Monday, January 31, 2011

A Few 'Good' Books

Of all the generally useless advice given to me over the years, I am frequently reminded of a saying that a very cynical history professor used to tell me whenever I inquired about his impressive, albeit messy book collection. It goes something like this: "the best way to show you know something - without having to know anything - is to surround yourself with good books and people who read good books."

I always liked that saying. Not only does it sum up most of academia pretty well, but it also applies to most people who have 'sitting rooms' or 'libraries' in their houses and those that believe they know something about the world because they've read Kerouac. Reading books is not the same as reading good books and having friends who read books does not make you any smarter.

With that in mind, here are a few 'good books' on homebrewing/beer that I have read and feel comfortable enough to put on my book shelf.

 - Amber, Gold & Black: The History of Britain's Great Beers by Martyn Cornell. This is a great book for the amateur beer historian or those with an interest in authentic British beer. Lots of numbers on beer pricing, an emphasis on terminology, and enough obscure data to show your friends why they're full of s**t.

- Brew Like a Monk; Wild Brews; and Farmhouse Ales by Hieronymus, Sparrow, and Markowski. These three books are all excellent works on Belgian ales. Brew Like a Monk contains everything you need to brew authentic Belgian abbey and Trappist beer and contains a good overview of the styles and histories thereof. Wild Brews covers most types of sour ales and does a pretty good job getting you started. I only wish it included more information on Berliner Weisse and non-Belgian sour styles. Lastly, Farmhouse Ales covers much of the traditional Belgian/French Saison and Biere de Garde styles and again how to brew them. Very useful if you like brewing Belgian ales or want to know anything about these styles of beer.

- Yeast, by Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff. I originally bought this book thinking it would be the best resource on various yeast strains and how to use them, including propagation, washing, ect. While the book has nothing on individual yeast strains, it does contain some info on the things we should be doing to ensure a healthy and successful fermentation. For me, the first 150 pages were pretty useless though the latter part of the book contained enough good info to make the book worthwhile.

- New Brewing Lager Beer, by Greg Noonan. This is the book I should have bought when I first started brewing, instead of Charlie P's Joy of Homebrewing. More technical than most other introductory pieces on homebrewing, this book really shines with its chapters on decoction mashing and lager brewing. There is a good amount of brew science in the book. At times it can be boring to read, but is important to help us understand the processes at work.

- The Brewmaster's Table, by Garrett Oliver. A fun book on beer and food and eating/drinking. Some of the information seems a bit forced at times, though it is overall an good read with some useful information. Has nice pictures too.

- Tasting Beer, by Randy Mosher. I included this book namely for the sake of letting other people borrow it. Not much here for the homebrewer, though it contains a lot of good introductory information to help show your friends that there is a world of beer beyond Bud/Miller/Coors. It has some nice information on the components of beer flavor and some decent descriptions of different styles.

- Designing Great Beers, by Ray Daniels. This is a great book for the beginner all-grain brewer. Lots of information on how to make your own recipe and gives you an idea of what malts/hops/yeasts go well together. Some historical information too. My only negative is that a lot of the information is pretty old, with most of the NHC recipe percentages from ten years ago.

- How to Brew, by John Palmer. If you plan on getting into homebrewing, buy this book. For the beginner with some info for those a bit farther along. Has all the info necessary to make your first drinkable batch of beer.

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