Modern Homebrew Recipes is the book homebrewers have been waiting for. At least it’s the book that this homebrewer has been waiting for! Click that link to go buy it now or keep reading to find out why I think it’s so great.
In my continued quest to read everything about booze I just finished reading Adam Rogers’ Proof: The Science of Booze and damn do I love this book!
Brewing Porters & Stouts: Origins, History, and 60 Recipes for Brewing Them at Home Today is a new book out by Terry Foster offering and in-depth look at porters and stouts. Like my last book review, of Farmhouse Ales, this book offers a very thorough look in a very narrow field. While the book does talk a fair bit about stouts it’s got a stronger tilt toward porters. Still, if you’re a lover of porters or stouts it’s worth reading, especially if you want to master brewing them at home.
The book starts by wading into the murky history of porters. It covers the common tale of a bar blending three ales together and that being enjoyed by a group of people who carried goods around London, those people being known as porters. What this section really covers is the slow, continual, development of a number of technologies that allowed creating stronger and darker beers. Unfortunately, the author does fall into the common trap of paragraphs full of “X brewery produced # barrels in year.”
The following is a complaint about many books involving brewing history: I don’t know why so many books do this when covering beer history, but it gets tedious to read. It doesn’t really add much to the overall story of porter/stout development but does show, somewhat, the extent to which breweries were making these beers. I really don’t enjoy reading these paragraphs of facts. But enough of that rant, back to this book.
Now we move into a breakdown of the plethora of sub-categories of the porter and stout styles. Flavor, aroma, malt bills, ABV, original gravity, and commercial examples are available for every style. Something interesting Brewing Porters & Stouts does that I haven’t seen before is the IBU/OG ratio. Instead of saying exactly how many IBUs a style should have it lists the number of IBUs in relation to the OG. So if you have a starting gravity (aka original gravity, hence OG) of 1.040 and an IBU/OG ratio of .5 then you should have an International Bitterness Unit (IBU) level of 20 IBUs. Why the author doesn’t just come out and say 20 IBUs I’m not exactly sure of, but it’s still a cool system.
Now we get to the real meat of the book. However, this is where anyone who doesn’t brew yet will lose interest. From here on out it’s all about bringing these beers to life. Beginning with wide coverage of the different malt varieties used in porters and stouts, along with what flavor and color contributions they add plus what percentage of the grist they represent. While the malt coverage is great the hops, water, yeast, and finings coverage is as basic as the first few pages of any introductory homebrewing book. If the malt section was wide then the recipe section is massive. 63 pages of recipes for every kind of porter and stout imaginable. Sure, all you need to do to find a homebrew recipe is spend 10 seconds Googling but this book provides a repository of recipes that is nice to have on hand.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I reached out to the publisher who was kind enough to hook me up with a free copy. To our readers, and any companies interested in sending me stuff, giving me free stuff impacts the review in only 2 ways. That I will do my best to review it in a timely fashion and that and I will write a blog post about that review. Giving me free stuff does not guarantee you a favorable review or that I will tell everyone to go buy it.
A few weeks ago I came home to a package by the door, joyful that another relative had shipped me another present to put under the tree. I was even more joyful to realize the package was from Brewers Publications and was a copy of the brand new book Malt a practical guide from field to brewhouse.
Having just finished The Brewmaster’s Table (review coming soon) I was about to start looking for a new book to read and review for the blog, so here we go.
Sierra Nevada is now the second biggest craft brewery in America – second to Boston Beer Company – and 7th overall brewery, craft or otherwise. How does one brewery grow to be the second largest in a sea of over 2,500 breweries? Ken Grossman, founder and president of Sierra Nevada tells the breweries story, and in turn his story, in his new book “Beyond the Pale: The story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.” (Amazon Book/eBook). The publishers were kind enough to send me a copy to review and I’m sharing my thoughts with you below.
When it comes to brewing wild/sour/funky beer, it turns out there aren’t many resources out there. Unlike homebrewing in general, where you’ll find more “how to brew” books than you could possibly know what to do this, the relatively esoteric niche of brewing both traditional Belgian sours and their newly Americanized brethren are sadly represented both in print and online. Online, you’ll find some great blogs like The Mad Fermentationist, Bear Flavored Ales, and brewing sub-forums like Homebrew Talk’s Lambic & Wild Brewing section. When it comes to print, though, Jeff Sparrow’s Wild Brews is pretty much the only game in town.
This might seem odd considering the glut of general homebrew books out there, but in many ways it makes sense. Brewing sour beers is a very, very small niche when you consider how small of a niche hobby homebrewing itself is to begin with. Also, this book has largely been canonical in the world of sour/wild beer brewing. Finally, it’s just not a part of brewing that is particularly well-understood. The use of Brettanomyces and souring bacteria, in my opinion and experience, is much more of an art than a science. You may be able to brew a house IPA over and over and over that you’ve been able to nail down, but on a homebrew level it’s going to be very difficult to brew the same lambic twice. There are just too many vaguely understood moving parts.
Wild Brew is less than 300 pages, but those 200-some odd pages are densely packed with a ton of information. I was concerned that it would be overly “science-y”, but my fears were unjustified. Even at its most scientifically in-depth sections, the average brewer should have no problem comprehending most of it.
