The What and Why’s of Homebrewing

Posted on May 25, 2010 by

Does your beer taste a little funny? Are you trying to make a lauter tun? Are you wondering exactly how much boiling water to add to your mash to bring the temperature up 4 degrees? Or are you just looking for a great overview of many subjects associated with beer and homebrewing to further expand your knowledge on the subject?

You are in luck. “How to Brew” by John Palmer, covers each one of these subjects in depth within the covers of his book. In my review of “How to Brew” I’ll bring you up to speed on some of the great hoppy nuggets of information within this book along with some of the things I wasn’t completed impressed with in hopes of helping you decide if this book needs to be added to your collection.

Review of “How to Brew” by John Palmer

How to Brew by John PalmerIf you recall I did an intro review of “How to Brew” by John Palmer where I talked about how the book starts off with a brief overview of the brewing process and what and how to extract brew. The extract brewing portion of the book is very short and seems to lack as much knowledgeable information as the rest of the book does. It could merely be poor placement of chapters though. Once you get through the first few chapters about brewing and extract brewing, Palmer goes in depth into each part of the brewing process. He describes malts, hops, yeast, water, aeration, hot breaks and so on. Through these chapters there is a lot of practical knowledge that can lead a novice brewer into a better beer making direction. However, it comes after Palmer has already described the extract brewing process. Personally, I think that information should come first just like it does later in the book when he gives a load of knowledge on all-grain brewing before turning anyone loose. If your thinking about homebrewing extracts, read sections one and two before deciding or starting to get a great idea of the overall brewing process.

Regardless, “How to Brew” is a very thorough book that I am extremely happy to have read and put onto my brewing shelf. The book is loaded with conversions, charts, recipe information, and many other useful tidbits that I didn’t know until reading this book. Did you know that you can do something called “Hot Side Aeration”? This is the process of aerating your wort after the boil, but before it has come down to pitching temperatures. In other words, don’t aerate your beer at all before it’s down to pitching temperatures or you run the risk of long-term oxidation and flavor stability.


“How to Brew” by John Palmer is a great resource for anyone starting to brew, novice brewers, people debating on making the all grain leap, and even expert brewers looking for guidance on changing their water composition for a stellar Pilsner. The book is very thorough and covers darn near all of the different subjects associated with brewing, right down to different metals or ways of fabricating your own equipment.

A couple of sections I really appreciated included the “Is My Beer Ruined” section. In this section Palmer describes the many different “off flavors”, what causes them and how to prevent them in the future.

I also enjoyed reading the section called “Brewing with Extracts and Specialty Grains”. This section gave me a great overview on the different base malts and specialty grains and what they do. Palmer discusses how certain grains will effect all the different aspects of your brew, including color, flavor, aroma, fermentability, and so on. It was really insightful for a novice brewer, like myself looking to increase my knowledge of what makes up my favorite beers and eventually my own recipes.

  • Great for new, intermediate and expert brewers
  • Very thorough
  • Great sections like “Is My Beer Ruined or Brewing with Extracts and Specialty Grains”
  • Overall a great read


Again, like most books and information on homebrewing there was very little support of pictures to illustrate the points being presented. There were a lot more pictures than “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing” by Charlie Papazian, but still, just not enough. In one instance Palmer is discussing clarity of wort coming out of the mash tun with black and white photos. Honestly, I couldn’t see the point he was trying to illustrate with the photos.

The biggest con of the book is that there are pages that are very difficult to understand. Palmer can get very technical with some of his information, with math and formulas, which it is extremely easy to just want to skip it. There has to be a better way to present the information because it is exactly like trying to learn algebra, out of a textbook, without any practical practice problems or illustrations.

On top of that there was one instance that Palmer lost me. In one section he mentioned not adjusting the PH of your water before mashing because some malts will adjust it for you, but then the rest of the chapter was about adjusting the PH of your water for mashing. Still not sure if I should adjust the PH before or during.

  • Not a lot of great pictures to illustrate points
  • Can get extremely technical at times
  • I personally got lost once in the book


The book is great and I highly recommend buying it, especially if you plan to move onto all grain brewing at some point in your brewing career. Half of this book is about all grain brewing and presents a lot of good information that would be exceptional to read before jumping head first into all grain brewing. I also believe it is a better starting homebrewing book than “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing” by Charlie Papazian.

The book is loaded with practical information about general brewing practices, ingredients, how to’s, and an all around “why things are the way they are” in homebrewing. I would highly recommend this book to a novice and experienced brewer.

Pick up your copy of “How to Brew” by John Palmer here!

If you don’t mind sitting in front of your pc, you can check out the book on the web here.

How bout you?

Have you read this book? What did you think? Did it help you become a better brewer or was some of the information just to technical?

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  • completegeek

    I've skimmed over it. I would like to pick it up but I figure the internet has just about all the information I could need. I don't mind a little digging.

  • mikebiewer

    Yea. A lot of people are the same way. I am that way as well. However, I have plans of having a huge library of books and magazine references in my brew house!


    Let me know if you ever give it a read. It's pretty good and I'd like to hear your take on it!


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