Category Archives: Book Review

Historic IPA recipe from Mitch Steele’s IPA

A few weeks ago I recieved a copy of Mitch Steele’s IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. While a significant portion of the book is dedicated to the history of British brewing and IPAs, there are a number of recipes in the back of the book. These recipes are not only for historic IPAs, but also modern IPAs, including double and black variations.

I found that the historic sections of the book, as well as the historic recipes were most interesting, largely due to how insanely hoppy the IPAs of the 1700s and 1800s were. You have to wonder about a hoppy beer being aged in oak for 1-3 years, and still being hoppy — that’s a lot of hops in the beer.

I’ve had a stockpile of Fuggles for a while, and was wondering what to do with them (they aren’t exactly my favorite hop variety), when I stumbled upon a recipe in the book that uses a massive amount of hops — 1.54oz/gallon in the boil, and 0.25oz/gallon dry hopped, for a total of 120 IBUs in a 5.8% beer. Additionally, the grain bill is just British pale malt.

From IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale

“This is a moderate strength ale with a heavy dose of hops…. each recipe varies a bit, but this one epitomizes the theme. A single malt. A single hop. This beer is decidedly different from the ones to come later in the century. The hop flavor is truly through the roof. At nearly 5 pounds per barrel at a moderate gravity, saying this is hoppy is an understatement.”

Tasting notes: “Herby, hay-ey, grassy; ladyfingers crawl through the hop mist. Thoroughly, rippingly hoppy. Hops. More hops. Hop resins. Very long, dry, and crisp finish leaves a touch of malt sweetness shellacked and varnished with hops. Delicious hop burps. Hmmmmmmm…… hoppy.”

I did some calculations assuming loss in the kettle due to all the hops, as well as dry hopping, and also due to the fact that my Fuggles were lower alpha than what the book assumes, and so my recipe had slightly more hops than what I initially calculated.

Recipe: Fuggle IPA
Style: 14A-India Pale Ale(IPA)-English IPA

Recipe Overview

Wort Volume Before Boil: 8.75 US gals
Wort Volume After Boil: 6.50 US gals
Volume Transferred: 6.50 US gals
Volume At Pitching: 5.50 US gals
Expected Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.042 SG
Expected OG: 1.057 SG
Expected FG: 1.014 SG
Expected ABV: 5.7 %
Expected ABW: 4.5 %
Expected IBU (using Tinseth): 122.5
Expected Color: 5.2 SRM
Apparent Attenuation: 75.0 %
Mash Efficiency: 75.0 %
Fermentation Temperature: 68 degF

UK Pale Ale Malt 13lb 5oz (100.0 %) In Mash/Steeped

UK Fuggle (4.0 % alpha) 4.50 oz Loose Pellet Hops used First Wort Hopped
UK Fuggle (4.0 % alpha) 4.00 oz Loose Pellet Hops used 30 Min From End
UK Fuggle (4.0 % alpha) 4.00 oz Loose Pellet Hops used 15 Min From End
UK Fuggle (4.0 % alpha) 2.00 oz Loose Pellet Hops used Dry-Hopped

Yeast: Wyeast 1028-London Ale

Mash Schedule
Mash Type: Full Mash
Step: Rest at 156 degF for 60 mins

As per my usual MO, the 60 minute hops went in as first-wort hops, and in this photo, you can see the boil trying to break through the cake of hops floating at the top. Keep in mind this is only 33% of the kettle hops.


I’m glad that I scaled up the recipe, because there was a lot of hop goo at the bottom of the kettle, and I also had a massive blowoff during fermentation. It’s about 3 days from going into the keg, and I can’t wait to see what it tastes like.

Book Review: Smoked Beers by Ray Daniels and Geoffrey Larson

smoked-beersI had my first smoked beer a little over two years ago, something that many Americans have never even heard of, let alone tried. It was a Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, a smoked malty beer with a full body and a mind-boggling amount of smoked character. As I said, I had never had (nor heard of) a smoked beer before, and so I was blown away. For a while, I enjoyed them on a rare occasion, but had never made a smoked beer.

Recently, my wife requested that I make her a smoked beer, and I was only too happy to oblige, and so I made a smoked porter (which at the time of this writing has aged for a couple months and is keg conditioning). I really enjoyed making this beer, as the mash and boil smelled amazing, and so I was intrigued to learn more.

When I sat down to read this book, I had no idea the history lesson or chemistry lesson that was in store for me. I expected a book which of course would cover the obligatory history of smoke in beer, but spend the majority of it’s time covering how to formulate a good smoked beer recipe, but this book packs way more than that. It covers 70 pages of history and historical kiln designs before getting into modern producers of smoked beer.

