The Brewers’ Literary Canon – Books you can’t be without…

I find that as soon as I get a burning interest in something, I need to read about it a lot…and while the Internet is fine for smallish articles, you can’t beat a book.  I mean a real, tangible book; something that you can read in bed, on the bog or when you’re supposed to be listening to your wife.

When I got back into brewing, my old (circa. 1990) books on homebrewing sufficed; but after a while I needed better and more up-to-date sources of information.

That’s when the inevitable accumulation of yet more books began.

I was already a terrible book-hoarder: a career in IT, qualifications in hypnotherapy/psychology and various other random interests meant that I already had a veritable landslide of books.

In fact, books are everywhere – you can be pretty much stood or sat anywhere in our house and a book will be never more than an arms length away.  So I didn’t need much of an excuse to start hoarding even more of them.

The following list isn’t an exhaustive list of references on the subject of brewing, they’re just a list of books that I’ve enjoyed and found useful as I went along.

Maybe you know of others that should be included here…please do let me know in the comments,

You can get most of these books from Greg at BrewUK…in fact I’ve even provided the links to them, so you can now pick up all your ingredients whilst also picking up a book or two. How nice is that?

On with the books…

Step One: Starting off

Graham Wheeler: Brew your own British Real Ale

This is the definitive starters’ book.  Genuinely useful – tells you the basics of kit, extract and all-grain methods of brewing without being over-whelming. It has a ton of British real ale clone recipes, too; I made the Brakspear’s Bitter recipe when I started brewing all-grain and it was lovely.

Greg Hughes: Home Brew Beer

Another great book for starting off, in fact you’ll find it’s jam-packed with sage advice for all levels of homebrewer.  Greg takes the time to guide you through the process without making it overly-complicated.  A great book from the man behind BrewUK

Step Two: Further down the Road

John J. Palmer: How to Brew

A modern classic and the standard by which all other homebrewing books are judged, it does have a lot of information in it and quite a bit of science, so it’s not something I’d recommend for the absolute beginner.  It expands nicely on the techniques first explored in the Wheeler book and you will find yourself coming back to it again and again…

Randy Mosher: Mastering Homebrew

Densely packed: that’s how I’d describe this marvellous tome – it’s chock-full of information, all of it relevant and all of it useful.  Brand new and smack up-to-date, it has pretty much the same information as the Palmer book, but somehow more accessible and with a slightly less scientific bent.  Lovely graphics and beautifully written this verges on a “coffee-table” brewing book.

Step Three: Pushing the Boundaries/Brewing Inspiration

Randy Mosher: Radical Brews

I challenge you to not brew something interesting after reading this book.  It’s glorious food for thought and really gets your creative juices going.  I made a hop-bursted oatmeal stout after reading this and also dipped my toes into Saisons and Wheats.  This is the book that I have pored over most in my brewing adventures.

Step Four: Conforming to Style

Ray Daniels: Designing Great Beers

Once you’ve got brewing weird and “out-there” stuff out of your system (for a while at least) you’ll start to want to learn to brew to style – especially if you’re thinking of entering competitions.  In this book, Ray has ransacked the US National Homebrew Competition winners’ brains and discovered why certain beers won and what the recipes have in common.  Helpful advice on getting your recipes and technique right when putting any style of beer you care to think of.  This book is apt to be a little dry, and works best as a dip-in, dip-out reference work.  You don’t have to follow the advice, but it’s there if you need it.

Step Five: Deeper into The Styles

Eric Carle: German Wheat Beer

This book was published sometime in the 90’s – but that doesn’t matter.  German Wheat beer is still the same and the techniques and advice hold true.  I’ve followed all of his advice in this book with some great results…I just ignored the bits about decoction mashing as, let’s face it, life is too short.  Forgive me, Eric.

Pierre Rajotte: Belgian Ale

This is another 1990’s book, but it’s the same deal as the German Wheat Beer book – Belgian ales don’t change that much and the advice is solid, plus it’s an entertaining read.

