Thursday, July 24, 2008

Two Great Books on Homebrewing

Brewing your own beer at home is not difficult, but the process does require a certain amount of specialized knowledge in order for your brew to turn out good, let alone great. It is a hobby that requires significant attention to detail. I have hit many of the landmines that end in not very good beer, so I know of what I speak.

The path to good homebrew is knowledge. So to that end, I would like briefly to review and recommend the two books which are, in my opinion, the "must haves" in the homebrewer's library.

I consider How to Brew: Everything You Need To Know To Brew Beer Right The First Time by John Palmer to be the best single book on how to brew beer at home. For me, at least, this book has all the right stuff. It starts at a very basic level for the beginner. But it contains considerable intermediate and advanced material as well; Palmer is a metallurgist by profession and so he brings what is to me a pleasing amount of scientific background to the topic.

The book is written clearly and the layout is easy to follow. There are great examples and photos throughout which the lead the homebrewer through every phase of brewing, from initial set-up to final consumption. Really, at least the early chapters of this book should ideally be read carefully a couple of times before the homebrewer forges into the hobby because it will cement the basic principles that will hold him good stead throughout his brewing "career". But even if you are an intermediate or advanced brewer, you should have this book. Palmer's grasp of the hobby is impressive and I guarantee that you will learn something, probably a lot.

Palmer also had a hand in this second volume, Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, which he coauthored with award winning brewer Jamil Zainasheff. But as the subtitle of this book indicates, this is primarily a book of recipes, not a "how to" volume. Palmer's contributions of "how to" material in the first and final chapters are fine, but inadequate by themselves. It is the main body of the book, containing the recipes crafted by Zainasheff, that make this book shine.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes available in books and on the Internet for different kinds of homebrew. One of the potential problems with this embarassment of riches is that one does not always know whether the recipe is any good. And you don't necessarily know whether the recipe really conforms to its purported style.

This books contains a recipe for each of the 80 formal beer styles recognized by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). Well and good. But what really makes these recipes special is that they have all won at least one award at a homebrewing contest (Zainasheff is the most highly awarded homebrewer in the world). That at least brings a level of objectivity beyond, "I brewed this once and thought it was great!" and other similar comments that may accompany the random recipe.

I've brewed four or five of these recipes and they have all turned out quite good. Are they foolproof? Well, perhaps not. I brewed Zainasheff's oatmeal stout recipe and found it not nearly as "roasty" as I would have wanted. On the podcast for that style, someone wrote in with that very same observation. So here there is either some variation in the ingredients we're using (quite likely) and/or the recipe perhaps needs a little tweaking.

That being said, if I could only retain two books on homebrewing, there is no question that it would be these two. Get either one or both of them and you won't be disappointed.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Very good post with some good home-brew info! One of these days, I'm going to get my brain focused and make my own brew - these books look like a good source to check out.