The book starts with an overview and history of the classic Belgian sour styles (Lambics, Flanders reds, Flanders browns/Oud bruins), then proceeds to a whirlwind tour of the breweries in Belgium which brew and sell sours. Many of them you’ve probably heard of (Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, Rodenbach), but there were a handful that were new to me. There is an illustration section which shows photos of many of these breweries.
It then proceeds on to the science of how sour beers end up like they do, describing the yeast/bacteria involved, the life cycle of fermentation, and the effects of different fermentation vessels that pro brewers use. It then wraps up by explaining how you can make this magic at home and provides a number of recipes that you can use to brew these classic styles.
Verdict? Wild Brews really is canonical for a reason. The information contained in it is damn near exhaustive when it comes to brewing classic Belgian sours. It’s an invaluable asset to any homebrewers who want to start down the path of brewing sours or even for the sour beer lover who wants a better understanding of how the beer he or she is drinking was made. The only qualm I have with the book is that I wish that Mr. Sparrow would issue an updated version of the book. I realize it focuses primarily on the classic Belgian styles of sour beers, but a lot has changed (in particular, in the United States) since 2005 when it comes to craft beer and the rise of sour/wild beers. New strains of Brettanomyces and Brett/bacteria blends have been released by White Labs and Wyeast since then, as well. Overall, though, that’s just me nit-picking and it shouldn’t deter anyone from purchasing this book. Available for less than $15, this is easily the most enlightening homebrew-related book I’ve read since I opened John Palmer’s How to Brew and started down this fun path.
In my continuing quest to learn everything I can about beer I picked up a copy of Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink by Randy Mosher off of Amazon a few weeks ago. They had a sale where the Kindle version was only $3 down from the normal $9, the dead tree version is $11. I would recommend the kindle version because at its core this is a reference book. Being able to open it up on your phone in a bar/bottle shop and search for the style of beer you’re looking at is where this book will shine in the long run.
After reading Mike Morgan’s Over-The-Rhine: When Beer was King (here is my review) I became really interested in what other Cincinnati related beer history books were out there. I was honestly surprised to find that there were anymore at all, but after reading Timothy Holian’s Over The Barrel books I’m surprised there aren’t more. Cincinnati has a nearly 200 year old brewing history which at one time was the 4th largest brewing center in the country.
Holian had so much material he ended up writing 2 volume::
- Over The Barrel: The brewing history and beer culture of Cincinnati
- Volume One: 1800 -> Prohibition
- Volume Two – Prohibition -> 2001
The first book is much more enjoyable to me because it’s a crazy non-stop success story with a few failures here and there. The second book however tells the story of the slow painful death of Cincinnati’s breweries. It’s not that the second book is a bad book, just a bit depressing to read about how the big breweries crushed and squeezed the life out of the smaller regional breweries. Both books though are slightly painful to read. They are overflowing with various stats which often becomes tedious to read through and at least for me all the numbers begin to get mixed up. Holian also repeats things, summarizes, and then re-summarizes a great deal. If that all were cut out there might only be 1 book. On one hand this is nice because it reinforces a lot of the ideas… but it makes it even more work to read.
I don’t want to compare this to Mike Morgan’s book too much, but there aren’t many books on Cincinnati brewing history so I have little to compare to. I’ll just say that were Morgan focused on OTR and only OTR, Holian focuses on the entire Greater Cincinnati Area. I honestly had no idea at all of Covington’s brewing history and the fact that the empty building on the side of 75 which used to be Jillian’s was originally the Bavarian Brewing Company nearly 140 years ago! Another big difference between the two is that Mike Morgan excels at telling a great story in his book. Over The Barrel reads much more like a text book with all the facts and figures that it presents. I don’t want people to view this as a bad thing, just be prepared for the difference.
One comment about what is possibly my favorite fact from this book. I remember a few years back there was a bit of a kerfluffle, and even a New York Times article, about Who Dey vs Who Dat. Now hopefully Bengals fans are already well familiar with the Who Dey chant, if you’re not a Bengals fan it goes “Who Dey! Who Dey! Who dey think gonna beat dem Bengals!” The answer, unfortunately, is almost everyone…. but we’re in a rebuilding year! The New Orleans Saints have a similar chant, “Who Dat! Who Dat! Who dat say gonna beat dem Saints!” As you can see they’re very similar and they both started in the early 80s. The exact beginnings are lost to the sands of time and the dust up is over who started using theirs first. Luckily Holian brings a small fact to light. In December 1982 the Bengals got into the playoffs and Hudepohl created a specially designed can to commemorate the event with “Hu-dey” written on it in big letters. Suck that New Orleans!
A small note on availability: These books do not seem to be available to buy new in any stores and used copies sell on Amazon and Ebay for around $50 per volume. Luckily Cincinnati has one of the greatest, and busiest, library systems in the country. They also seem to have 1 to 2 copies of both volumes at almost every library branch! So if you feel inclined to read this I would suggest a trip down to your local library. Or do like I did and pick them up at the main branch then walk down the street to Arnold’s for a beer while you start reading them!