Book Review: Brewing Element Series

Since beginning my studies towards a Certified Cicerone Certification, I have read numerous books on beer. So I thought I would share some of the books that I think others could benefit from, and enjoy, reading. First up is a collection of four books covering the four basic elements of beer (water, yeast, malt, and hops) called the Brewing Element Series.

Included in this series is Water written by John Palmer and Colin Kaminski, Yeast written by Chris White with Jamil Zainasheff, Malt written by John Mallet, and For the Love of Hops written by Stan Hieronymus. These four books are packed with history, biology, chemistry, brewing techniques, and helpful information for brewers of all experiences.

Let us start with the most basic, yet the most complex, component of beer: the water. Beer is composed of nearly 90% water, so one can easily argue this is the most important ingredient to get right. Water has helped define regional styles of beer since the mineral make up of water varies greatly around the world. Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers dives deep into the world of brewer’s water, and I would have to say that this book is the most complex book out of the four. Authors John Palmer and Colin Kaminski do not shy away from the advanced chemistry aspects of brewing water. Calcium, Magnesium, Sulfates, Phosphates, Sodium, Potassium, Mercury, Fluoride, Lead, Iron, and numerous other chemical elements are discussed in great detail in how they affect brewing water. Alkalinity, and how to control it, plays a huge role in this book. There is a large section to help brewers adjust their water to accommodate various styles of beer. While this book does contain its share of advance chemistry equations and highly detailed graphs of water composition down to the parts per millionth, the beginner brewer can still learn a lot from this book. There is a lot of good information about where water comes from, how to read water reports, how to fix brewing issues, and how to dispose of waste water. While a lot of the AP chemistry went right over my head, I still found this book to be very informative.

The role of yeast in beer was not fully understood until the mid-1800’s when Louis Pasteur established that yeast was a living organism. The German beer purity law of 1516, the Reinheitsgebot, only included three ingredients of beer: water, malts, and hops. Fermentation was just considered an “Act of God”. It was not until after Pasteur’s discovery that yeast was added to the Reinheitsgebot in the 19th century. Nowadays everyone knows the importance yeast plays in creating and flavoring beer. Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation, by Chris White with Jamil Zainasheff, fully understands this importance and go into great detail how this living organism creates the liquid we love. The book starts off with a biochemistry break down of the yeast cell: its structure, genetics, metabolism, and life cycle. This is followed up on how yeast produces esters, fusel alcohol, diacetyl, sulfuric and phenolic compounds, and organic acids. There is a ton of information on how to choose the correct yeast for a particular style of beer and how to properly ferment that yeast to get the best results. Want to cultivate your own yeast? A huge part of this book is dedicated to the cultivation, proper handling, and storage of yeast. For the advanced brewer looking to open a their own brewery, there is information of how to build an entire yeast culture laboratory. This is a great book for anyone fascinated by this tiny fungus.

“No Barley, No Beer” as the old saying goes. Malt: A Practical Guide from Field to Brewhouse changes that old phrase to “Know Malt, Know Beer”. Author John Mallet makes the world of malts very fascinating. He starts off with the story of Harry Harlan, to whom he refers to as the “Indiana Jones” of barley. Harlan was instrumental in the documentation of the origin and genetics of barley grown all over the world. He traveled extensively to study the grain and amassed an extensive library of samples that numbered well over 5,000. From here Mallet discusses the history of malt and the various processes to convert barley into malt. The reader gets to take a tour of a malt house and learn about how specialty malts are made. The book contains an extensive section of the various malt families and how each one will affect a beer’s flavor. Malt chemistry and barley biology both have dedicated chapters. There is information about proper malt handling, milling, and storage. As well as a full list of malts that are commercially available in the United States. Overall an informative book for anyone interested in beer.

My favorite part of beer will always be the hops. As a dedicated Hop Head I found For the Love of Hops: The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness, and the Culture of Hops, written by Stan Hieronymous, to be an extremely informative book that has increased my knowledge of this plant. Hieronymus discusses all aspects of the hop plant. He starts off with the history of the plant and how it came to replace gruit (an herb mixture used for bittering and flavoring beer) as a main ingredient in beer. From there he discuss the biology of hops and how the chemical compounds contained within causes various aromas. I now respect 4-mercapto-4-methylpentan-2-one. Also how Alpha acids in hops contribute to bitterness in beer. There are chapters on how to grow and harvest hops. This is followed by an extensive list of hop varieties and their characteristics. Hieronymus discusses how Alpha Acids become Iso-Alpha Acids in the brew house and the chemistry behind that change. Information on dry hopping leads to how various methods of dry hopping affect the aroma of the beer. The books also teaches how to spot damaged and spoiled hops. It ends with a nice section of the hop bills for many famous name brand craft beers. This is wonderful book for any hardcore Hop Head.

In conclusion I highly recommend this series of books to anyone who really wants to learn all the ins and outs of what goes into beer. Yes some of the advance chemistry and biology might be a bit too much information, but all of the authors do great jobs in summarizing it up for the layman. And in the end, knowledge is power.