Current high-profile producers of smoked beer and their processes are given about another 65 pages of coverage, providing information on their smoking process, wood type, kiln types, and beer types, as well as differences between countries and then some breakdowns of different beer formulas used by a handfull of smoked beer producers.

The chemistry of smoke is given the next 30 pages or so to describe exactly what happens when you smoke malt, some do’s and don’ts, as well as important advice for avoiding some nasty flavors in your malt. This chapter was a bit heavy for me the first time through, but then again, I wasn’t reading this book as a primer for smoking my own malt. If that ever becomes a goal of mine, I’ll be sure to go through this chapter more carefully, which brings me to the next chapter, smoking malt. This chapter provides a variety of methods for smoking your own malt, ranging from slow and high-yield, to fast and low-yield.

The last chapter, which is possibly the smallest chapter in the whole book, is focused on giving you some recipes to brew a wide variety of beer styles using smoked malt. While this is what I was expecting to find in the book, I actually enjoyed the other chapters much more. This is followed by a nice appendix of some ideas for cooking with smoked beer.

I really did enjoy this book, albeit not for the reasons I thought I would. I don’t plan to smoke my own malt anytime soon, but I now feel well informed and prepared should I choose to. And if nothing else, I hope this inspires some others who haven’t tried a smoked beer to do so, they’re not like any other beer you’ve had before!

Book Review: Yeast by White & Zainasheff

yeast_bookOk, so you have to be a bit of a geek to read a book called Yeast, let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. It’s a geeky book for beer geeks. In that sense, this book delivers. Yeast covers cell biology, metabolism, and flocculation – and that’s just in the second chapter.

There’s a whole chapter dedicated to choosing the right yeast for your brewery, home or commercial, with an excellent guide for commercial brewers to determine how many yeast strains they can keep active in their brewery based on frequency of brew days. There’s a chart of the most commonly brewed styles, with an elegant fallback for fewer yeast strains, and an optimization for which yeast to add if you’re going to be adding one more.

Chapter 4 breaks down the whole process of fermentation as it relates to brewing, and gives you specifics on all the relevant factors that will effect the flavor and quality of your beer, aroma, flavor, attenuation, etc.

Chapter 5 was the most interesting to me, as it covered pitching rates. Now if you’re a homebrewer, you probably have experienced they varying rules about pitching rates, plus your own experience of not following those rules with acceptable results. This chapter breaks down pitching rates into the specifics I’ve been looking for – exactly what happens if I don’t follow the rules? What if I overpitch or underpitch, and which is better?  It also has some excellent explanation and charts about growing up a starter, providing great analysis of investment vs. return. Lastly, this chapter covers yeast harvesting and re-pitching guides, as well as yeast washing. Again, information very widely available, but it’s nice to see it presented in such a well organized manner, and following a scientific process.

The last chapter was where the geek in me started to get a little overwhelmed, and it’s a big chapter, all about setting up your own yeast lab. Now White and Zainasheff do a good job here providing scale – meaning that they provide many levels of labs, from high-end commercial to a homebrew scale. This chapter spans information about guesstimating cell count from the color of solution in water (nice for a homebrewer), all the way to cell staining for viability and mutation. This chapter is jam-packed with information about equipment purchases and setting up a sterile lab room, but always brings it back to the bare-bones methods for accomplishing a similar task.

This book is a fantastic reference book, and while it took me a while to read through it the first time, I know I’ll be going back again and again for reference.

Book Review: Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher


Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher is a very interesting book to say the least. I first had the opportunity to flip through this book shortly after switching to all-grain brewing, and I found the book a bit difficult to approach at that time. I was reading a lot of new books, and I was very process oriented at the time, and I found this book, which is packed full of information and ideas, to be a bit overwhelming. A recent discussion with Erik Lars Myers of Mystery Brewing prompted me to give the book another pass.

I was surprised to find upon opening the book for the second time, that there is a whole introductory section for beginning brewers, and some pretty solid advice at that. Little tidbits that would have helped me a long time ago, like the fact that liquid extract goes stale faster than dry extract. (Who would have expected that?) Mosher walks the novice brewer through the process of the first batch, and provides simple steps that any beginning brewer can take to drastically improve their finished product beyond the kits that many homebrew shops sell.

