Sunday, 30 December 2012

Book Review: How to Brew

John Palmers How To Brewlink is considered to be todays standard book for new brewers.  This is due to two factors - How To Brew is excellently written and is a great guide for beginner brewers. But even better, Mr Palmer has put the first (1999) edition on a webpage, for free.
How To Brew (free version)
Extract-Based Recipes: 4/5
All-Grain Recipes: 3/5
Beginner Brewing Methods: 4/5
Advanced Brewing Methods: 3/5
Other Features: 3/5
Overall: 3.4/5
How To Brew (3rd Edition)
Extract-Based Recipes: 4/5
All-Grain Recipes: 4/5
Beginner Brewing Methods: 5/5
Advanced Brewing Methods: 4/5
Other Features: 4/5
Overall: 4.2/5

The biggest difference between the free and 3rd edition is the up-to-datedness of the recipes and methods. The 3rd edition was printed in 2006, about the time most of our modern methods became cemented int place. In contrast, the free version is somewhat out of date - the all-grain recipes in particular often rely on mash schedules orientated towards the poorly modified grains common in the 1990's rather than the better-modified malts of today.

The recipes in this book (especially the 3rd edition) are really good, with all grain and extract-based versions of most recipes provided. The basic brewing methods are covered excellently in both books, while the 3rd edition does a reasonable job of explaining advanced methods.

Overall, this is a must-have for new brewers. Old-timers will find this book largely superfluous, as anyone reasonably comfortable with all-grain brewing will be familiar with most of what is covered in this book.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Book Review: Three Recipe Books

Next in my series of book reviews is a review of not one, not two, but rather, three recipe books. These three books fall into the "not sure these were worth the money" category. I purchased all three of these while in my "intermediary brewer" stage, when I brewed using a mix of malt extract, adjunct grains and hops.

Clone Brews
Extract-Based Recipes: 4/5
All-Grain Recipes: 3/5
Brewing Methods: 2/5
Other Features: 1/5
Overall: 2/5
Beer Captured
Extract-Based Recipes: 4/5
All-Grain Recipes: 3/5
Brewing Methods: 2/5
Other Features: 1/5
Overall: 2/5
The Homebrewers Recipe Guide
Extract-Based Recipes: 3/5
All-Grain Recipes: NA
Brewing Methods: NA
Other Features: 4/5
Overall: 3.5/5

Full Reviews Below

Book Review: Papazians Books (AKA The Homebrewers Bible)

Over the years I have accumulated a fair number of books on homebrewing. A few of these are excellent, others are good, a few are not worth the paper they are printed on. I thought I'd use a little of the Christmas break to review them.

The first of these reviews is about two books - The (New) Complete Joy of Homebrewing & The Homebrewers Companion, both by Charlie Papazian. These are not so much two books, as they are two parts of a single, comprehensive book. For many brewers these books are the homebrewing bible - literally the old & new testaments of how to make beer.  Because they are now over 20 years old they are now a little out-of-date, but remain excellent books none-the-less. They have been, and remain, my chief homebrewing books.

The (New) Complete Joy of Homebrewing
General Brewing Knowledge: 4/5
How-To: 4/5
Beginning Brewing: 5/5
Intermediary Brewing: 5/5
Advanced Brewing: 4/5
Recipes: 3/5
Overall: 4.2/5
The Homebrewers Companion
General Brewing Knowledge: 4/5
How-To: 4/5
Beginning Brewing: 4/5
Intermediary Brewing: 5/5
Advanced Brewing: 5.5
Recipes: 4/5
Overall: 4.3/5

Charlies greatest strength is explaining things in a way anyone can understand. As such, these books are accessible to all brewers.  Technical jargon is kept to a minimum, complex subjects are broken down into manageable bits, and different ways of achieving the same end-point are often presented - thereby allowing a brewer to take the route most compatible with their comfort level and budget.

There are two downsides to these books. The first is their age - they are at (or over) 30 years old. As such, many of the methods and procedures described have since been modified and improved. The second downside is the recipes: they are dated and built around the poor-quality products available to brewers at the time the books were written (early 1980's). The recipes are not bad, but have a "homebrewed" taste to them.

