Review of “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing”
Posted on November 29, 2009 by mike
If there is one thing that I have learned in the past few months as a homebrewer it is that knowledge is power and the homebrewing community is awesome and completely willing to share their tips, secrets, and techniques. However, there is a lot of knowledge to be had by picking up a good book and putting your nose to the grind stone. I know, I know, in this world of video and short attention spans why would you ever read a book? I guess that answer is up to you, but if you are looking to take your brewing up a notch from complete newbie or intermediate to advanced “Complete Joy of Homebrewing” by Charlie Papazian is a great place to start.
Speaking of starting, that is exactly where this book begins, at the very beginning. The beauty of this book is that it gives the confidence to brew your own beer to the complete beginner. The first 40 pages give you a little history of beer, homebrewing, and all the essential information you will need to get started. It is written in a very basic form that is pretty much impossible to screw up, plus there are visuals to accompany what is being discussed.
The book then moves into an “intermediate” section that really breaks down the brewing process and what goes on during the stages of brewing. The author, Charlie Papazian, talks about pretty much everything from the water you use to the yeast, sugars, hops and so forth. It is great all around background information that gives you a better understanding of the ingredients going into your brews.
This chapter also goes through pretty much all of the main styles of beer that are brewed by homebrewers, craftbrewers, and commercial brewers. Stouts, Pale Ales, Dunkels, Schwarzbier, Dubbel and so on. Reading this list and synopsis of each was quite educating. Immediately following that particular section Papazian lists out some of his favorite recipes, a huge asset for anyone just getting started. Having the recipe book of one of the Godfathers of homebrewing at your finger tips can only make your brewing better.
The last section or the “advanced” brewer section describes, pretty much in full, how to brew all grain recipes and all of the things you’ll need to do it. What I really enjoy about reading Papazian’s book is the light hearted feeling you receive genuinely from the author. For example read this excerpt from the book.
“How sophisticated and elaborate does the brewing process need to get for a homebrewer to be classified as advanced? Is it brewing beer solely from grains? Is it cultivating your own yeast? Is it treating your water with the perfect combination of minerals? Or, is it just being able to make perfectly delicious beer every single time, with malt extracts or all grains? For each homebrewer “advanced” takes on its own special meaning. But one symptom is clearly recognizable when you are ready to take the next step, and that is the symptoms of an “advanced state of passion.”
You find yourself talking to just about anyone that will listen about your beer, about the beer you buy, about the beer on television, about the beer in our neighbor’s refrigerator. People tell you that when you are having a beer, you look at with a long loving gaze. You find yourself smelling the beer before you drink it. You’re looking in the classified advertising section for used refrigerators. You daydream at work that your next beer will even be more perfect. You wake up refreshed in the morning after having a series of beer dreams. You are indeed in an advanced state of beermaking.”
Those paragraphs just crack me up because that is absolutely the way I feel. I thought I wouldn’t be reading this section till years from now. However, I’m glad I did. There was a lot of advanced information that can be put to use in “intermediate” recipes, especially if you are steeping grains. This chapter covers more advanced knowledge of things such as cultivating your own yeast for future use, treating your water, and a whole sleuth of information about grains and other adjuncts for all grain brewing.
Finally the book ends with a series of appendices that discuss how to taste beer, make meads, kegging, sour mashes or lambic beers, growing hops and so on. Again, some really interesting information depending on how serious of a homebrewer you really want to be.
There are a couple of downsides to the book though. It is lengthy, which could be good or bad depending on how you look at it. It is an easy read, but after the first chapter the pictures are replaced with graphs that are hard to read and understand at a glance. The pages become just walls of text blur when you start getting into it. More visuals would really help illustrate some of the concepts, especially the “advanced” section. There were some paragraphs that every three words were numbers and formula driven speech. I don’t care how “advanced” of a homebrewer you are, you’ll need to filter through that to get the point out of it and a workable understanding of the formulas.
Overall I think this book is a must have for the new homebrewer. It is a great resource that lets you decide how in depth you really want to go in the homebrewing process. The first 40 pages are full of good information to get you started and the middle of the book discussing more in depth all of the pieces of the homebrewing experiment is great educational information. I can’t forget to mention that the listing of beer styles and what makes them up is a great resource today and tomorrow for anyone wanting to know more about beer. Last but not least, the 100 or so different recipes right out of Papazian’s recipe book will keep you coming back to this book for ideas and inspiration for years to come.