Experimental Homebrewing: Mad Science in the Pursuit of Great Beer by Drew Beechum and Denny Conn
Date read: 01-18 October 2015
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Paperback, 240 pages
Published 2014 by Voyageur Press (an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group)
Source: Deschutes Public Library
Table of Contents:
- Chapter 1: The Basics
- Chapter 2: Recipe Design
- Chapter 3: Splitting Batches
- Chapter 4: Equipment Nerdery
- Chapter 5: Off-the-Wall Techniques
- Chapter 6: Favorite Experimental Styles
- Chapter 7: Conventional Brewing Ingredients
- Chapter 8: Experimental Ingredients
- Chapter 9: Evaluating Your Experiments
- Chapter 10: The Experiments
- Works Cited
- About the Authors
I definitely enjoyed this book and will be getting myself a copy once I start brewing. And let me say, this book has me seriously considering how to make that happen, soon.
Even if you do not want to go down some of the more experimental roads in this book it is great placing the entire context of the brew day (and more) into an experimental framework. The book can teach you a lot whether or not you ever get near an alternative ingredient.
Highly recommended; even if you don’t enjoy every bit or it isn’t entirely relevant to you I bet you’ll find something to really make you think about your brewing.
As a beer blogger, the almost inevitable question people have when they hear this is “Do you brew your own beer?” I’m kind of tired of hearing it. Is that, honestly, the most interesting question most people can think of when hearing “beer blogger”? ::sigh:: [This is in no way a negative comment re homebrewing but this “direct” link between writing about beer and brewing your own seems mighty tenuous to me. There are far more beer drinkers than beer brewers.]
That said, I am doing something about the not brewing. I have taken an all-grain brewing class (Tim Koester through COCC; great) and have helped a couple friends once or twice. I have been meaning to help them more and they have offered up brewing days but, for assorted reasons, I have not made them.
I believe I have finally figured out a system that will work for me; or, at least, part of the system. Now I am trying to find out all the answers I need to get the correct equipment the first time. Fermentation temperature control is still a mostly open question but it is ultimately solvable and I have a good idea what that’ll take.
To show how serious I am, I joined the American Homebrewers Association yesterday. I (we, really) have been members of our local homebrew club COHO for a couple years. This Thursday I am going to help a guy brew on a system much like I’m considering to a) help and get experience and b) pester him with questions and acquire observation(s) of his process.
So, back to the book.
“Close your eyes for a moment …” (7).
Contains an short intro; About Our Process which lays out the scientific method [Question, Hypothesis, Prediction, Test, Review and analysis] and how to apply it to brewing, What We’ll Discover shows that there are questions homebrewers have that aren’t those of any ongoing research, and Keeping the Experiment Alive where they bring up the accompanying website http://www.experimentalbrew.com/ and their community of IGORs “(independent group of researchers)” (9). That is, you are encouraged to join the experimental team.
Chapter 1: The Basics
Lays out their basic assumptions and a minimalist guide to all-grain brewing and one for extract brewing, including equipment lists; Small Batch Brewing (One Gallon B.I.A.B.) which is the bit that really got me thinking; A Brew Day with the Experimentalists runs through a brew day but, in essence, since they live 844 miles apart you get two views on Preparation, Mashing, Sparging, and Boil. The chapter ends with the “Most Important Tips” from both of them.
Chapter 2: Recipe Design
Before they teach you how to play with recipes they strip things down to “the bare essentials” (23). The authors show us “a tasty beer that lacks focus and is needlessly complicated, like its creator” (25). It’s a DIPA using 6 malts and 8 hop editions of 7 different hops. So, we get a SMaSH blonde, Pils and barleywine. If you’ll allow the stretching of a SMaSH by the addition of Belgian candi syrup then you even get a Belgian quad. With a little more purposeful expanding from beyond our minimalist constraints we get an oat beer, and a simplification of that troublesome DIPA. There’s The Recipe Roadmap with Denny which discusses thought processes and just getting on with trying the thing you’re thinking; experimentally, of course. Unless you are lucky enough to create a perfect recipe the first time and have your processes nailed you need to run experiments. A several page section Chris Colby on Recipe Design [former editor of Brew Your Own magazine] follows. After a little discussion on fooling your nose and mouth we get a white stout recipe.
Chapter 3: Splitting Batches
This chapter is all about the various ways and reasons to split a batch of beer. That simple; yet, quite helpful.
Chapter 4: Equipment Nerdery
Both authors list their “Basic Build-out” equipment list under the headings Planing the Brew, Yeast Management, Brew Day, and Fermenting and Packaging. Toolbox suggestions and storage ideas follow with tools for cleaning and sanitation, temperature checks and “science” coming next. Instructions for a “Cheap ’N’ Easy Mash Tun” and for a “Cheap ’N’ Easy Fermentation Temperature Control,” along with making a draft hopback (Randall), and thoughts on RIMS and HERMS and playing with a Raspberry Pi are included. Tips on chilling are also included.
Chapter 5: Off-the-Wall Techniques
Adding flavor via teas and tinctures, using that hopback, canning starters in advance, brewer’s invert sugar recipe, Eisbeer technique, dry hopping, Brett, blending beers, soda pop and more, along with a few more relevant recipes, constitute this chapter.
Chapter 6: Favorite Experimental Styles
Wheats, IPAs, tripels, sessions, porter, and saisons are the star of this show with a couple experimental variations on each presented.
Chapter 7: Conventional Brewing Ingredients
Thirty-two pages covering the four basic ingredients of beer, along with a section on Sugars, and information on assorted techniques as applicable.
Chapter 8: Experimental Ingredients
Here we get information on produce, spices, coffee, vanilla, chocolate, caffeine, mushrooms, meat, peanut butter and candy and how to use them.
Chapter 9: Evaluating Your Experiments
Tasting beer, some science of tasting, finding tasters, types of tests and an example of running a tasting comprise this chapter.
Chapter 10: The Experiments
Experiments for the mash, the boil, fermenters (materials & shapes), yeast, wort prep, fermentation, pre-packaging, packaging, aging, and serving are all included.
An example of a mash experiment is “No or low sparge: Can you skip the sparge step altogether? Or sparge less? Some brewers swear by no sparging to make beautifully smooth beer for a few dollars more malt” (213). This one is of intense interest to me as I am considering going mostly the no sparge route.
First wort hopping and hot side aeration are a couple of the boil experiments, with aeration being an example from wort preparation. Most of these experiments have a code number so it can be found in the IGOR section of the book’s website. This allows you to run the experiment and to join in the discussion of how it worked (or not), of what difference you found. Collaborative science in action. All in the name of beer.
Lists some useful looking websites and a couple books with those being mostly standards.
My final comments
Recommended. I enjoyed the book and although I doubt I’ll ever be putting a pepper near a kettle or fermenter there are a lot of great ideas and good info on how to implement them. Try your public library first if you want to have a gander at it before buying. That’s where I found it.