Mosher doesn’t dwell on the beginner’s process long though, and moves on into all-grain brewing, and then into what constitutes the bulk of the book, recipes, historical beers, different styles, and a seemingly never-ending catalog of ideas and methods to make your beers just a little different from the traditional recipe. This, along with several charts and indices of herbs, spices hops, grains and other adjuncts, along with flavor and aroma descriptions, are some of the most valuable assets contained within the pages of Radical Brewing.

Mosher also gives ample coverage to the more popular variations on brewing: basic styles, lagers, belgians, over-the-top big beers, alternative grain beers, spiced beers, even fruit and honey brews. There’s very little that’s not covered in Radical Brewing in some way, shape or form. You’ll likely find yourself with a book full of bookmarks to come back to when you’re ready to do that [insert beer type here].

Radical Brewing is an extremely dense book at over 300 pages, there’s a lot of information. It may seem a little overwhelming at first, but take your time. If you’re an experienced brewer, pick it up and flip the book open anywhere. You’re likely to find something that piques your interest, and gives you a little inspiration that you’ll be grateful for.

Book Review: Brew Like a Monk by Stan Hieronymus

brewlikeamonkI must confess that Belgian beers still make me a little anxious. For a long time, I thought that I didn’t like Belgian beers. Something about them seemed a little strange, and I preferred the tamer ales. Then about a year ago, I had a couple that I really liked. My expectations were now very confused. After years of thinking that I didn’t like Belgian yeasts, maybe there was more to it than that.

When I was given an opportunity to read Brew Like a Monk, I made up my mind to throw myself into it in an effort to try to decipher just what differences there were amongst the Belgian beers, and why I might like some more than others, and what better way than to learn about how they’re made, what makes them different, and what flavors the different styles showcase.

Hieronymus begins with the story of the monastic brewing tradition, correcting some misconceptions about their brewing practices, and providing a timeline of the development of Monastic and Trappist brewing. Hieronymus moves on to cover six trappist breweries, their histories and the beer that they have become known for. Next, Hieronymus moves on to Abbey beers, beers that are not brewed within the walls of the monastery, but are either attempting to mimic that style of beer, or have been contracted by a monastery to brew beer for them.

The next two chapters though, are where I really start to dig in. Just in case you didn’t start to gleam some of this information before, Hieronymus starts to get all technical now about mashing and brewing profiles, breaking down even more recipes in the process. Hieronymus then gets into yeast in a big way, going through various profiles of the two big suppliers in the US, Wyeast and White Labs, providing profile information on their popular strains of Belgian yeast, and even breaking them down by temperature range during fermentation, which I thought was really cool. Hieronymus even goes through and tells you which of the big Belgian Abbey/Trappist breweries have a commercial yeast culture available through one of the vendors cited above.

Next comes one of the more challenging, and yet, most important components of Belgian Trappist/Abbey production, bottle conditioning. I’ve always found the process of bottle conditioning to be a challenging one, but I’ve never pitched fresh yeast at bottling time either, something which all commercial brewers do. There are two main reasons Belgian Trappist/Abbey brewers bottle condition their beer, one is for flavor, and the other is to develop the high volume of carbonation expected in the style, which develops best in champagne type bottles with a cork and cage closure.

The last section of the book focuses on the reader and next steps, one chapter discussing the sub-genres of Belgian Trappist/Abbey beers, in an attempt to further educate the reader if they are looking to brew a specific style, or to judge in a competition. The last chapter focuses on recipes and recipe formulation. As a budding brewer myself, I like the tone that this section sets. Here are some recipes, but we encourage you to take these recipes, and draw inspiration from them, don’t brew them ounce for ounce. This has to be one of the best take-aways of this book, that there is no secret recipe, the way to make a special beer is to take it and make it your own, put yourself in the process, and see what happens.

This was definitely an enlightening book, and even though I’m still on the fence about Belgian Trappist/Abbey beers, I feel much more empowered and educated to move forward in my appreciation of the styles, and also to draw a little inspiration from within, and without the walls of the Abbey.

Book review: Great American Craft Beer by Andy Crouch

gacb-bookAndy Crouch is a beer lover and a very talented writer on the subject of beer. American beer has been given the short end of the stick for decades, largely due to prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s. American beer, and craft beer specifically, has been on the rise for the past 4 decades, and is finally beginning to gain the recognition it deservers for all the homebrewers, microbrewers and beer enthusiasts who have struggled to resurrect American beer from the doldrums of mediocrity.

