Friday 6 January 2012

Quick Look: 'How to Brew' by John J. Palmer

If you've been following our blog for its relatively short history, you're likely aware that Earl and I are very new to brewing beer. As such, we had a lot to learn prior to brewing our first batch back in August. Seeing how our first three batches failed, it's now apparent that we didn't learn enough. But that's the past, and our beer is improving. One of the resources that has helped us get this far is John Palmer's book, How to Brew.

This book is great for a first timer, and has answered almost all of the questions we've thought to ask so far. It's designed to take the rookie brewer from knowing very little, to brewing with extracts, to all-grain brewing and eventually designing your own recipes. Each step in a typical brew day is well-covered, and helped ease some of our initial fears that we were doing something wrong. For example, it's hard to believe that the foamy goo-filled solution on hand during the boil will eventually be clear and tasty beer.

Overall, it's a pretty light read, outside of a few chapters that get into complex topics such as mash pH. Even then, the author does a good job of getting across the more complicated content clearly and concisely. While some advanced topics aren't fully explained in this book, there is a solid reference section in each chapter for those interested in further reading.

Unfortunately, we didn't have this book for our first (quasi-disastrous) brewing attempts.

We've found the hop chapter especially useful, as it provides the flavour profile, usage, and potential substitutes for numerous hop varieties. As much as I enjoy smelling each kind of hop they carry at Noble Grape, this doesn't really translate to how they will taste in the final beer (and I'm sure they'd rather I didn't leave the fridge door open for so long). The book also contains numerous sample recipes, each having an extract and an all-grain version. We haven't tried any of them yet, but plan on doing so, and will report back when we do.

How to Brew makes good use of pictures to help flesh out the text, but as they're black and white, they aren't as useful as they could be. This is especially noticeable in pictures of different malts, adjuncts, and action shots of the brewing process. However, it's a minor issue for an otherwise excellent resource, and I'd recommend it for anyone getting into brewing. And while it seems too good to be true, the bulk of the book is also available for free at

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