Or: Best books on brewing I ever bought.
The scientist in me tends to process a lot of written information. That does not mean that I lack an empirical urge, but I like to learn what others have already learned too.
There is an abundance of books about brewing and related stuff, and far from all of them are good and useful. In fact, I have found that many are very alike (and thus redundant) and that most focus on rather basic stuff. This is great if you’re a newbie but after say 50 batches you want to elevate from the basic level and there is a limited amount of literature to help you do that.
The following is my Top 10 list, i.e. the ten most valuable books in my brewing library. They are sorted into three rough categories: books on how to brew, books on what to brew, and other books.
The first book is only available in Swedish. So far. I believe it would do great on the English speaking market, particularly no when the authors’ brand (Omnipollo) has gained such fame and cred.
Fentie, Henok & Grandin, Karl (2013). Brygg öl. Stockholm: Natur & Kultur
This is where I started. After I brewed the extract kit that my wife bought me I got this book and immediately moved on to all grain brewing. Hence – very powerful stuff.
This is a book for rookies, or for more experienced rookies who wants to get a firm grip on their process and equipment. I’d say that the book shows a perfect setup for brewing 10 liter batches, which I think is quite enough for rookies.
IN hindsight, there are some things that could have been better explained in the book, for example the implications of, and practice for, hitting those gravity points. But besides that, this is a great place to start.
Hughes, Greg (2013). Home Brew Beer. London: DK
This is the second book I bought. It’s strength, at that point, was to introduce plenty of beer styles and recipes. It also describes the brewing process, similar to but not as good as Henok & Fentie, with lots of pictures but also goes deeper into malts, yeasts and hops. This is also very useful for the beginner.
Swedish edition available at Adlibris
Palmer, John J. (2006). How to brew: everything you need to know to brew beer right the first time. 3. ed. Boulder, Colo.: Brewers Publications
As mentioned, the rookie books bypasses some crucial aspects of the brewing process. So in order to find answers to all those questions that arise while learning to brew, John Palmer’s classic How to brew is the way to go. AN early version of it is available online but if you’re serious about this you get your own hard copy. Like Hughes, Palmer has extract brewing as his point of departure. This confuses me a bit. Often, all grain brewing is framed as something odd in home brewing. Nevertheless, How to brew is the benchmark for a book on how to brew. No other title surpasses it and probably won’t in the future either. Or let me rephrase that: This is the book on brewing, but it’s easier for a rookie to start with one of the above.
If you wish to dig all the way down to the bottom, for example when you begin to believe that you need to treat your water or when you think you’re gonna save a buck by propagating you own yeast strain, there is the Brewer’s Association’s series on the four elements. I have them all (of course) but I only use two.
Daniels, Ray (2000). Designing great beers. The ultimate guide to brewing Classic beer styles. Boulder, Colo.: Brewers Publications
So let’s move on to books about what to brew. Formulating recipes is one of the things about home brewing that I find most fascinating. Total power and control. So how do you formulate a recipe? I’d say with some knowledge about beer styles and their anatomy, and some creativity.
This was my entry to beer styles and their anatomy. This is a great book in that it does not simply give you recipes (like Hughes book above) but the history, character and structure of styles. It teaches you how to design your malt bill and your hop schedule, how to choose yeast and what water to emulate in order to brew those great beer styles. Actually, it also reveals the answer to one of the mysteries that the books above kinda side steps: how to hit target gravity.
Zainasheff, Jamil & Palmer, John J. (2007). Brewing classic styles: 80 winning recipes anyone can brew. Boulder, Colo.: Brewers Publications
While Daniels breaks down the classic styles he does not provide fantastic recipes. But in this book, the Lords of Home Brewing – Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer – do. While Daniels explains the anatomy of styles, Z & P stresses a few cruicial points for succeeding with each style. And gives you one or two award winning recipes for each. Fantastic. I mean, Tasty McDole’s Janet’s Brown Ale is in there!
Unfortunately, the binding is kinda crappy so the book eventually falls apart, at least if you use it as much as I have. I’m using my second copy now.
This is a great book for air travel.
Steele, Mitch (2012). IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. Boulder, CO: Brewers Publication.
Finally, if you want to dive deep into one style (or a few actually) Mitch Steele’s IPA is a good choice (Terry Foster’s Pale Ale is another). Mitch just quit the job as head brewer after 10 years at Stone Brewing. How can possibly be better qualified to write about IPAs? But this is a much more sophisticated book than you might expect. It draws heavily from earlier research, and as I understand it, Mitch’s own research. For instance, it problematizes the rather simplified IPA-myth that we tend to constantly re-tell ourselves.
Moving on to the last category (other books about brewing).
For home brewers who dream about going pro, the stories of guys like Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada), Tony Magee (Lagunitas) and Sam Caglione (Dogfish Head) should be great. However, some of these guys are arguably better brewers, or brewery owners, than story tellers. The least self-glorifying is Ken Grossman’s story about how Sierra Nevada came about (Sam Caglione’s story about Sam Caglione may be the most self-glorifying). And it is therefore the most informative regarding starting a brewery in my opinion. But none of these books are as informative as I would wish. Tony Magee’s book about Lagunitas could have been a book about how he built up a car rental business. I think that it would be more rewarding to listen to owners of much smaller breweries, but they rarely write books.
Let me finish with a really good, useful and influential book.
Perhaps I like this so much because I used it to write an article on lagering for the Swedish home brewers association’s magazine. For that purpose it was great, like a good theory book in a political science project. But it also influenced me to start buying beer with better purpose. And to start a cellar (which you can view here) which is great fun when you know the stuff that’s in this book.