Phil Marowski: Farmhouse Ales – Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition

An absolute must for those who want to brew Saison or Biere de Garde styles.  It’s a lovely read and I’ve followed the advice contained therein and made some very nice Saison indeed.

Jeff Sparrow: Wild Brews

Turn back, you’ve come too far.  You’re now in the grip of a madness – murky conical flasks clutter up the house, mutterances of “Brett” and “Lacto ferments” are largely ignored by your wife or significant other.  This is the more extreme end of brewing – but this is a great and engaging book, full of information and inspiration.

Michael Tonsmiere: American Sour Beer

Even if you don’t ever intend to make sour or wild beer you should own this book.  Even if you’re a professional brewer, you should still own this book.  So much information is contained within and all of it imparted in a straightforward and uncomplicated way – it even explains how the big boys (Russian River et al) are doing their sours and wilds.  Well worth the money.  I read this book a lot.  Maybe too much.

Step Six: Deeper into The Ingredients

Stan Hieronymous: For the Love of Hops

Way too much information about hops, varieties, co-humulones, alpha acid: all is explained. plus some recipes for monstrous hop-forward beers.  Absorbing and interesting.

John Palmer: Water – a Definitive Guide
This is a sizeable tome and I won’t pretend to understand even half of it.  But there’s section on how to treat water for brewing, how to get rid of water as waste and so much more.  But the chemistry is heavy going – evn though it’s masterful in it’s breadth

John Mallet: Malt
Everything you could ever wish to know about malt.  Right to the Nth degree.  Again there’s quite a bit of chemistry here, but it’s a bit more accessible than that water book.

Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff: Yeast – The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation
Out of all four of these books you must buy this one – it’s jam-packed with information and will help you make better beer.  Most of us just bung in the yeast – after we’ve spent hours deliberating over hop and grain choices.  Pay attention to your yeast and your fermentation temperatures and you’ll make great beer straight away.

Step Seven: Other People’s Beer

Mark Dredge: Craft World

Achingly current and lovingly put together, this is a fine body of work that tells you exactly what is relevant in the world of craft beer now.  Evocative in the tasting notes, I have been compelled to taste and occassionally emulate a lot of the beers listed in this book.  Well worth the money

Michael Jackson: Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion

With not a single cha’mone in it (you know you’re into beer, when you think of this Michael Jackson, rather than that one) this is a lovely book that describes the styles, how they should taste and how they were made.  I say “were” because of Mr Jackson’s untimely demise in 2007 before “craft beer” thing was in full swing and you couldn’t, for instance, really buy a Lambic beer that originated in England a la The Wild Beer Co. Dear old MJ would have loved this glorious beer renaissance.

Step Eight: Going Pro

Wolfgang Kunze: Technology Brewing and Malting

Know colloquially as “The Kunze” amongst professional brewers, this table collapsing volume runs to 960 pages and is considered the de-facto standard on the subject.  I haven’t read it, but by all accounts it’s a mighty work, translated from the original German, that goes into exquisite detail on every single part of the process of brewing.  At a fun-filled price of 149Euros (just over £100) it’s not exactly light on the pocket.  Maybe I’ll ask for it for Christmas or something…

Hefeweizen Mk II Tasting


(I’ll put a picture of the finished article in when I remember…)

What is it with me and wheat beers? I like them, but they seem to want to conspire against me when I make them.

Here’s the original recipe here:

This time around I got the carbonation pretty much how I wanted it, the mouthful is generous and creamy and the yeast brought forth lashes of banana and bubblegum.

It’s a beautiful luminous pale golden with a nice haze and everything…

So what let’s it down you may ask…

Well it’s a little light on the bitterness…so it’s lovely in taste but doesn’t have that subtle bitter edge that should really set it off and balance the sweetness out a bit.

And the head. Oh good God, the head…It has a really nice head to start off with…and then it collapses, spectacularly, to leave a really odd smattering of very dense foam islands…a bit like broken cloud on a summer’s day…so Christ alone knows what happened there.

