I usually give some idea of the cost of the book from a single supplier. There is no particular significance to this, the chosen source simply being the cheapest I could find with minimum searching of the interweb on the date of the original posting.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Horst D Dornbusch

Classic Beer Style Series 12
Brewers Publications, 1998
PB, 171pp
£8.05 inc del from The Book Depository

Review date 16 June 2009

The Classic Beer Style Series has been pretty variable over the years with a number of excellent books, some mediocre ones, and a few absolute stinkers. I am happy to say that "Altbier" is one of the better ones. This is not a new book but I was recently inspired to buy it after a trip to Düsseldorf (and it's Brauhäuser).

Altbier is old beer in the sense that it is made with old fashioned top fermentation although quite a lot of the brewing process follows the typical modern German lager process including decoction/temperature step mashing, cold storage, and filtering. It really is a mixture of the old and the new. For instance, rather anachronistically, the beer goes through a process of lagering and filtration in the cellar and then is racked into wooden casks for dispense in the brew pubs.

Altbier is generally a deep coppery brown colour with something of the look of a medium dark mild. Flavour wise it is rather like a hoppy dark mild although it is clearly cold conditioned which gives it that characteristic "clean" flavour.

Altbier is available throughout Germany but it's heartland is in Düsseldorf and the Rhineland area. Horst Dornbusch hails from this area which you might expect to give him a particular insight into altbier, and this does seem to be the case (which is more than can be said of some of the other authors in the series.

The book starts with the history of alt followed with a discussion of it's flavour profile and the ingredients used to create it. This is all engagingly written and packed with lots of good information and well reasoned arguments of the advantages of multi-temperature step or decoction mashing. In fact I think he may have persuaded me to try step mashing although it will be odd to ask my maltster for "a pale malt with a relatively high protein level, please". Although I have read much about temperature stepping/decoction no previous book or article has so clearly brought out the advantages. This is one of many excellent aspects of this book.

Mind you I still don't quite understand how German beers are supposed to generally have more body than British ones. To me it seems the opposite way round. Or am I confusing fuller fermentation and the effects of cold conditioning with lightness of body?

The discussion of the peculiar characteristics of alt yeast is interesting. This is a beer that must be made with the right yeast (Wyeast 1007 for instance). It is an intermediate type in that, although a top fermenter, it performs best at the relatively low temperature of 13-19°C. It's flavour profiles is best at the lower end of that range, a temperature at which most top fermenters will give up the struggle.

There is a bit of a hiatus after this good start with a description of the equipment that might be necessary to produce alt at home. Some of the ideas seem a bit dodgy or Heath Robinsonish. I would have thought that any brewer buying a specialist book like this would already have a good idea of how to construct a lauter tun and false bottom or how to modify his existing brewing kit as necessary. Of course we must remember that the book is over a decade old.

We are back on the straight and narrow with the description of the characteristic of the altbier brewing process, with particular emphasis on the processes used in commercial alt breweries. There certainly seem to be as many methods as there are brewers which offers vast scope for experiment. Following from this is the chapter on recipe formulation: hardly a riveting read but obviously useful when you get around to brewing your alt.

There are several appendices, some of which are rather good, including descriptions of several commercial examples of altbier, an outline of the production of the malts often used, an introduction to mash pH and water hardness, an interesting essay of whether yeast is a plant or an animal (it's neither according to Dornbusch and he classes it as a protist which is oddly incorrect, our friend saccharomyces cerevisiae being a fungus), technical information on calculating colour and bitterness for your recipe, and finally a unit conversion chart. The book is completed with a glossary.

I really enjoyed this book. It gave me an insight into the brewing culture of the alt brewers and made me want to visit Düsseldorf again for further research (bless you FlyBe for cheap, but un-green flights). I finished the book enthused with the desire to try several of the procedures used in alt brewing in my own set-up. In fact I have started work on a temperature controlled conditioning tank already. I might even brew an alt.
Brew Like a Monk
Culture and craftsmanship in the Belgian tradition

Stan Hieronymus Brewer's Publications 2005
PB, 272pp, 8 colour plates
£8.05 inc del from Amazon

Review date 16 June 2009

If you are going to write a book about Belgian Trappist and abbey beers "Stan Hieronymous" is a pretty good name to have. Of course, having the name doesn't mean the book is any good but, in this case, I am glad to report that it is completely recommendable.

The information about the origins of the Trappist breweries is an interesting history of Europe in microcosm. For instance, Napoleon was an important figure in Trappist history and seem to have a penchant for knocking monasteries down: he was a euro-version of Henry VIII without the wives but with the lust for plundering the abbey's wealth. I was interested to learn of the influence that the great brewing teacher Jean de Clerk had on the modernisation of the trappist breweries which directly lead to the high reputation which these beers earned in the latter half of the 20th century.

