Into Shelley’s Belly: Q&A with Beer Expert Stephen Beaumont

stephen beaumont
The one and only Stephen Beaumont (photography by Matthew Shelley)
photos by Laura Callas

On his recent visit to Dallas, Stephen Beaumont, world-renowned author, prolific demon slayer, Jamaican dance champion, and all-around cool dude stopped in to chat about his latest venture, The Pocket Beer Guide: The Essential Handbook to the Very Best Beers in the World. It’s a catalog and travel companion outlining beers, breweries, and ratings from around the world. The book is sectioned into countries, regions, and the insanely rich dynamics of beer from every corner of the earth. It’s meant to be carried along on your travels and act as a gracious host while you’re off gallivanting somewhere. There are must-see beer bars highlighted in each area (including our very own Meddlesome Moth), and the densely informative book is small enough for easy packing. While Beaumont was in Dallas, he hosted a few tasting dinners at the Flying Saucer and the Moth, and the book sold out at both. You better get your orders in. Stephen’s gracious demeanor and handsomely exfoliated skin was ready and willing to give us a little insight into himself and his book. Read on for the Q&A.

MS: How did your beer journey begin?

SB: I’ve always liked beer, and I grew up in Quebec. I like to joke that the legal drinking age in Quebec was when you were tall enough to actually put your money on the counter. It wasn’t too far from the truth. I’ve been drinking beer since my early teens. By the time I moved to Ontario, to a suburb of Toronto, I was drinking beer with my friends, and we were starting to get really picky about what we were drinking. When I graduated university, I went into the bar business. I worked for a Belgian couple (she was from the town of Hoegaarden), and they introduced me to Belgian beer. That’s when my eyes really opened. That was 87-88, and then I started training myself on beer. It was about two years of personal training on beer and on tasting. And after that I convinced an editor at the Toronto Star newspaper to give me a bi-weekly beer column. It was the first beer column in Canada.

The very first column that I wrote, I wrote about a beer called Niagara Falls Eisbock from a brewery that no longer exists. I raved about this beer. I thought this beer was amazing. The brewery told me two weeks later they were getting calls from 4 to 5 hour drives away for people reserving cases of this beer, and driving down to pick it up. And I kind of went, “Wow, that’s the kind of power you have when you put something in print.” I never forgot that lesson because I take my responsibility very seriously.

MS: How do you deal with all the whiny a**holes (me) complaining about this edition missing their local breweries, favorite beers, etc.? 

SB: Everybody wants their local champion, and they want their local champion to do well. But when you’re doing a book of this scope, you have to make hard decisions, and one of the hard decisions I made was that I was going to be less regionally concerned than I was last year in The World Atlas of Beer. Tim [Webb] and I worked on that one alone, but with this book we have contributors from around the world. Some of the greatest minds in the international beer world are in here. So some of those breweries may not be in there this time, but this is going to be an annual edition, and they may be in there next time.

MS: How do you stay fit drinking so much beer?

SB: My wife is an ex-personal trainer, and she is a fitness professional, so she runs me through my paces. But to me, it’s all about life balance. You know when I’m on the road like this, I’m on the road for 8 or 9 days and I’m not going to be eating as well as I normally do. I’m going to be drinking more. So when I get back, I try to balance things off. I’ll eat more vegetables, more salads, drink a little less. I am drinking almost every day, but we’ve established what we call “booze-free Mondays.”

MS: Do you ever find that your love and joy in beer gets diminished in the process of having to drink so much for work?

SB: No, and again, it comes down to taking a lot of responsibility for what I do. I could be having just a dreadful day and everyone jumping down my throat, and I know that I have to do this tasting. I have to find that spot. I have to get to that place where I’m feeling comfortable…I put other things out of my head, and I approach that beer likes it’s the first time I’ve ever tasted it. Doing these tastings is exhausting. So I have to take breaks and rest for a while sometimes.

MS: How much of this book is all you, and how much is contributors.

SB: For the Americas, north and south, I probably did about two-thirds of it. I’ve done chunks of Europe. But one of the big countries we have in there is Germany. And Steve Thomas did all of Germany. I lept in where I disagreed with him a little bit…changed a couple things up…but overall the actual book, my tasting contribution I am going to say is one-fifth to one-sixth. But Tim and I are the stewards of the book, so even when we have people contributing reviews, we’re going back and forth with them and we’re talking about beers we’ve had and going over their notes, and making sure all of the ratings are really on the same basis.

MS: You bring back the idea of beer for breakfast, and include ideas for pairings. Explain.

SB: Beer being an after-5 p.m. drink is a very North American, Puritan idea. Still, today, if you go to France, you see guys stopping in for a glass of wine or a beer on their way to work. There are a lot of German breweries that have guest houses as well, and you come down for your breakfast in the morning, and some of the locals are having a beer before they go to work. And the funny point about that is that Tim Webb is a Ph.D. He is a medical doctor. The reason that section is by Stephen Beaumont only is because he didn’t want to be answering the question, “Well, doctor, how about this beer for breakfast thing?” I called him a coward.

MS: Have you explored Dallas breweries? Any thoughts, excitements, loves, hates?

SB: I’ve been making notes on the Dallas beers I’ve had. I think the next edition will have at least one or two Dallas breweries in it. We went over to Greenville Avenue to the Truck Yard, which I thought was great. And I love the fact that it’s this kind of funky, non-Dallas joint. And we went to the bar there and there’s Community’s Mosaic IPA on tap for like $5 in a plastic cup, and I love that. It makes me feel like I’m New Orleans.

MS: Any final words for our readers?  

SB: You know everyone said to me, “This book is great, but there are so many resources online. There are these apps and all this good stuff.” And again, my answer is that this is a curated list. And I think that’s where the value really lies. You go to the last page and the people that contributed to the book, these are some of the best beer people in the world. And they handpicked these breweries. I want people to beat the crap out of this book, write notes in it, and then buy the next edition and beat the crap out of that.

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