A few months back, I heard about a new homebrewing book called Beer Craft: A Simple Guide to Making Great Beer which appeared to be a good beginner’s guide to brewing your own beer. So before a recent vacation, I picked up a copy to take along. While it is not exactly the stereotypical page-turner, I found it hard to put this book down and I think it might become a mainstay on my bookshelf, or at least near my homebrewing equipment.
For me, what sets this book apart is that it is a collaboration between a writer/beer critic, and a designer. I have tried to get through a number of other homebrewing books recently, but in all honesty, these days a bunch of words on a page with a few black and white photos does not really hold my attention. But along comes Beer Craft which is a little paperback book printed all in color, laid out with tons of pictures, diagrams, graphics and tables. A great visual presentation aspect to break up the monotony of just plain text (not to say that there is anything boring about homebrewing, but sometimes you need more than just words).
In terms of actual homebrewing, Beer Craft offers a rather unique approach to things. Many homebrewing purists will be happy to hear that the book focuses on all-grain brewing. The twist though is that they focus on one-gallon batches, as opposed to the traditional five-gallon “standard” that seems to have developed. So for me, this is kind of perfect. I’m looking to graduate from my beginner extract brewing with Mr. Beer into all-grain or at least partial mash brewing, while keeping it on a smaller scale since five-gallons seems like too much for me. The book goes into great deal about how to get started with all-grain brewing, without getting too boring. I’m sure some purists will say they skipped some details, but to me it sounds like a great way to get started. It has a great “Field Guide to Grains” explaining the different types of malts, what they’re used for, and the flavors that specific ones provide. There are also great guides for hops & yeast as well. There is also ten all-grain recipes for basic styles such as Stout, Pale Ale, Saison, etc.
Another interesting part of the book is the quick one-pag interviews with craft brewers spread throughout the book. The interviews range from talking about the early days of craft brewing with Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co, to wild yeast and sours with Ron Jeffries, founder & brewmaster of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, to recipe creation with Shane C. Welch, founder & brewmaster of Sixpoint Craft Ales. There are a number of other interviews, and also expert tips from brewers as Troegs, The Bruery, Avery and a number of others. So this book goes beyond homebrewing as it speaks to the larger craft beer movement in general.
The book is divided into 5 sections, following the nice introductory Beer History piece. Part One, “Learn”, the step-by-step brewing process and a look at the ingredients. Part Two, “Make”, with ten recipes and details on “bonus steps” such as spices & herbs, extra hops, fruits and barrel-aging. Part Three, “Drink”, tasting and troubleshooting, identifying flavors and food pairing. Part Four, “Design”, about branding your brewery, making labels and designing bottle caps. And finally Part Five, “Repeat”, with more information on equipment, and a template for logging your beers.
Like I said, I really liked this book. For a beginner like me who is still learning the ropes of homebrewing, this is the best resource I have come across that is not only informative, but also fun to read. I hope to get into all-grain brewing sometime in the near future, and I can very easily see myself having this book near my side throughout the brewing process. While I do like the idea of one gallon batches (which yield around 10 or so bottles), particularly for those who don’t have the space or equipment for five gallon batches, all-grain brewing requires quite a bit of time and work, and to only end up with one gallon of beer for your efforts doesn’t seem like the approach for me. So I’m likely to just try to double up on their recipes and go for a two gallon batch.