Trappist and abbey ales are pretty well known in this country, although few (if any) commercial British brewers produce anything in this style. In the USA craft brewers have embraced the style and quite a lot of the information in BLAM is concerned with these beers. This should not been seen as a criticism because, as Hieronymous makes clear, some of the great names in the Trappist brewing world seem to be rather over enthusiastic in their use of hop extracts, brewing sugars and other modern conveniences. US craft brewers seem to be rather more restrained in this area. This may explain why US craft beers out-compete their Belgian progenitors in side-by-side comparison—as pointed out by Tim Webb in his excellent foreword.

For brewers steeped in the British tradition there is quite a lot to get your head round: The overt use of brewing sugar, which is pretty much essential, to ensure a high level of attenuation resulting in a more "digestible" beer. Primary fermentation temperatures which range from 17°C up to 30°C (!) and usually rise throughout the process. Several of the brewers interviewed are surprisingly relaxed about the temperatures reached with gyles being allowed to go higher than usual so that the brewer's weekend is not interrupted, for instance. Yeast pitching rates are often surprisingly low which is, of course, all to do with flavour profile. Most Trappist and abbey beers are not bottle conditioned (ie using residual primary yeast and sugars) but tend to be "refermented" in the bottle. In other words the original primary yeast is removed by cold conditioning and whirlpooling and a fresh charge of the primary strain and sugar added. Once sealed the bottles are placed in a warm room to condition. This re-inoculation of yeast is felt essential because the original yeast is significantly weakened as a result of prolonged fermentation and cold conditioning etc.. A few beers are kräusened but the use of sugar is more widespread because it is such a important constituent of these beers.

Belgian Trappist and abbey beer's recipes often include "candi" sugar. This has in the past been seen as a somewhat mysterious ingredient although in recent years candi sugar rocks have appeared in homebrew shops. Unfortunately, as Hieronymous points out, to Belgian brewer's (Trappists especially) candi sugar is actually a caramelised sugar syrup often used to add flavour as well as highly fermentable extract. Still it is not beyond the wit of the average brewer to get caramel flavours into the beer by other means and a wide range of sugar can be substituted, for example dextrose or sucrose.

Near the end of the books is a chapter on style guidelines, a topic which seems to be a very American obsession. Unfortunately many beer judges see the guidelines as rules: come on guys, why do you think they are called guidelines! Rigid rules on style are anathema to most Belgian brewers who are totally individualistic and Hieronymous navigates through this difficult subject with aplomb. For me the conclusion to draw from this chapter is that guidelines are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise brewers.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it often made me pause for reflection and reconsider some of my brewing processes. Undoubtedly I will re-read it because there is far too much to take in at one reading. Fortunately it is well written which will make this a pleasure.

If you are interested in Belgian ales including abbey and Trappist brews, or just want to expand your brewing horizons I suggest you get hold of a copy of BLAM. I am sure you will find much of interest and will learn something of use in your brewery.
Hops and Glory
One man's search for the beer that built the British empire
Pete Brown, Macmillan, London, 2009
HB, 458pp
£11.49 inc del W H Smiths online

Reviewed June 2009

India Pale Ale is one of those subjects. Start a conversation about it in beerophile or homebrewing company and things can get nasty, in a blood-on-the-firkin sort of way. Everyone seems to have an opinion, passionatly held, and facts don't get in the way of fervently expressed assertions. IPA is an instantly recognisable name, even amongst casual beer drinkers, yet very few have any idea what those three letters signify nor the history of this beer (for 'twas a beer despite it's name!)

Probably many homebrewers have wondered about the effects of transporting IPA to India as ballast on a East Indiaman and just how they altered the beer. There is no one to ask because the last cask was sent well over a century ago and those who have tasted it are long gone. No modern IPA, even the wonderful ones, have spent much time at sea and certainly haven't repeatedly cross the tropics and equator. The ships, and the very routes they took, have also faded into the past. Pete Brown is one who has wondered but after an encounter with an elephant in a pub (read the book) he decided to do something about it. Amazingly he still thought it was a good idea when he sobered up and managed (just about) to square it with his wife.

Hops and Glory, on the surface, is the story of his struggles to get the trip organised and then to carry it out. As you might expect it wasn't easy and things didn't go altogether smoothly. But it is so much more than that. Hops and Glory isn't an easy book to categorise. It's part travel book (Gavin Young's Slow Boats to China kept coming to mind), part history (the East India Company and the British brewing industry), and part a look at beer, beer culture, and our relationship to it. As a travel book it passes the essential test: it makes me want to travel to places I have never considered or to travel by the less familiar route and mode of transport. It's ironic, isn't it, that even "green" travel companies are quite happy to fly their clients all around the world? And he even made me think I might like cruising! Excuse me while I put my slippers on and make a nice milky drink.

