Category Archives: Book Review

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.

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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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