Reading about home brewing and beer is a fun way of finding out more about it. Almost as good as brewing itself.
So, here’s a round-up of three beer books I’ve enjoyed recently.
The books are quite different: there’s an all-out home brewing book, one about yeast and finally just a great read whether you like beer or not (granted, you probably do if you’re reading this).
Brewing Better Beer
First, a masterclass from home brew expert Gordon Strong.
This isn’t an instruction book. It assumes you already know how to brew and, more specifically, that you’re an all grain brewer.
Instead of showing you how, it’s look at why and what to brew. A pep talk encouraging you to push yourself.
It’s about developing your own ideas and achieving the necessary skill to implement them:
Anyone looking to master the craft of brewing should first work to get the fundamentals right. Before you can begin improvising and being truly creative and inventive, you should take the time to understand the proper way of doing things…
Rather than simply laying out the choices and letting you decide, I will try to lead you through the decision process and discuss some of the choices I have made in developing a personal style. The goal isn’t to have you emulate how I brew, but to use how I brew to help you develop you own way of brewing. Being a master means that you understand the body of knowledge and how to apply it, and that you are able to blaze your own path. You can’t really do that if you are trying to emulate someone else. Don’t strive to brew like I do; strive to brew better than I do.
If you follow this blog, you may have noticed that I’ve already taken this to heart with my own exploration of the brewing process.
The book covers a lot of ground quickly, explaining how choice of equipment, ingredients and techniques should all be informed by what you want to achieve.
There’s an emphasis on questioning and testing as a way of eliminating doubt from the brew process. Strong encourages you to focus on the important things, avoiding unnecessary concern for insignificant details.
I found the discussion on beer judging towards the end of the book to be overly long and padded, but it’s a small complaint in an otherwise great book.
If you’ve already got the basic brew process down and are looking for a push forward, you may find it here.
Although called Yeast, it’s the sub-title that most clearly explains what this book is about: The Practical Guide To Beer Fermentation.
The topic may sound dry, boring even, but Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff’s book is very readable, and is peppered with stories from yeast’s history.
One thing I found especially interesting were the frequent mentions to “selective pressure”.
Brewers, apparently unwittingly, have repeatedly harvested only the most useful yeast from their fermentations. This greatly reduces the yeast’s chances of mutating from generation to generation and gives brewers a degree of consistency.
After setting the scene, the books contains practical advice on most aspects of yeast use. It’s information that I’ve seen in other home brewing books, but not so clearly explained.
Among the topics of interest are why to make yeast starters, pitching rates, flavours (good and bad) and use or not of secondary fermenters. There are also extensive notes on setting up your own yeast lab.
However, despite my enjoyment of the book, I suspect that if you’re already knowledgeable about yeast you may find it overly simple.
That I could easily read and understand everything leads me to suspect there’s a final level of detail missing.
In fact, the authors themselves acknowledge this:
This is a book for those who are in the early stages of their love of yeast and what it can do for their beer.
It’s pitched (pun post-rationalised to be intended) as a “practical guide” and it is indeed full of things you can try yourself.
After reading it I feel I’ve got more idea of what I’m aiming for when preparing wort, as well as the fermentation environment I need to provide for my beer.
Hops and Glory
Finally, a book that’s not totally about brewing but is my favourite of the three.
Part history, part sea adventure and part beer book, Hops and Glory is Pete Brown‘s account of his recreation of IPA’s journey from England to India.
The IPA story, as you’ve probably heard, goes like this: it was a special beer developed for the Indian climate and the long conditioning process offered by the journey out there.
Before starting his own journey, Brown sets out his stall:
There had to be much more to the basic IPA story. But as well as proving or disproving the myth – that this sea journey alchemized the beer in some way – the voyage would have many more facets.
Indeed it does. Brown nimbly interweaves historical information about beer and the British Empire with his own trip in an impressive and gripping way.
There are many strands to the book.
The rise and fall of Burton as the centre of the brewing world is covered right up to the present day. We also get a glimpse of London during the days of the British Empire, along with tales of what was going on in India.
It wasn’t all pleasant of course, but it’s fascinating to read about it.
Despite my obvious interest in the beer and brewing, above all it was the adventure that kept me turning the pages.
The sea voyage from Britain to India, via Brazil, is compelling and inspiring. It makes you yearn for a pint of IPA and a good holiday.
Of the three books, Hops and Glory is the one that I most heartily recommend.