I am kicking off my series of Thursday book reviews by taking a fresh look at the iconic homebrewing classic, The Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian, in this case it is the 3rd addition from 2003. This book has been the bible for American homebrewers since it was first released the year I was born. It is still probably the book that most homebrewers start out with, and after reading so many other brewing books I wanted to see if it still deserves this status.
This book grew out of one of the original homebrewing pamphlets from the 1970s (written even before the legalization of the hobby). As his pamphlet grew Charlie incorporated more and more information into it creating a book which contained information about just about every aspect of how to make beer at home.
Content: The book is a survey of many of the topics that homebrewers are interested in, from how to make your first extract batch, to mashing, growing hops, water treatment, kegging, beer styles, and beer appreciation. All of these sections serve as good introductions, but few do more than scratch the surface (for example I think the odds of someone actually getting a good crop of hops with just 3.5 pages of information is pretty low).
It is a wonderfully inspiring book when you are starting out in the hobby. Just a few pages in you get the feeling that not only will your first batch be delicious, but you'll have a good time making it. However, this results in the instructions being less about brewing great beer and more about brewing decent beer as simply as possible. Overall the book tends to steer clear of explanations, preferring a folksy pragmatism which I personally don't care for.
Accuracy: Some of the information is a bit dated. For example Charlie suggests adding gypsum to many of the recipes (8 tsp in his Toad Spit Stout). With the wide variety of brewing water out there a standard water salt addition for a recipe is generally not a great idea.
There are other problems as well, for example some of the grain measurements are given in volumetric measurements instead of by weight. Sometimes "crystal malt" is called for without a specified color. Many of the recipes seem to use outdated style interpretations, a weizenbock with only 17% wheat, no flaked barley in the Irish stout, black patent in a doppelbock etc…
Readability: The book is a pretty quick read because it is light on technical jargon and the writing is clear. However, it is difficult to quickly reference because it doesn't use any "modern" features like text boxes, graphic design, or well produced charts/graphs/tables. It can also feel disjointed, as if the parts were stuck together rather than being crafted as a whole.
I particularly dislike the way the recipes are written, with an entire narrative instruction given for each recipe. It makes it very difficult to quickly pull out key details like mash temperatures, and it makes it time consuming to grasp all of the details of the recipe.
Overall: The huge variety of topics and big enthusiasm make this a decent read if you are just considering getting into the hobby. That said, I think it tries to do too many things because it was conceived before you could buy whole books on basic technique, recipe design, hop gardening, interesting brewing ideas, or brewing beers to style. It just isn't written for the brewer who is interested in brewing the best beer possible. I think the fact that I read it cover to cover twice when I first started out, but haven't picked it back up in three years tells you all you need to know about how useful this book is.