How To Brew
Homebrewing as a mainstream hobby has been poked and prodded so much that there would seem to be little left to explore. Books on the subject range from the comprehensive to the esoteric. A new take on the former is How to Brew by John Palmer.
As the title suggests, the book is an attempt to wrap the many facets of homebrewing into a neat, informative package that serves all homebrewers. The author’s claim, in fact, is that the book offers “Everything you need to know to brew beer right the first time.” Does Palmer pull it off? Is it comprehensive enough to warrant purchase? The answer is yes on both counts.
Palmer is, by profession, a metallurgical engineer. He is, by passion, a longtime brewer, certified judge, and brewing author. He has both the moxie and the technical ability to compile a book such as this and he doesn’t disappoint.
The book is nicely divided into five parts, the first three dedicated to the progressive path that almost all homebrewers travel—extract brewing, extract and specialty grain brewing, and all-grain brewing, respectively. All are given plenty of attention.
Section I, extract brewing, is really a complete primer in itself; it covers the all-important basic skills and theories necessary to brew at any level. It is also, appropriately, the longest section. Besides giving a basic crash course in brewing, Palmer explains the baseline tenets of equipment usage, sanitation, and ingredient utilization thoroughly and expertly.
Section II covers the obvious next step for brewers of adding some base and specialty malts to the rudimentary extract brews. While this section is not long, it does deal with all the requirements needed to boost your beers to the next level, including the very important distinction between base and specialty malts.
The giant step that most homebrewers encounter in their progression is the leap to all-grain brewing. Palmer makes the transition easy with 50 pages, in Section III, dedicated to this seemingly complicated and often intimidating jump. Combining this information with the base of fundamental brewing from the first two sections enables the brewer to make a fail-safe move from simple to intermediate to more complex brewing.
Section IV deals with recipe formulation, offers a few recipes, and includes an extensive troubleshooting guide. The author explains common technical problems and their solutions. Included are situations with equipment, sanitation, fermentation, and, of course, bad beer.
Section V is a compendium of appendices that is no less encompassing than other sections of the book. Here you will find the requisite tables and charts, obscure tips and illustrations, and lots of useful diagrams. What’s the best configuration for a mashtun? What is the correlation between grain bed depth and extraction efficiency? Palmer has the answers.
While there may be things in this book that you, as a homebrewer, have already seen, there is plenty of new stuff. It is as comprehensive a publication as there is on the subject of amateur brewing. Palmer meets his objective of making the learning curve much less of a rocky journey and much more of a joyride.