Tiny Bubbles

Tiny Bubbles: Three New Book Reviews

Wood & Beer, Homebrew All-stars, Craft Brew books

Time to share my thoughts on a number of new books that have come out over the past couple of months. The new trend seems to be recipe books for homebrewers as I’ve been getting a ton of them. There are a lot of homebrew recipes available on the internet and at homebrew shops, but the fun thing about these books are the extra stories and pictures that accompany the recipes.

Craft Brew – Euan Ferguson

This is one of those books that I would have never heard of if I wasn’t on the publisher’s email list. So many brewing/beer/homebrew books are being published nowadays that it’s hard to know about them all and it’s too bad because some of them are really great, like this one. Craft Brew is a collection of brewing recipes from some of the most respected and well known breweries around the world like Mikkeller, Firestone, Baladin, Nogne O, Omnipollo, Evil Twin and so many more.

The hard cover book is small and compact with a simple brown paper bag like cover. The author, a well known and respected beer writer from England, spent many years traveling to various breweries and collecting recipes. The recipes are broken up by style and flavor, which makes it easy to flip around and find the type of beer you’re looking to brew. Each recipe includes a short story about the brewery and the history of the beer. The photos that accompany each recipe are beautiful, which is always important in any book (no one wants a recipe book with just words…right?).

The highlight of this book is the quality of the recipes and who they are coming from. If you’re unsure of what to brew next, you’ll find something in here that you’d want to make. Some of my personal favorite recipes are Saison Sauvin from 8 Wired, Union Jack from Firestone, Spanning & Sensatie from De Molen and Ginormous from Gigantic. These are big name beers from big name breweries.

This is a book for more advanced brewers. All of the recipes are for all grain brewing and most require a bit of interpretation. The first 54 pages of the book are dedicated to explaining the brewing process, ingredients, equipment and the normal home brewing basics, which seems like a waste of pages since very few beginners would be able to brew straight from these recipes. Some of the ingredients for recipes will be hard to find and you’ll have to figure out how to substitute them and there is no IBU info provided. You could calculate the IBUs based off of the AA info included, but it would’ve been nice to at least have a base IBU to shoot for.

One glaring omission from the book are Belgian breweries. There are none. Not one! I know Belgian brewers can be tight lipped about their recipes, but it’s somewhat odd to have recipes from breweries from around the world, but not a single one from Belgium. That being said, this is a really well done book that would be a perfect gift for any home brewer. $20 on Amazon

Homebrew All-Stars – Drew Beechum and Denny Conn

Another recipe book, but instead of pulling recipes from professional breweries Homebrew All-Stars shares top recipes from top home brewers. This book is loaded with a wealth of tips and knowledge from some of the most awarded and respected home brewers in the country. Bright, glossy with tons of great pics make this a fun book to flip through.

Beechum and Conn are both well known and respected brewers who previously published Experimental Homebrewing, a great book with really fun (and adventurous) recipes. Here they collected dozens of recipes from other homebrewers like Gordon Strong, Mike McDole, Michael Tonsmeire (author of American Sour Beers) and Nathan Smith. These are all home brewers that have made a name for themselves on the National level and each one shares not only their favorite recipe, but also their own tips and techniques.

The recipes vary from clean lagers to funky sours, so there’s something for everyone. All recipes are for all grain brewing. You’ll have to do some converting if you brew extract. The total volume for each recipes varies from 5 gallons to 6.5 gallons, so you can scale depending on your own personal system.

The recipes are fantastic, but the real gem of this book are the tips from each brewer. Sour beer experts like Brandon Jones (brewer at Yazoo and author of embracethefunk.com) share advice on temperature control for various bugs and pitching rates. Fred Bonjour shares his tips on brewing super high gravity beers. This is info that every homebrewer can use and is so fun to read.

Sure you can find a ton of recipes online for free, but the real value of this book is learning how other home brewers do things. That type of info is hard to come by and in Homebrew All-Stars you’ll get it from some seriously good brewers. $15 on Amazon

Wood & Beer, A Brewer’s Guide – Dick Cantwell and Peter Bouckaert

Ok, full disclosure…I haven’t finished reading this book yet. Unlike the two recipe books above, Wood & Beer isn’t a book you can just flip through and browse at your leisure. Similar to the other brewing basics books from Brewers Publications (Water, Yeast, Malt, etc), Wood & Beer is the definitive book on the subject.

This book isn’t just about how wood affects beer and how to use it in your brewing. The authors go through extensive lengths to discuss the history of barrels, the art of coopering and the process of wood selection. I’ve learned more in the first 4 chapters about barrels than I’ve ever known. Everyone loves a good barrel aged stout or a funky sour, but learning about how those barrels come to life and what goes into them can really open your eyes to the role that wood plays in beer.

This isn’t a how to guide on using wood or barrel aging. There is a ton of info that you can take and apply to your brewing, both homebrew and professional, but don’t expect a step by step guide. There is more technical information in this book than you’ll know what to do with, so take your time reading it. For anyone looking to grow their knowledge on the brewing process this is a must read. Any professional brewer that plays with barrels would benefit from this as well. How to fix a broken stave? Rehydrating a barrel? Inspecting for infections? It’s all in here.

What might be more useful than all of the technical info is the insight from authors Peter Bouckaert and Dick Cantwell. Bouckaert may have more experience with barrels than anyone else on earth. As head brewer at New Belgium he helped build their barrel aging program and previously worked at Rodenbach. He shares a wealth of experiences and knowledge from his years of working with barrels and wood. There’s invaluable info in here straight from his New Belgium team about how they taste, blend, evaluate and handle their barrels.

If you’re a crazy beer geek, studying for the Cicerone exam or a brewer wanting to learn as much as possible, this is a book you want to read. For the average home brewer, I’d caution picking this up. It’s long, technical and you have to be motivated to read it. If you can’t make it through a book like Yeast, then I’d pass on this. $12 on Amazon

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