Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Review: Brew Like a Monk

This was a Christmas Gift from my dear mother. Thanks, Mom. It is also a book written by acclaimed brewing author Stan Hieronymus. If you were a fan of Hops, or Brewing with Wheat, you'll probably enjoy this. This book focuses on Belgian beers, and specifically those brewed and derived from brews made in monasteries, hence the title, "Brew Like a Monk". If you were ever curious what you could learn on a trip to Belgium but can't afford to go, this book is for you.

(Please read more about the structure and my personal thoughts on the contents of the book after the break.)
This book is structured in the same manner as other brewers publications style books. The first half is devoted to one man's journey to understand Belgian beers and find out the essence of what makes them unique. (Hint: water, yeast, hops and barley) It's not really one thing done by everyone in Belgium to produce great beers with unique characteristics. You can't just copy the recipe of the monks of the Abbey de Saint Sixtus and expect to knock out Westvleteren 12.

Stan takes Europe head on and finds out,.. That Europeans don't keep good notes. A for instance: the brewers of Saint Sixtus don't keep great notes, they speak about their brew as if it just happens, no fermentation profile, or exact temperature marks. Just a healthy dose of the theme of the book, Belgian Happens.

The second half of the book gets into the nitty gritty like fermentor geometry, fermentation temps, and recipes. The answer the book keeps coming back to is, It's Belgian! What this means is that there is no magic bullet contained within this book which allows you to replicate that signature Belgian you enjoy. You can attempt to replicate the exact conditions at such and such a brewery and you might get damn close to their results. Then attempt another beer from another brewery using that same process and create a radically different beer.

It gives you tips though on everything from not ruining your batch, to achieving proper attenuation, and recipe formulation. An interesting feature of the recipe section includes the average amount of an ingredient included in several award winning beers. For instance if you were making a pale pilsner and he had ten recipes for that and one recipe was 10% honey, then the average recipe would be 1% honey. This helps steer you towards the staples of a recipe. This section as much as anything in the book helps you up your game. It can help you realize that while you might think crystal 120 as 10% of your recipe is the norm you can see that in fact it's not.

If I learned anything from this book that was repeated often it was not to try to control the yeast too much lest it stall. Stalling is bad and you might as well forget ever getting that yeast to start up in that batch of beer again. The theme of this book in a few words: 'Just let go'. If you're about precise control and exact style guidelines stick to other styles, Belgian beers just happen.

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