Flipping through new home brewing books like Beer Craft: A Simple Guide to Making Craft Beer is a reminder how different the average home brewing recipe book is from the standard cookbook. For starters, the number of pages dedicated to basic homebrew techniques makes them more of a general guidebook than a true recipe book (imagine if a cookie cookbook required a 50 page Introduction, rather than the usual one or two, on how to measure flour and handle dough).
That homebrewing books usually are so different is exactly the point that Beer Craft authors William Bostwick and Jessi Rymill are trying to make with this handy -- pretty stellar, actually -- little pocket guide. Turn the page.
Instead of the usual long, dry, and often overly complicated (boring?) tome on how to make your own IPA, this is a focused and entertaining candy-colored version for the novice intimidated by all that diacetyl and pentanedione. Here, step-by-step instructions on how to make beer, from choosing ingredients to fermenting and bottling, are accompanied by cartoon-like graphics that even make the idea of lifting that 10-gallon mash tun sound fun.
There are short diversions sprinkled throughout the book, like suggestions for brewers on a budget, brewing shortcuts, and the occasional profile of a half dozen brewers around the country - the usual craft beer suspects like Greg Koch of Stone Brewing. After going through homebrewing techniques, you get ten basic recipes for ale, pilsner and the like from which to try out your new fermenting expertise. More complicated beers are also covered, like sour ales, with tips from experts like The Bruery's Tyler King.
But the most interesting chapters are those that cover more advanced brewing techniques, with tips (and failures) from professional brewers "Dry hopping coffee would be great," says John Trogner of Tröegs. "We were going to try it, but on a 100-barrel brew, it's a huge pain in the ass. Only a homebrewer could do it."
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That sort of advice falls alongside tips from Bostwick and Rymill on how to take their basic recipes and add herbs, spices, and other ingredients ("Start with 20 grams [of coffee] and go up from there. Grind them coarsely... the key is never to boil your beans."] If you've ever added fresh herbs like sage to a batch of home brew, you know how tricky a recipe like that can actually be - there is a fine line between an herbal elixir and an undrinkable soap-tasting mess.
Which gets us to the handiest chapter in the book, "Tasting and Troubleshooting." Here, the authors give you the possible reasons your beer tastes like nail polish remover (among them, fermenting the beer at too high a temperature) and solutions (aerate your wort well, pitch enough yeast). Unfortunately with home brewing, this isn't one of those load-on-the-icing sorts of baking cover-up moments. You'll have to toss that batch and start over.
But if you're obsessed enough about brewing to convert your guest bathroom into a fermenting lounge, you know those brews that go down the drain are not lost, but are learning experiences (or so we tell ourselves as we hand over our credit card for more hops). One too many "learning experiences" and you know that home brewing isn't rocket science, but it takes a while to get the hang of it. Which is why Beer Craft is one of the best home brew books for beginners that we've seen in a long time. Easy sipping and straight to the point, yet peppered with useful details and interesting variations. Just as any good home brew should be.