Review of “How To Brew” by John Palmer -Intro

Posted on April 28, 2010 by

Reading How To Brew by John PalmerI have been listening to the Brew Strong show produced by the Brewing Network a lot as of late. One of the hosts, John Palmer, talks about his book on the show and all the people around him mention how good it is. So I suppose the marketing idea behind doing the shows wore off on me and I recently got my hands on a copy of “How To Brew” by John Palmer through I’ve been told that this is the “homebrewing bible” and that anyone of any skill level should have this book on hand. As a new homebrewer, I really eat up this information and I like to look at how people describe the process for beginners and I eventually have plans to move to all grain in the next few years, so what the heck, I finally cracked it open the other night and started.

Initial Thoughts

The book is a bit thick, but that only means there is an opportunity for a lot of good, or a lot of bad information inside of it. Initially thumbing through “How To Brew” by John Palmer I found that the book is organized really well with a lot of topics, covered in their entirety. I like that the book starts with extract and moves on to all-grain. I feel this is the more common and natural progression that most people take in their brewing careers, so it makes sense to split it up that way in a book.

Reading the introduction was quite interesting because the book started out as an electronic 11 page document for beginning homebrewers in 1993, which was then posted to forums and bulletin boards. I myself am currently working on something similar for beginning homebrewers. So I was instantly laughing at the commonalities that I share with Palmer.

About the Author

From what I understand of John Palmer he is a wealth of knowledge. His knowledge isn’t just experience of brewing beer though. The guy is knows so much about the science behind brewing that it is a bit freaky. For example, he can tell you everything you want to know about the different metals that you can get in a brew pot… He can recite all of the different sugars that make up your wort and how each temperature will affect how well those sugars are broken down. I could go on and on, but the moral is, he is a damn scientist brewer.

I appreciate that because I can see myself being the same way. However, I could very well see this book getting to technical. I find that a lot of brewing information out there is technical. And to be frank, it bores me to read it. I’d like to see it spiced up! So, we’ll see how this book presents its data and information once we get into it a bit more.

The “Crash Course”

After reading the “crash course” section of the book I’ve come to realize that the book reads pretty easily, but I yearn for some color pictures and for it to not have so many pages that are just walls of text. I feel the crash course was a decent read to get an overall view of the brewing process, but I think a lot of information was left out and, in fact, wasn’t specific enough. I understand that is what a “crash course” is intended to be, but the brewing process isn’t something I think you can really do a crash course on and have it be successful. The reader might as well get a kit and use that as a crash course instead of buying the book to tell them that general information.

However, looking ahead at what I’ll be reading, the value in this book will be coming in the later, more in depth sections on yeast, malts, and the “Is My Beer Ruined” section. I look forward to reading the rest of this book over the course of the next couple to few weeks and writing up a full review on it for you guys. In the mean time, if your interested, I’d just pick up a copy of “How To Brew” by John Palmer or read the free version of it online at How To Brew.

Since writing this I finished the book. The full review of “How to Brew” by John Palmer can be found here.

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  • Matt Tompkins

    I, too, have not dove into the more technical side of the book, but think it's a very good overview of getting started homebrewing. However, I wish it would be updated to included kegging. We never bottled, and I wish the book would talk about the different kegging systems available, how long the beer can stay in a keg, etc.

    I like the recipes in the back of the book, even though we've only ever bought kits, and the “Is my beer ruined” section has its own bookmark.

  • mikebiewer

    I agree.

    I've started the rest of the book after the crash course, and I have to say, it gets real technical after the crash course. I'm not sure if that is good. I mean, you just went through the crash course and could use a little more information on the crash course, but it immediately goes into a large, technical explanation of malts. I think the book could do well with a good homebrewing, step by step process before going into the innards of malts, don't you think?

    Thanks for the comment!


  • Brett

    Palmer's book was also my intro to brewing and I agree with you guys about how highly technical it gets. Whole chapters on the chemistry of brewing enzymes went pretty much over my head, but I felt all the more smarter for having read them.

    The appendices in the back are helpful with brewing troubleshooting, recipes, types of beer defined and brewing equipment ideas (like the wort chiller I'm about to attempt).