Pete Brown is an keen observer of people and obviously likes most of those he meets (with one major exception—you can play Pete's Spot the Knob Challenge as you read—I think I spotted him!) and this shows in his description of the various characters he meets. I really want to meet WERNER the larger than life container ship captain and experience his bone-crushing handshake. While in Madeira Pete and his long suffering wife, Liz meet John Cossart who explains the mysteries of the production of Madeira. In a few pages Pete paints such a vivid, warm picture of this, clearly exceptional, man that there is a genuine sense of personal loss when we learn of his sudden death in a footnote at the end of the chapter.

As a popular history book it succeeds brilliantly too. Time and time again Pete slips historical information onto the page which defies belief, until you check it out and discover that it's true. It becomes very apparent that out collective knowledge of the "Honourable" East India Company (EIC) and the history of India has been very heavily sanitised and edited, to put it mildly. At times it made me quite sad and/or angry to realise what my ancestors did to the vibrant, sophisticated, and wealthy culture that they found in India. The EIC didn't admit to the existence of any responsibility other than profit. Death, mayhem, and the impoverishment of others were not impediments to making money, indeed they were not considered at all. After all, they were only "niggers", a resource to be ruthlessly exploited. Oh, and if the government think we have a drink problem they should find out more about the 18th-19th century anglo-indian's alcohol consumption. Just reading about it makes your liver go leathery.

There is a lot of rubbish information out there concerning IPA and I don't just mean Wikipedia. There is also a small amount of good stuff and plenty still to be unearthed from reliable primary and secondary sources buried in various archives. Pete navigates this tricky field rather well. He avoids all the obvious bear-traps such as "IPA was brewed strong to survive the journey to India" and "the UK population got the taste for IPA in 1827 when an India-bound ship was lost off the coast of Liverpool but it's cargo of IPA saved and sold off" but makes use of the good stuff that has been published, quite a bit of which is available on the internet, if you look in the right places. Then there are those sources in the archives, newspaper archives and the like. Unusually for a popular beer book extensive use has been made of these and it shows. Although it is not perhaps written as such, Hops and Glory is one of the best published histories of IPA.

The beer that Pete took to India was brewed, rather appropriately, at the White Shield Brewery by Steve Wellington and there is a brief description of this and the process near the start of the book. Of course, I had to try and work out the recipe by filling in the gaps and here is my approximation, assuming that the brew length was 2 barrels and making guesses to replace the missing information.
1072, IBU 103, EBC 19, 7% ABV
Pale Malt 97.6%
Malt 2.4%
Mash at 66°C, 90 minutes
Northdown Hops to 103 IBU, 60 boil time, 75% by weight
Northdown Late Hops, 10mins, 25% by Weight
Sounds pretty authentic apart from: highish gravity, the crystal malt and the contemporary hop variety. So a modern authentic-ish IPA then!

The whole experiment nearly became scuppered when the first cask of beer exploded in the Canary Islands. I have a feeling that if Pete or Steve had read W H Roberts ' "Scottish Ale Brewer", for instance, they might have reduced the gravity of their IPA a bit, increased the attenuation and maybe, just maybe, avoided the dreaded "exploding cask syndrome". But then, what do I know? Still it does up the drama of the narrative. So, you ask, how did the beer fare? What was it like when it arrived in India? Really— don't be a cheapskate—buy the book and find out.

While we are on the subject of the book, rather than the content, it's a shame that the book doesn't have a proper stitched binding because I am sure that I will re-read and refer to it quite often. Also it is a shame that there are a few typographic errors and some pretty poor proof reading. On a happier note, I like the cover and, I wonder, is that the elephant from the pub just above the title? I rather think it is.

Pete has a theory about the change that IPA underwent on the way to the subcontinent. He points out the similarity with journey which madeira experienced on the way there (maderia was the drink in India before IPA supplanted it). Casks of the wine were transported pretty much the same way as IPA and underwent significant and beneficial change. The Maderian wine producers found that the high temperatures were the thing. When they lost their trade to India (and hence the maturation the wine underwent in the holds of the East Indiamen) the wine producers began to heat their wine up in store, either by gradually moving the casks from the lower to the upper floors of their warehouses or by the artificial heating of the storage vessels.

Oh yes, I think I forgot to say, this is also a very funny book. Laugh out loud funny in places, much to my embarrassment on a couple of occasions.

You see? This book has everything, humour, drama, tears, exotic locations, beer. What more could you want? Go on buy a copy, you won't regret it.