I’m happily drinking it and Eve likes it, but it certainly won’t win many awards…

The next one will be great, I’m sure.  I might also do it with WLP300 – not because it’s better than the Mangrove Jack’s yeast, but because it’s just plain mental – and I like that in a yeast!

Silly Season Summer Saison


You know me…any excuse for pointless alliteration.

It’s summer everyone and it hasn’t even started raining yet!  But, it’s Glastonbury this weekend and thousands of people in shorts, wellies and bloody ridiculous hats need a good soaking – so it probably will…  (Secretly, I’d love to be there.  But I’m too busy, the kids are too young and I gave up sh*tting in a bucket years ago.)

So with all this good weather about, lets make some Saison that I can keg and enjoy a pint of in the piddling rain of high summer.

A very simple grain bill of Maris Otter; with some Magnum hops for bittering, some Styrians (Bobek) for taste and aroma…and that’s about it:

Silly Season

I mashed in at 38C as per usual, did a further 80 minutes at 65C for the sacch. rest and then mashed out at 76C for 10 minutes.  Easy-peasy.

I’ve kept 30g of Styrians back for dry-hopping – as it’s one of life’s pleasures…

I got about 19L of wort into the fermenter at 1045 (i.e. smack on what i wanted it to be) with some lovely Belle Saison yeast.

I put the remaining 4.5L of wort into a demijohn with some S-04 English Ale yeast for a top secret future project (the nature of which I’ll divulge when the time is right.)

Everything is happily chirrupping along merrily and the S-04 is taking every opportunity to go completely mad in the heat:

Mad dogs, Englishmen and Ale yeast go out in the mid-day sun

I’ll let you know howit all goes.  Quickly I hope, as I’m thirsty for a hoppy Saison.

Elderflower Champagne for Eve

20150624_170718Well folks, it’s that time of year when mother nature sees fit to bespatter the hedgerows with double-cream-like sprays of Elderflowers.

Around where I live the air is heady with their scent on these warm summer evenings…which makes a change from the stink of bloody rapeseed flowers, I can tell you.

Eve swears blind that it’s Elderflowers that give her such terrible bug-eyed hay-fever at this time of year.

I’m not completely convinced that the Elder is the culprit, but regardless of that, let’s all try and make her feel a bit better by harvesting a few creamy heads of flowers and putting them to some use:

This is a simple recipe and it’ll be the first time that I’ve used wine yeast in many a year.

Here’s the ingredient list for a 10 or 11% version:

  • 700g sugar
  • 2 pints of Elderflowers (Use a table fork to strip the flowers from the stems first)
  • The juice of a lemon
  • 4.5 litres water (2 of which should be boiling)
  • A 5g packet of Champagne yeast

Get yourself a pan that’s at least 2 litres and put the Elderflowers into it, then pour over 2 litres of boiling water, add the lemon juice and the sugar.

Stir ’til the sugar’s dissolved, but don’t mash up the flowers – do it gently.

Let the whole lot stand in the pan for as many hours as you fancy.  I managed 2 hours before I got bored, but you can leave it overnight if you like.

Pour the whole lot into a sterilized demijohn and top up with cold water – only go as far as far as the shoulder of the demijohn.  If you get some flowers in the demijohn – no worries, if you don’t – no worries, either.

If the demijohn isn’t too warm to the touch, put half the pack of Champagne yeast in and fit the airlock

Leave to ferment in a warmish (18-25C) place until the gravity stops dropping or there are no more bubbles coming through the airlock.  It’s important that you let your champagne ferment right out – otherwise you could get exploding bottles, which sounds fun – but I can assure you, isn’t.

When finished fermenting and the champagne has dropped clear, siphon it off into cleaned sterilised champagne bottles, fizzy pop bottles or beer bottles and add roughly three-quarters of a teaspoon of sugar to each 750ml bottle before sealing (Do the maths if your bottles are smaller or larger.)

Leave to carbonate in a warm place for a week and then store somewhere cool to condition for another week or so.

Enjoy served cool in champagne flutes – if you’re feeling poncey.