Full Reviews Below

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

More Drinking With Santa

So Christmas is near, and many bottles of Bad Santa (read the saga here, here, here and here) have been handed out with the explicit instructions "Do Not Open Until Christmas".  So I'm nervous; we've got a less-than-perfect brew just a few days away from being imbibed by friends & family - including more than a few beer snobs.  So what is a brewer to do - other than test, and test again?

Good news is the beer has improved greatly - much of the strong sweetness that dominated the beer earlier has faded into a more pleasant maltyness.  The ginger & cinnamon has mellowed, the rough edges are now gone.  Moreover, notes of honey are (finally) beginning to show through.  Even that pesky haze has faded slightly...although the beer remains less than ideally clear.

Based on how its aged so far, I'd predict peak goodness in another month or two - but it's more than good enough to be served on Christmas.

I guess Bad Santa decided to play nice...

...And Merry Christmas everyone.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

I'll be home for XMas

Well, not really.  But I do have a Christmas 6-pack waiting for me under my tree.

As you can see, a very angry penguin is guarding it for me...

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Genetics of Beer Foam

Fear the frankenyeast!
Several weeks ago it was announced that a yeast gene responsible for helping create the head on beer had been discovered[link to actual science paper].  As with most scientific discoveries, this was met with a mixture of really bad reporting and screams of terror from those who think a cloud of frankenyeast are about to descend on society, consuming all of us in an orgy of genetically-engineered fermentation.

So what was really discovered?  What does it do?  What does it mean?  All is explained, below the fold.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Tasting Notes: 1040 Special

1040 in the glass.
So the 1040 Special Bitter is kegged and ready.  Like most bitters, this was ready to drink ~14 days after the yeast was pitched, and has hit ideal taste conditions within 3 or 4 weeks!

Pouring 1040 creates a silky, long-lasting head that leaves Belgian lace down the sides of the glass.  This head is rock-solid, lasting throughout the whole pint.  Hops dominate the aroma of this beer, although a mild maltiness makes its way through.  Despite adding both Irish moss and gelatin, there is a chill haze to this beer - likely due to my inability to use my immersion chiller after November, as I brew in my garage and we have to shut off the outside taps once night time temps drop below freezing...

...a pewter tankard takes care of the haze issue.  Most importantly, this is a great tasting beer.  The flavour is dominated by the bitterness and flavour of East Kent Goldings hops, which provides a sweet/floral flavour characteristic of many English ales.  This is balanced nicely with the malty flavour of maris otter and crystal malts.  The one drawback to this beer was the use of the Burton Ale yeast.  This yeast is known for producing the fruity esters that characterize English beers.  While most English yeasts produce these flavours, the Burton produces them strongly - too strongly for the weaker body/flavour of this beer.  A strong fruit ester profile is noticeable in 1040, and while the character of it is right, it is unbalanced compared to the rest of the flavours in the beer.  I would brew this beer again, but next time I would aim for a London Ale or ESB strain - something that would provide a more balanced ester profile.

The Great One Speaks

Charlie Papazian[wikipeida, blog] is one of home brewing greats.  His books The Complete Joy of Home Brewing and The Home Brewers Companion were, for over 20 years, the go-to source for home brewers.  It was his books that first got me into home brewing, led me through my first tentative brews, led me to all grain brewing, and even gave me the guts to start designing my own recipes.  If it wasn't for Charlie, I don't think I, or may others, would ever have started home brewing.

Even more importantly, he coined the phrase most of us home brewers live by - Relax, Don't Worry, Have A Home Brew (RDWHAHB).

Despite his iconic stature, Mr. Papazian is not the public figure you would expect.  He hasn't written any new books, he doesn't maintain a high profile in any of the homebrewing message boards which seem to be the new way homebrewers share advice, recipes and methods.  Its not that he is no longer involved in homebrewing - indeed, he is the president of the Brewers Association and maintains a brewing blog - but we don't see as much of him as we used to.

So imagine my delight when, through one of those new-fangled homebrewing discussion boards someone posted a link to an old (1990's) Canadian broadcast of Charlie going over the basics of homebrewing.  Great to see him in action - and the advice he gives is as valid today as it was back then:

Soma TV's Homebrewing with Charlie Papazian