Andy Crouch, for those unfamiliar with his writing, is well equipped to give us what we like. Crouch puts it out there like it is: punchy and to the point. He expands upon the vocabulary of the average beer reviwer but doesn’t get carried away, and speaks a language that we can all understand. In other words, to read a beer review written by Andy Crouch is a privilege, and this book is packed to the gills with them. I still find myself turning to the internet in many cases to attempt to determine if an unfamiliar high-end bottle of beer is worth my money, and I spend a while sifting through a number of reviews on RateBeer or BeerAdvocate before deciding whether or not to trust the feedback I’ve read. There are so many reviews and reviewers out there that I feel that I need to read quite a few to calibrate my own gauge before heading out to the store.

Andy Crouch has done the hard work for us, highlighting some of the best that America has to offer. Crouch does not contend that these are the end-all be-all of American beer, this is simply a guide to some of the best that America has to offer. He instills a confidence that if you were to order one of these beers, you would find a top example of the style, and not only that, but that you will see just what American craftbrewers are capable of.

Alright, sentimentalism aside, what is this book all about? Andy Crouch has compiled a book for the beginner and the fanatic. Sure, if you’ve been a craft beer fan for a decade or more, some of the information in the book may seem a bit simplistic, but thanks to Crouch’s brevity, you won’t be bored for long. This is not a book only for the seasoned beer fanatic, this is a book for the cautious beer fan, the freshman, as well as the experienced beer lover, looking to see just what’s out there that they might have missed.

Crouch gives a background of beer in America, taking us from colonization to the craft beer movement. He does this in a staggeringly small number of pages, giving us the Cliff Notes of American beer. The bulk of the book is reserved for a guide to a wide variety of beer styles, in each case highlighting some of the best that American Craft Beer has to offer. Crouch put himself through a grueling number of tastings in order to decide which beers to profile in this book, and you may be surprised to see how few of the holy grails of american beer made it in this book. After all, this isn’t a book dedicated to the rarest, most sought after beers in America, this is a book dedicated to style and education, seeking to educate and liberate the timid beer drinker.

If you’re a skeptic, wondering if you can trust Crouch to match your tastes, I would suggest you flip through the book. I live in Maine, a state with magnificent local breweries, but a tragic shortfall for national brand selection in our local 6-pack shops. I was surprised that I found myself able to fall into sync with Crouch’s notes on the national brands I have had the opportunity to try. His reviews are blunt and to the point, but not without a lack of descriptors that are capable of painting a vivid picture for those who may never have the opportunity to taste some of these beers in their lifetime.

Crouch doesn’t stop there however, he continues on to provide insight for the novice beer enthusiast on freshness, glassware, tasting, pairing with foods, and respect. I would venture to say that there are very few who couldn’t learn something from Great American Craft Beer. Beyond all this, the book is gorgeous. Full color throughout, and it has heft to it, making it feel special. As the dust jacket says, there is a beer out there for everyone, and I encourage you to find it. You’ll be glad you did.

Book review: Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow

wild-brewsHomebrewers are taught from the very beginning that sanitation is priority #1, and that anything growing in your beer other than saccharomyces (brewer’s yeast) is the worst thing possible, and as a result, we spend a lot of time cleaning and sanitizing. Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow brings to light a tradition of making beer with saccharomyces in concert with a handful of other microorganisms, and it’s good.

Of these styles, most Americans would be lucky to have heard of a lambic beer before, most of us have not. Wild brews introduces us to a handful of beer styles going back hundreds of years, all made with wild organisms. While science has allowed us to identify many of these organisms, and Wyeast and White Labs have clean cultures available commercially, Sparrow tells us that nothing is quite the same as when you let nature take it’s own course.

These beers become more like a fine wine, a product of their environment (or terrior) and a product of decades if not centuries of developing a signature blend of microorganisms within the brewery, which cannot be replicated by pitching a culture from a lab. These organisims live in the very walls of the brewery, and most importantly, in the oak barrels that the beer is aged in.

Sparrow takes the reader through a history of wild brewing, highlights the most well-known styles, tells us where we might travel to find examples still being produced, and then spends several chapters getting down to the nitty-gritty of production, fermentation and packaging of these beer varieties, rich in tradition, and like a fine wine, worth the wait (some of these beers take 3 or more years to get from brew to bottle).

For styles, Sparrow covers Flanders Red and Brown ales, Lambics and Gueuzes. For each style, he provides a history and regional background, as well as a standard formula one could use to formulate a recipe, as well as a description of each beer’s flavor profile. In the history chapter, Sparrow covers not only the evolution of the different beer types, but the where and the why of it all, broken down by region. The chapter Drinking Wild Beer covers current breweries manufacturing wild beer, and what they have to offer, including some US breweries.

