Oxford University Press
hard cover, $35.00, 234 pp.
Author Charles Bamforth doesn’t have much patience with those who hold forth on how a beer should taste or what it should contain, “without the remotest understanding of the real science and technology of the brewer’s art and the trials and tribulations of everyday existence in a brewing company.”
He rightly observes that most of what appears in the popular press about brewing is written by “fans” rather than “professionals,” who tend to write for their peers. That makes Beer: Tapping into the Art and Science of Brewing unusual. Bamforth is a renowned brewing scientist who has spent 25 years in the industry, but he wrote this well-crafted book to be accessible to the layperson, as well as the student or budding beer entrepreneur.
Bamforth devotes the first chapter to the 8,000-year history of beer. Noting that the United States has drawn most obviously on the brewing traditions of England and Germany, he examines their histories in some detail before addressing the “relatively youthful history of the product stateside.”
The next eight chapters are devoted to the basics of malting and brewing; the qualities a drinker perceives in a beer; malt; hops; the brewhouse; yeast and fermentation; processing; and the analysis of beer. The science is clearly explained, with refreshing doses of wit. Throughout, there are sections that ground the theory in reality, such as “A Week in the Life of a Small-Scale Brewer,” or “What the Brewer Looks for in a Malt.”
It would be possible to sit down with this book, and get up again several hours later with a healthy foundation in beer—not enough to turn pro, but more than most people outside the industry understand. Beer makes clear the very different constraints faced by the home brewer, the small-scale brewer, and the large industry professional, even as it reveals the essential scientific processes exploited by all three.