Book Review: The Homebrewer’s Recipe Guide

Homebrewer's Recipe Guide

Reading The Homebrewer’s Recipe Guide (by Patrick Higgins, Maura Kate Kilgore and Paul Hertlein) reminds me of why I got into home brewing. The book is all about beer, of course, which is a good recommendation for any book. But there’s more to it than that. There’s something especially enjoyable about a recipe book.

When God and I were lads, picking a 6-pack at the local liquor store was (at least I imagine) somewhat like picking a candy bar in Soviet Russia. There just weren’t that many choices.

The home brewing revolution has been a tremendous boon for the beer drinker. It’s diversified the beer world out of the “how many styles of American lager can you make” universe.

Now, liquor stores stock hundreds of styles, and even the local 7-11 will have three examples of styles of beer that I didn’t know existed when I was 18.

(Back then, we’d stare through the glass door for a few minutes and then just give up and grab the Budweiser.)

And that’s a big part of why I love recipe books. It’s simply amazing what kind of variety you can get out of hops, malt, water and yeast, and reading a beer recipe book brings all that to mind.

Don’t get me wrong. This book isn’t just recipes. It’s also peppered with fun beer quotes and useful tips on brewing, like how to repitch yeast or sour a beer.

But back to recipes. While reading a recipe book you begin to wonder how well you can taste the influence of the different styles of malts — chocolate or crystal or cara-pils — and it makes you want to experiment and try new things, which is what home brewing is all about.

An experienced brewer once told me that there are two kinds of homebrewers. Those who find one or two recipes and try to perfect them, and those who are always dabbling and trying something new.

I’m a dabbler. I’m not interested in creating the perfect industrial process that will ensure that the California Common I brewed in 2009 is just like the batch I brewed in 2008. If it’s a little different, that’s fine. That’s why it’s home brew!

If you’re the industrial sort of guy, you’re not going to think too highly of this book. It doesn’t give some important details on the recipes — like final gravity. And there’s no information on mashing techniques or any of that.

The recipes are simple. Beginning brewers will find plenty of good information. Intermediate brewers will find new things to try. Advanced brewers should be able to fill in the missing details themselves.

This is a book in the “relax, don’t worry” style — and that’s the way I like it.

Home brewing and worrying are like east and west. Sure, try your best. Use good techniques. But for God’s sake don’t get upset about it.

When you read a recipe book you get new ideas. Have you tried to brew a Belgian ale? Have you put the zest of an orange in a wheat beer? Are you wondering how much honey people add (when they do add honey)?

This isn’t a book to be studied. You’re not going to learn procedures or techniques or theory or what amylase enzyme does or how to build a wort chiller.

This is a book you thumb through while you’re sitting back in the evening with a frothy mug.

You’ll even pick up on some useful beer lore. Did you know there’s something called a “groaning ale” for expectant mothers? I didn’t — and I have five kids!

The bottom line is that this is a fun book, full of amusing beer quotes, stuffed with interesting info about various styles of beer, and it doesn’t leave you with the sense that the beer police are going to cite you for a violation.

No, officer, I didn’t scrub my entire kitchen with bleach. Sue me.

If you can relate to that, you’re my kind of home brewer, and you’re going to like this blog — and you’ll also like The Homebrewer’s Recipe Guide.