The rest of the book moves from the where and the why and into the how. Beer Souring Microorganisms covers the major bugs responsible for wild brewing, but the reader is reminded that there are many that are not catalogued as easily that play an important role in authentic lambic beers. Production Methods, Wild Fermentation, Fermentation and Maturation Vessels and Finishing the Beer continue to break down the process into additional chunks, walking the reader through each phase with plenty of information.

If you have ever had a sour or an acid beer, and want to learn more, I would strongly recommend this book. I know that after reading it, I’m not far away from my first beer made with more than saccharomyces.

Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski

farmhouse-alesThe term “farmhouse ales” conjures up romantic mages of simple country beers brewed on self-sufficient farms as a matter of necessity.

The first sentence of the introduction to Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski perfectly sums up most people’s approach to this style of beer, and mine too. Farmhouse ales, as far as this book goes, include two major categories: Bier de Garde and Saison. Two beers which most Americans don’t see in stores very often, and aren’t inclined to try unless they’re getting a sampler from a brewpub.

Prior to reading this book, I’ve only had an opportunity to try Bier de Garde once, and a Saison once or twice, and very far apart. That said, I was excited to read this book because who doesn’t like the idea of a farmhouse beer? Even more exciting than that, I did know that many of these beers are fermented at high temperatures and turn out well. As a homebrewer who likes to brew year-round, this is also very appealing to me, as I don’t have a convenient way to control fermentation temperature.

After reading Farmhouse Ales, I have a greater appreciation for the style(s), and an even greater appreciation for Phil Markowski’s work. Farmhouse ales are a very broad and general type of beer (within the two sub-categories described in the book), and within each sub-category, there seem to be a nearly infinite number of variations, making it extremely difficult to get very specific. Markowski takes the approach of highlighting historical and modern examples of each style, and describing their qualities, leaving it up to the reader to draw their own conclusions as to how one should brew a beer in each style.

Each of the two major sections of the book (Bier de Garde & Saison) are divided into subsections: a historical review, how to find and appreciate modern examples, and how to brew your own. These sections are jam-packed with information, nearly demanding several re-reads from the reader before possibly digesting it all.

If you have ever been interested in Farmhouse ales and their rich history and tradition, I highly recommend this book.

How to Brew by John Palmer

I’ve been homebrewing for a while now, and as I’ve gotten more involved, I realized that not everyone got their start reading Charlie Papazian’s Joy of Homebrewing. In fact, many people did not. Many people got their start with John Palmer’s How to Brew. For those of you who don’t know, it began as an electronic document online, then made into a free web-based book, and was then published. So, while it seemed a little redundant, I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about.
htb3coverFirst of all, Palmer’s How to Brew seems a lot more like a textbook. A quick flip through shows lots of charts and graphs, and plenty of photos. It feels dense. It is impressive.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t read it straight through. I gave the introduction my full attention, and just so that we could get on the same wavelength, I read through the full first chapter. Then I went on to jump around from topic to topic, depending on what I felt like reading at the time. I eventually made it through the whole book, but you can read it however you want.

I like Palmer’s style. He’s a scientist, and it comes through in his writing. No bull, here’s how it works — and that’s pretty much how the book is broken out. That being said, if you’re a little intimidated by how that sounds, don’t worry — Palmer breaks down the process initially, giving you just the basics that you need to proceed, and explains that in the chapters following, he’ll break each step down into more information. How awesome is that?

This, more than anything, is what I liked the best about How to Brew. Want to learn more about mashing? There’s a whole chapter on it. Building a lauter tun? He breaks down all the common methods, with pictures and pros and cons for each type. It’s like all the research you could do online, with varying opinions to sort through, has been consolidated into one volume.

Best of all, this book is not just for extract brewers or all grain brewers, it’s for both. The beginning of the book, as you would expect, walks you through extract, then partial mashing, then full-blown all-grain brewing.

I love the Joy of Homebrewing. I love the attitude, and heck, it should be required reading just so that every homebrewer can get it through their thick head that they need to “Relax, don’t worry, and have a homebrew.” But when I have a question about process, you’d better believe I’m going to Palmer’s How to brew.

Brewing With Wheat by Stan Hieronymus

brewing-with-wheatI was recently given an opportunity to read Stan Hieronymus’ new book, Brewing With Wheat. I wasn’t exactly sure what I would find, but I’ve always been a fan of wheat beers, and I was curious to see what a whole book could tell me about them.

Hieronymus begins the book by painting a vivid portrait of German brewer Bernard Kuhn, making wheat beer in a very traditional method, with references to processes that many modern brewers would never consider. This particular brewer does them because it’s the way it should be done. End of story.

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