  • Brett

    The 2nd brewing bible I tackled was Charlie Papazian's “Complete Joy of Homebrewing”. A different approach, more light-hearted and not so technical. I wrote up a review here (…), if this helps you decide on adding it to the reading list.

  • mikebiewer

    Nice review!

    The Complete Joy of Homebrewing is actually already on my shelf.

    Check here if your interested in seeing it.

    The Complete Joy of Homebrewing

    Thanks for the comments man!

  • jezmez68

    I got this book about a year and a half after I started brewing. Brew Your Own magazine also has technical articles in it. I think it is a good idea to look at these, because over time, you start getting repitition through various texts and articles and it becomes almost like osmosis – you're constantly bombarded by the science, and you actually get to know it. It also will build confidence and reduce your worries, as your “beer force” gets stronger.

  • mikebiewer


    I love learning the science and getting more and more information on it. Sometimes I find it very helpful, but other times I slip into telling new people about brewing and really getting to technical right off the bat. I may sometimes like to hear myself talk, especially when I know a subject…so I should tone that back a bit.

    I like the book so far. It is taking a while to find some good time to sit down and hammer through some of it. I usually lay down at night and read before bed, but I get 2 pages in and I'm already tired. LOL

    Have you read the whole thing? What were your thoughts? I'll be posting mine soon as I finish!

    Thanks again.


  • jezmez68

    You know, good luck with trying to keep it simple. People don't know what kind of trouble they are getting into when they start discussing beer with me. My wife usually ends up stepping in. The smarter people stop me and say, “You lost me about 3 sentences ago.” I have people say to me, “That's quite a nice hobby you have.” I tell them it's not really a hobby as much as it is an obsession. You know, drinking beer is great and all, but creating and brewing recipes and having them turn into better than average, drinkable beers. In fact, they've gotten quite good. But I digress.

    I use all of these books to build on what I already do, or to consider a different option. It's like playing guitar, really. Get yourself a good base of knowledge (learn some music theory) and then totally forget about it and do what works for you. Go all Eddie Van Halen. I don't plan on doing many double and triple decoctions, but as I drink my Czech pils that I triple decocted, I can't help but think about doing an Oktoberfest the same way. Palmer's book was great help, but actually watching Kai's videos was even more helpful. I think it was because of the German accent.

  • Jez

    Christ, that comment was all over the place. ADD much?

  • mikebiewer

    The part I find the most interesting is when I am at a wedding reception and somehow I end up talking to complete strangers about brewing beer. It is almost instant that we become friends. I personally feel if you teach someone how to make beer, you will be friends with them forever.

    I would have to agree as well. When I first started I followed things by the book. Now, I find myself just winging some things here and there.

    Thanks for the comment man!

    Kai's videos? Do you have a link?

  • Jez

    Here's the link to the first part of 3:

    Again, this is good for Maerzens, Pilsners, Bocks, Weizens – Mostly southern German and Czech beers. I wouldn't do this for IPAs, Porters, Stouts, etc. Hell, I would maybe do this just once, after at least a year of brewing 1 batch (all grain) per month, just so you get your confidence. The 2nd video, I think, has the “meat”, and shows what you need. I decided to do a triple decoction in January, when it was 18 degrees outside. My garage was cold, and it was a looooong day. I might do a double on a Marzen at the end of this month. Maybe. Probably. That Pilsner turned out so good, I can't deny it.

  • mikebiewer

    Thanks for the link!

    The info is still a little above my skill level, but it excites me for things to come in my brewing career.

    So, you have given a triple decoction a try huh? How much time did it add to your brewing day?

    Again, thanks for the comment and the link!


  • Jez

    It was probably a good 6-hour brew day. I thought doing an imperial stout and partigyle stout was a killer day, but now I brew two batches a day pretty much standard, so to do that much brewing and only get 6 gallons, and in January, no less…well, I will give a double-decoction a try, but I'll likely never do a triple-cock again.

  • mikebiewer

    January brewing sucks no matter how you look at it. However, one of my last brews this year in January was such a perfect day. Our group brewed 4 batches together and successfully finished off a keg and some chili. Do you brew with a group or by yourself? I find having someone there for extra hands is always nice, but chatting and drinking with someone else is always nice as well.

    I'll be looking to you when I get my all grain setup going…hope your ready!

    Thanks again!


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