House building has gone pretty smooth thus far in 2014. It’s been fairly smooth with the help of our builder Passman Homes.
Additionally I won a homebrewing contest best of show and a stout of mine will be brewed by Tin Roof here in Baton Rouge. Pretty exciting! I also won a medal in the 2014 Dixie Cup for an American Pale Ale.
I found myself looking at my rather large collection of beer and beer brewing books today thinking about how many just sat on the shelf or even discouraged me when I tried to read them before fully understanding what I was reading. Home brewing books vary! Some are easy to read and cater to the beginner while others border on textbooks with math, biology and chemistry that can make you feel like you’re back in college. So I’ve decided to give a “road map” if you will of what I’d suggest to someone getting in to beer brewing. Here are the books and resources I’d read, in order, to get to making great beer.
- How To Brew by John Palmer – If you want a preview of this great book it’s available online for free although it doesn’t have the artwork you get in the paid version. I still read this book today. I believe Palmer is considered to be the first great home brew book author or at least to me he is.
- Brewing Classic Styles – John Palmer and Jamil Zainasheff. This book boasts 80 award winning recipes anyone can brew and it certainly backs this up. Once you get a handle on the How To Brew book the first thing you’ll want to do is find different recipes to broaden your horizons. Every style that exists is listed as well as keys to brewing that style of beer. It’s brief and not too thick with science as to make it a difficult read. A great step after digesting How to Brew.
- Listen to the Jamil Show from oldest to newest on The Brewing Network. Jamil Zainasheff has a great radio show and when it first started they went from style to style discussing each style for about 45 minutes on the radio. Listening to the philosophy on brewing from these guys is invaluable and I wish I would’ve stumbled upon it earlier. I was just introduced to it this year.
- Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels – This book is a tour of classic styles of beer, their history and how the recipes are formulated and brewed historically as well as how they are brewed at the National Homebrew Competition. When you get in to designing your own recipes this book is invaluable.
- New Brewing Lager Beers by Gregory Noonan – The title of this book is a little misleading because it isn’t about lagers. This is an advanced reference for brewers which really gets in to what it means to brew seriously. For me this was the book that felt most like reading a college textbook but it is interesting after you really understand brewing. I purchased it first and had to let it collect dust on the shelf for a couple of years after it hurt my brain. I came back to it after I’d learned everything above and it made a lot more sense and was fun to read.
- Radical Brewing – this is what you’re looking for if you want “inspiration” and fun facts to get in to creating your own unique recipes. Lots of history, philosophy and facts that will help you grow as a brewer.
- The Individual Books in the “Classic Beer Style Series” – This is a series of books by different experts each on an individual style of beer. I have bock and helles at the moment and they’re great beers on those individual styles. I purchase these books when I focus on a specific style.
That’s what I’ve got as a good road map to get started. If you make it through all that you’ll be well equipped to find what’s next. In addition to this I’d find a good beer brewing club in your area. The members can put you on to things you haven’t heard of yet and you all help each other grow together. I’d also find a good online community you like. Personally I love HomeBrewTalk.com. When I was new to brewing I’d post questions on this site while brewing and have an answer in minutes. A great site.
Baton Rouge has a Windows Phone 7 User Group. One of my favorite things about the Microsoft products is there seem to be several communities popping up concerning their technology. I volunteered to talk about my experiences as relates to the development of Pocket Brewer so I’m doing that. The slides and demo code as relates to this talk are at the links below for anyone interested in them.
DummyWP7App – Windows Phone 7 Demo App
Pocket Brewer Power Point
My two most recent home brew beers were outstanding. The flavor, smell and feel of the beers were just far and beyond what I’ve done in the past. For me it was a sign that refinements I’ve made in my brewing process really mattered. Here’s what I did differently:
- Infusion Mash – bar far the biggest improvement in the arena of brewing. I used a simple 3 step mash popular with brewers of German lagers and the quality of malt taste in the beers was shocking.
- Hop Balls – Also known as a herb ball these little tools allow you to keep the hops in the wort while keeping them out of the final product. What’s that mean? Well typically when I add hops I have an issue with the boil pushing them on the sides of the kettle and leaving them out of the boil. You can’t get bitterness that way. The second part of that is that once you’re done boiling you want the hop trub out of your beer. Well the hop balls keep the mess all together so you get that too.
- Purchased New Deep Freezer – I use a deep freezer for my lagering tank. I had an old beat up freezer which had inconsistent temperatures and was hard to control. Appropriate temperature control is key to preventing off flavors and aids in the lagering process where your beer really smoothes out. On my Pocket Brewer Recipes Page you’ll see I have a Baton Rouge black beer. After secondary fermentation it was so harsh I thought it would be terrible but after 6 weeks lagering it’s incredibly smooth.
I got many compliments on my beer before I made these improvements and now I get wow when people try my beer. Most already had tried some home brewed beer before and knew that usually it’s just average beer. However with refinements you can make excellent beer unlike anything people can get elsewhere. It’s rewarding and worth the extra effort.
I’m starting to notice a trend in my adventures of beer brewing. I’m becoming a bit of a beer brewing equipment snob as I learn more about the craft of brewing beer. Don’t confuse this with a beer snob as I’ll drink any beer especially free beer. I don’t care if it’s natural light, high life or Colt 45 malt liqour the only bad beer is no beer!
Anyhow before I get too far off topic I’ll tell you why I’m becoming a beer equipment snob. I haven’t brewed beer in about 3 months due to the fact that I lost my freezer that I use as a temperature control tank. I had to wait until I was able to purchase another freezer which I did about 2 weeks ago. I can remember when I would brew an ale and throw it in the coolest corner of the house for a few weeks and happily drink it. Now days I’m not happy unless the hydrometer shows ideal results in ideal time and I am a big critic of my results being that brewing a beer usually involves slaving over a brew setup for 4 hours.(it takes so long because I also only brew all grain now)
Ok it gets worse.
In addition to the freezer I also impulsively ordered an expensive stainless steel wort chiller because I am worried the small one isn’t cooling my hand made stainless steel keg pots fast enough. I also ordered hop balls because I feel like trub and hops getting tossed to the side walls of the pot is hurting my bitter. For strike three I’ve also ordered an expensive refractometer because I want another verdict on my gravity readings versus my hydrometer.
I feel like I’ve become a beer brewing equipment snob. I remember when I happily brewed with $150 worth of equipment and now I know it must be 10 times that! I warn you all out there that beer brewing can become an expensive addiction like fishing, golfing or any other accessory driven activity. But it sure is fun!