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Book Review: Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher

radical_brewing_cover

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.

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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.

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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