The interest in craft beer has never been greater, and along with that has come a keen curiosity and awareness of everything surrounding beer, including the craft itself and those who practice it. No one brings that into focus better than Stan Hieronymus, one of the best beer journalists of today. His newest book, Brewing With Wheat approaches this segment of beerdom in fashion similar to his previous, and equally stellar, book Brew Like a Monk.
Hieronymus seems to have a depth of appreciation, insight and enthusiasm that goes beyond that of many. His manner of conveying the broad subjects that he tackles makes for enjoyable reading, his breadth of knowledge accessible to all levels of audience. Brewing With Wheat is simply one of the best composite beer culture/brewing books I’ve read.
Brewing With Wheat is, as expected, impeccably organized, and the content logically presented. It begins with an assessment of wheat itself; it’s historical role in brewing, the inevitable link between bread and beer, and the status and employment of wheat compared to other common cereal grains of the past several centuries in Europe. Hieronymus examines and offers to the reader the vast number of unique, regional historical wheat beers that most of us have never been aware of. He follows this with a short chapter entitled “Wheat Basics: Why is My Beer Cloudy?” which serves to explain the nature of the beast and its behavior to the consumer, portraying wheat as a complex and versatile character.
The bulk of the tome, and by far the most fascinating, is composed of three parts, covering the three main families of wheat beer found worldwide. It is here where Hieronymus rolls up his sleeves and delves deeply into “The White Beers of Belgium,” “The Weiss Beers of Southern Germany” and “The Wheat Beers of America.” Each part is divided into several short chapters, each of those concentrating on significant touchstone topics, from historical to modern interpretations, their development and the uniqueness of brewing with wheat. Hieronymus makes this text very personal and informative, with recipes and methods for specific brews sprinkled throughout, and quotes from the brewers themselves. This offers a glimpse into the mind of the artisan, a melting pot of their own philosophy, approach and grasp of the method. The simplistic, homespun wisdom of the people who brew is on full display and is quite compelling in its commonality and individualism. Of course, there is a blend of cultures and crossover in this respect, as American brewers are included in both the Belgian and German sections, a testament to America’s newfound obsession with beer. Both famous (Pierre Celis, Dan Carey) and newcomer practitioners hold sway with Hieronymus in his appreciation for their efforts.
Finally, Hieronymus spends some time discussing the obscure and vanishing wheat styles like Berliner Weisse and Gose, as well as lamentably defunct styles like Grätzer. He finishes with a primer on critiquing the assorted styles and tabular information about specs and characteristics of the various wheat beer yeasts, valuable stuff for those who choose to brew their own.
Stan Hieronymus has emerged as perhaps the beer writer around in recent years, diving into his subject headfirst with his personal accounts of the craft and verve for exploration. Brewing With Wheat captures perfectly the genre of beer culture that is captivating to both brewers and non-brewers alike. Even better, Stan is an excellent storyteller, and Brewing With Wheat is an engaging tale.