Friday 5 February 2016

Book Reviews

Being a bit of a geek, I tend to accumulate stacks of books about most subjects that interest me. Here, to inform and entertain, I've reviewed the various books that I've read so far about homebrewing.

Randy Mosher - Mastering Homebrew

Randy Mosher is a well established and well respected homebrew writer, and Mastering Homebrew is his entry into the "comprehensive general tome" market. In keeping with Mosher's creative approach to brewing, it sets out to teach you how to design your own recipes, not just follow existing ones. There's a great section on how to build up a complex grain bill from scratch and the roles different malts can play, as well as extensive catalogues of grains, hops and other ingredients and discussions of when and how to use them. This approach extends even to the introductory extract brew "recipe", which is actually more of a template, instructing you to add different combinations of steeping grains, hops and yeast depending on the effect that you want to achieve.

There's perhaps a bit too much time spent on wacky ingredients for my taste, particularly in the recipes (which there aren't many of to start with...), but most of the other stuff that you want to know is in there as well.

The book is clearly written with beginners in mind and covers pretty much everything you need to know to get started. On the other hand, there's also a lot of depth in there, and I suspect that it's one of those books that I'll keep finding useful little nuggets in for years.

Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer - Brewing Classic Styles

This actually makes a great companion to Mastering Homebrew. The focus here is on brewing "classic" beer styles by-the-book - something that Mosher has limited time for - with a recipe and some general advice being given for each BJCP-recognized style. I haven't tried following any of the recipes precisely, but they make good starting points for tinkering with. The recipes are mostly given for extract brewing with steeped grains, but each one is followed by a full grain bill and mashing instructions for all-grain brewers.

Graham Wheeler - Brew Your Own British Real Ale

A good set of general brewing instructions and a solid stack of recipes for trad British ales. The focus here is on following recipes, not on creating them from scratch, though, and as the title suggests, the book is very much about traditional British ale styles - American hops are more-or-less explicitly dismissed as universally inferior to Fuggles and Goldings. Wheeler seems a bit less fastidious in his approach than a lot of homebrew writers, which makes for an interesting alternative perspective at times.

Phil Markowski - Farmhouse Ales

This is divided into two parts - Biere de Garde and Saison. In each one, it covers loads of historic and cultural context, leading into a description of what the beers are like to drink, followed by a general discussion of how they're brewed and then some specific recipes. Some people might find that there's more information here than they really need, but if you like digging into this sort of stuff then it's fantastic.

Most people are probably going to buy this book for the section on saison, but I'd be surprised if all the talk of "rustic, malty ales" didn't tempt a few of them into trying their hand at the odd biere de garde as well.