Words - Matthew Curtis | Photos - Dianne Tanner
Now before you jump to conclusions I am not about to dispense a load of frankly terrible advice for home brewers. This is in fact a review of a new book co-authored by Ted Bruning and Nigel Sadler entitled Wisdom for Home Brewers. The cover of this neatly presented little hardback promises 500 tips and recipes for those keen to make their own beer. As someone who has been toying with the idea of home brewing on and off for almost as I long as I've been writing this blog I was looking forward to seeing what knowledge I could glean and maybe one day put to use.
I've been promising myself that I'd start home brewing for ages. Somewhere in the attic above my flat is a Muntons brew kit plus a few extras I picked up and two vacuum packaged bags of pelletised American hops that have probably gone stale. After reading Charlie Papizian's excellent The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing I felt enthused, like I could brew anything. The reality is that I spend so much time drinking and writing about beer that putting a day aside to actually make some of it almost too big a commitment. That and the fear of failure, I don't want to dedicate precious time to making something that I don't love, especially when there are some many people that can already do it so much better than I'll ever be able to.
Wisdom starts at the very beginning with essentials such as equipment and sterilisation. Each piece of advice is broken down into a neat bullet point, a format it maintains from cover to cover. Its chapters are divided between methods, techniques and describing the ingredients themselves. It begins with bare bones basics before progressing from using malt extract to all grain brewing. Bruning and Sadler manage to cover brewing a range of styles from lagers to bitters through to new world hopped ales and even wood aged sours. However the writing indicates to me that their hearts lie with brewing traditional British recipes which isn't a negative, just an observation. The final chapter even covers the first steps of making the transition from home to commercial brewing. Literally no stone is left unturned.
The bullet point format lets me down slightly. Every time you reach a section that you really want to get your teeth into it ends and moves on to the next one. When you're reading one of Papizian's excellent guides you feel like you're having an engaging conversation with one of the most enthusiastic and skillful brewers you've ever met. On this occasion it feels like the authors are instructing you like secondary school teachers and that makes it slightly less enjoyable to read than similar manuals.
Despite this I still found it highly informative and gleaned some brewing knowledge that I hadn't before. Their advice on water treatment was something I hadn't even considered as a home brewer, for example. I think this book will mostly appeal to people who are completely new to home brewing and brewers that are just about ready to move on to all grain brews. The recipes certainly seemed to be aimed more closely at the novice rather than the expert. Experienced home brewers may find some use for it but much of it should already be common knowledge to them. They may find the final chapter helpful for the step that may come after that however.
My final criticism is than other than the odd cartoon there is almost nothing to break up the relentless plod of bullet points. It would have been nice to see some photographs of equipment and some diagrams but the text is resolute. Despite this it would still make the list of recommended reading if a friend of mine decided to turn their hand to brewing their own beer.
Wisdom for Home Brewers by Ted Bruning and Nigel Sadler is published by Apple Press and available now. This copy was sent to me free for review purposes but I don't think that influenced my opinion of it.