Mick Wüst never thought he’d write about beer, let alone write a book about it. But with Beer Drinker’s Toolkit about to hit shelves across the country, The Crafty Pint writer who has become a familiar face for many in the beer industry couldn’t be more excited to see his ever-exuberant words published in print.
“I love the chance to serve up something that’s as fun as beer itself is,” he says. “My philosophy is that, if drinking beer is fun, then surely writing about it should be fun as well.”
The book’s origin story started out like many job offers: via a LinkedIn message. The publisher, Gelding Street Press, had historically focused on sports books but had been moving into the food and drink space; initially they approached Mick to write something about historic breweries and brands. Although he couldn’t take that project on, the conversation continued – and the book took shape without him as Beer Mania.
“They liked my writing enough that they wanted me to do something,” Mick says. “They did give quite a broad brief and I came up with a couple of quite different ideas.”
That included a guide to great beer experiences around the country but, ultimately, they landed upon what would be the basis of Beer Drinker’s Toolkit: a fun handbook designed to equip people with the essentials to better understand and appreciate beer.
“They loved the idea of something that was educational, fun and went broad, but you didn't need to be a beer nerd to enjoy it,” he says. “It is for everyone.”
That's not to say he didn't have initial doubts: on the one hand, he hadn't considered trying his hand at long-form writing before; on the other, beer basics have been well covered elsewhere over the years. In the end, however, Mick felt what he could offer was his voice: the conversational style he uses to tell beer’s story, something that would be a change from those educational beer books that can read like textbooks.
“Most books are kind of written for that context,” he says. “That wasn’t what I wanted, and it’s not what I know about as someone who isn’t a brewer. What I do know is a lot of friends and family who ask, ‘So what are the hops in this beer,' or ‘I like fruitier beers but not the bitter ones – what’s the difference?’
“So I had in mind the idea of trying to get across the same knowledge with normal people language.”
It’s a desire that comes from personal experience: he went on anywhere from ten to 20 brewery tours, and looked at countless bits of stainless, before really understanding each step in the brewing process.
“I’ve always thought that if I wanted to learn about beer, I don’t want something that feels like homework,” he says.
“I don’t want something that feels like someone bailing me up in a corner and telling me all this stuff that I don't want to or don't need to know.”
Here at The Crafty Pint, we might be somewhat biased – not least as Mick is part of the team here – but this really is a book worth adding to any beer fan's collection. As such, we won’t give too much away other than confirming Beer Drinker’s Toolkit covers a range of informative topics. Those include beer’s long history, the brewing process, different beer styles, and serving suggestions.
Along the way, Mick acts as a garrulous guide as his passion for the drink he loves continually shines through. It’s also filled with genuinely unique – or, perhaps more accurately, Wüstian – ideas, including ways to engage all five senses when drinking beer, and Mick’s decision to avoid giving wheat beers their own section.
“I'm not thinking of an American wheat beer as being anything like a German hefe,” is how he explains it.
“The difference between them is light years; why are we putting these beers together because they share an ingredient?”
Given the speed at which the world of beer changes, he has avoided highlighting specific beers, and beyond wanting Beer Drinker’s Toolkit to stand the test of time, he also wrote it with more than his fellow countrymen in mind.
“I wanted something that wasn't just going to last time-wise, but also was going to have a broader audience than Australia,” he says. “So this is really written with the idea that someone in America could pick up the book and it makes the same amount of sense to them as to an Aussie who has just discovered James Squire.”
The book’s illustrations, meanwhile, are as vibrant as Mick’s text: the artist Ellie Grant was tasked with bringing the colourful prose to life.
“I was worried about illustrations because I've seen some other beer books and they can be really immature, but Ellie has found a wonderful middle point where it’s light, fun, enjoyable and life-giving, but never feels like it’s for 18- or 19-year-olds,” he says, citing one example he suggested: as a top-hat wearing noble hop.
Now the book is just days away from its official launch, what he’s most excited about is seeing who reads and enjoys it. While he thinks it’s a great gift for anyone eager to fire their friends' passion for beer – without bailing them up at a bar, of course – he also believes there’s a more informed audience who have something to gain from it: brewers.
He’s got a lot of friends in the industry and one of the challenges he's witnessed is those brewers who struggle to explain their trade in simple language; for example, why do they talk about lautering and sparging when we could switch them for straining and rinsing? [Because part of the beauty of beer is its often arcane language? – Editor]
“I know brewers who struggle to explain the brewing process or language,” Mick says. “Because the reality is, they use this jargon, day in and day out; this is how they learn about how they talk about beer. It doesn’t even occur to them to use different terms.”
Writing is a passion that stretches back to Mick's primary school days and, while he never expected it to lead to a career, let alone one in the Australian beer industry, hindsight is 20/20.
“I've been writing forever; I wrote Pokémon fan fiction when I was six years old,” he says. "All through my primary and high school I was really into writing. I did creative writing at uni because I thought if I was going to waste three years not knowing what I want to do, I’d like to waste it getting better at something I love.”
By 2015, he was copywriting and, while many in that industry have backgrounds in journalism or marketing, Mick brought a unique approach as his creative writing studies saw him focus on a passion for telling stories in a way that excites readers.
“I think most people would never think of that as creative writing, and a lot of bad copywriting is not creative at all,” Mick says. “Because I get bored easily, for me, my highest goal in life is to write something that won’t bore people. The reality is, I’m no good if I write something that someone doesn’t get to the end of.”
Midway through 2015, he combined two of his loves – writing and craft beer – in the Schoonerversity, which was the first time he appeared on The Crafty Pint. Although a writer by trade, he started the blog to connect with the industry and learn more about beer, assuming there was no way to make a living writing about beer.
“I didn't know how I wanted to be in the craft beer industry, I just loved it and knew I wanted to be in there somehow,” is how Mick he puts it.
After trying out as a rep and running beer tastings, it was when he saw a shout out for more writers on The Crafty Pint that he found his calling, somewhat surprised it hadn't occurred to him that a craft beer website would be a good place for him to combine his passion for craft beer and writing...
“I feel like less of an idiot for not having thought of that when I tell people I’m a beer writer and everyone is like, ‘Is that even a job?'”
He’s always brought his creative nous to The Crafty Pint too, including this story about brewer Ian Watson's experiences brewing with synaesthesia, or when covering two Helios beers via the medium of Greek poetry. These were two of the pieces he entered into the Australian International Beer Awards earlier this year that helped him claim the Best Media Trophy; while winning a trophy was a proud moment, there were other welcome benefits too.
“It was cool to win Best Media," he says, "but even more exciting for me was all the people who came out of the woodwork in the aftermath telling me they enjoyed my writing.
“I love when people enjoy my writing. That meant so much more to me than praise and affirmation, and reminded me that I'm not just writing into the void."
The trophy couldn't have come at a more perfect time either.
“The award tells me there's a place for this book,” he says. “I sometimes think, 'Does the world need another book about beer?' But everyone writes differently, and this award sits on my shelf as a tangible reminder: there are people who like my conversational style of writing.
“Beer Drinker's Toolkit brings something new and fresh and helpful, and that's a good thing. It's nice to be reminded of that.”
The Beer Drinker's Toolkit is released on August 1. It will be available in department stores and book stores or, if you'd like to get your hands on a signed copy, you can buy it directly from Mick. If you're in Brisbane, Mick's hosting a book launch at Felons Brewing on August 3, at which there's another chance to get your hands on a signed copy while enjoying a tasting run by the man himself.