover”

By Michael Jackson

Published in 1993, this is still the seminal work of this country’s greatest beer writer. (And no, not THAT Michael Jackson.)

While the wind was simply howling outside this past week, I sat in front of the fireplace and really enjoyed the homey, yet ever-so informative style of Jackson as he discussed everything from beer styles to beer brewing techniques.

I have read his “stuff” before, but never this most colorful work in its entirety.

There is a ton of serious research communicated in an easy style that makes the most complicated topics interesting and even humorous.

If you want to read about specific beer styles, or take a tour of beer countries - this is the book.

And ... you don’t necessarily need to read this at one push.

Jackson’s books is fun.

Now, enjoy a couple of these.

Coffee Bender

Surly Brewing Company

Brooklyn Center, Minn. 

Because of the sheer volume of really great beer being produced “out there” it is becoming rarer and rarer to come across a brew that really snaps your head back and makes you say, “Wow!”

Coffee Bender is one of those beers.

It isn’t beer with a coffee-esque taste, or “hints of espresso.”

Nay! It is beer brewing in which “The Surly brew team has developed a cold extraction process that results in intense coffee aromatics and flavor bringing together two of our favorite beverages.

Your only dilemma will be whether to finish your day or start it with a Coffee Bender.”

Coffee Bender is a dark, dark brown and pours a pretty hefty darker beige head of foam. The head stays a while, enhancing the smelling and tasting processes.

The first whiff washed the nose with coffee smell and no little hint of chocolate.

Really though, it is all about the coffee. Everything else takes a back seat. Coffee Bender has a glorious, perked coffee smell to it that I certainly can write home about!

Then .. .the taste.

There is something in this beer that makes me pine for what is arguable my second favorite drink in the world - iced coffee (a touch of cream, NO sugar.)

Gosh this stuff is good. No ... it’s great!

Coffee Bender is one of the most refreshing brews I’ve had in a long, Long, LONG time.

I simply can’t start writing about the hidden tastes and gently blended tones. This is a brew with an excellent beer base, and a huge pot of highest quality coffee dumped in.

I can only say - God bless these guys.

The problem? This was gifted me and, frankly, I haven’t been able - yet - to find it in Michigan.

PLEASE! Keep your eyes open.

Shiner Wild Hare Pale Ale

Spoetzl Brewery

Shiner, Texas 

Another bottle of beer that walked in the door of the Pioneer.

Another example of dedicated brewing.

The Shiner team seem to hit and occasionally miss. Sometimes it’s Heaven, sometimes it’s Hell.

This time - much, much closer to Heaven!

Wild Hare is a delicious American Pale Ale (APA) that pours a rich, dark golden honey colored yellow with a good head of foam that maintains a presence throughout the tasting.

First nose is quite malty, then the hops kick in a wash through the senses. There is a little bit of the citrus aroma that follows so many of the better hops combinations.

At first taste, the citrus scents express themselves very well on the tongue. This brew is surprisingly malt forward for the type of beer it is meant to be, and that’s all right with me.

There is a rich, yet decidedly muted hoppy taste that hovers throughout the session. It is mildly floral, and I found it to be just a hint jasmine-like.

I like this beer a lot, possibly because although it is declared a Pale Ale, there is enough of a malt presence to effectively balance off the hoppiness so often an issue with beers of this genre.

This beer doesn’t necessarily demonstrate or express the most extroverted personality. Still, that’s OK with me.

Sometimes the more quiet, and less domineering brews are the most refreshing and widely marketable.

Nothing wrong with that.