Brewing Made Easy, 2nd Edition: A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Beer at Home
Reviewed by Marty Nachel
Brewing Made Easy is a handy-dandy little guide to getting new brewers up and brewing quickly. By following this book’s easy-to-follow instructions, anyone can become a confident homebrewer in short order.
This is the second edition (the first edition dates to 1996). Both editions were written by Joe and Dennis Fisher. The brothers Fisher run an organic farm in Eastern Maine, and they also co-authored the popular The Homebrewer’s Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare, and Use Your Own Hops, Malts, Brewing Herbs (1998).
As the title suggests, this book was written with the beginner brewer in mind. After opening with the supportive exhortation, “You Can Brew It!” the following chapters cover the topics of Brewing with Malt Extracts, The Second Batch, Ingredients and Recipe Formulation, and, finally, Recipes and Styles. This slim paperback also includes a glossary, appendices on Amounts and Conversions and How to Use the Hydrometer, Sources for Supplies and Information, and an index.
First, the good news.
This small-format guide achieves its goal of making it easy and (relatively) painless to brew beer at home. It effectively conveys the simplicity of brewing with malt extracts, and it walks the reader through step-by-step instructions for getting it all right. The 25 recipes are mostly solid—if not a bit redundant—and the plentiful graphs and charts aid in keeping it all easy to understand. Simple line drawings and illustrations show various equipment items and ingredients.
There are also helpful hints that can only come from people with experience in the craft of brewing; I especially liked the idea of using a brand-new paint roller tray for holding small sanitized pieces of equipment, as well as having a spray bottle filled with sanitizing solution always at the ready.
Now for the downside. As an author myself (this reviewer is the author of Homebrewing for Dummies, a competitive book in this field), I can’t help but notice the loose editing of this book. Aside from the niggling things such as typos and incorrect cross references (where is page (00)?), I found the writers’ broad assumptions and overgeneralizations a bit troubling. I know from experience that newbie brewers often sweat and fret over every little point and can be easily misled by careless wording. As is often said, the devil is in the details.
Even more troubling were the handful of technical issues I identified (I couldn’t help noticing that the publisher did not list a technical editor in the front matter of this book); I’m guessing some of these are leftovers from the first edition that were never updated.
To my knowledge, and seemingly confirmed by an Internet search, hop plugs are no longer available in the American market and haven’t been for years.
Gelatin is listed along with Irish moss as “finings.” Maybe this is a bit hyper-technical, but gelatin is not a fining agent. And the other true fining, isinglass, was not mentioned at all.
The small section devoted to Adjusting Water Chemistry is somewhat confusing, especially in suggesting substituting “half bottled water” to make tap water softer. Bottled water is available in a wide range of mineral content; I believe the authors meant to suggest using distilled water.
Perhaps most glaring of all was the repeated practice of steeping base grains. Several of the book’s recipes call for small portions of Munich or Vienna malt to be used as one would use a specialty grain. This is not recommended, as these grains are intended for mashing.
All in all, this book is still a good start for new brewers, as it contains the rudimentary instructions for brewing beer at home. But considering the surplus of other more-detailed homebrewing books available, I would suggest spending the extra couple of dollars on those instead. Your money would be wisely invested in your brewing future.