Monday, October 31, 2011

Plum Sour Dubbel Recipe

A grain sized pebble from a bag of Valley MaltValley Malt started production in Western Massachusetts last year, producing a range of malts from locally grown barley, wheat, and rye (80 acres worth this year - about one ton per week). It isn't often that a new maltster opens on the East Coast, so I thought I'd show some support by buying 50 lbs of their pale malt and a couple more of dark crystal to see if they are worth seeking out. It probably would have been smart to do the first trial with something simple and clean like a pale ale... but the dark crystal, plus a couple bottles of dark candi syrup and a bag of frozen plums I already had on hand, called for something more interesting: a double batch of dubbel.

I realize that Pilsner malt is more traditional, but I recently had a bottle of St. Bernardus Prior 8 which had more bready malt character than most of the American brewed dubbels I have tasted. While I love the complex caramel and dark fruit that dark candi syrup brings to a beer, I have not been satisfied with the flavor it gives a dubbel without the addition of dark crystal malt. I was sad that I didn't get around to ordering anything for Candi Syrup Inc to make it a completely American beer.

An amazingly dense protein foam formingOn brew day I put the strike water on the stove to heat and went down to the basement to weigh/crush the malt. The non-driven wheel on my Barley Crusher mill hadn’t been turning as easily as it used to (time to take it apart and clean it again) so I didn’t think much of it when I had to reverse the drill a couple times to get it to catch. About halfway through I heard a crunching metallic noise. I emptied the hopper, but didn’t see what had caused the noise. When I started milling again it ran fine for a few seconds, but then came that noise again. I emptied out the hopper a second time, sifted through the uncrushed grain, and finally found a grain sized pebble. If anything it made me appreciate how amazing it is that I’ve never had that happen before.

Much of the work that used to be done in the brewery with step mashes and decoctions (dealing with excess protein, and poorly modified malt etc...) is now largely taken care of by the maltster. Few modern malts require anything more elaborate than a single infusion rest at the desired saccharification temperature. I was told by the homebrew store owner who sold me the malt that Valley Malt's malts benefit from a short protein rest. The mash didn’t look or run-off any different than any other pale malt, but while the wort was coming to a boil it did inflate one of the densest protein foams I have ever experienced.

Love that dark candi syrup, first time combining D and D2I had bought WLP545 Belgian Strong Ale (one of the Sep/Oct Platinum strains) to ferment with, my first time using the strain. For half of the batch my friend Luke and I also pitched the dregs from a few bottles of sour beer that we drank while we brewed. That half will also receive oak cubes, and a couple pounds of methyl plums I bought at the farmer’s market and froze this summer. This is somewhat inspired by Captain Lawrence Rosso e Morrone which is the barrel aged version of their St. Vincent’s Dubbel with red wine grapes. I may have had one too many of said sour beers... I mixed up the carboys while running off and tossed the dregs from the last bottle into the clean half (I'm planning on serving it young on tap, so it may just add some rustic charm). Both halves started fermenting in the low-60s ambient, with only the clean half boosted into the 70s F after the first four days of fermentation.

American Malt Dubbel

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 10.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 23.00
Anticipated OG: 1.058
Anticipated SRM: 20.8
Anticipated IBU: 20.9
Brewhouse Efficiency: 69 %
Wort Boil Time: 75 Minutes

A few days later I took apart my mill and gave it some 3-in-1 oilGrain/Sugar
87.0% - 20.00 lbs. Valley Pale Malt
4.3% - 1.00 lbs. D2 Candi Sugar Syrup
4.3% - 1.00 lbs. D Candi Sugar Syrup
4.3% - 1.00 lbs. Valley Dark Crystal

1.75 oz. Hallertauer Tradition (Pellet, 6.00% AA) @ 60 min.

1.00 Unit(s) Whirlfloc @ 5 Min.

White Labs WLP545 Belgian Strong Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Protein Rest - 25 min @ 128 F
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 153 F

10/21/11 Made a 3.5 L starter with a one month old tube of yeast, shook intermittently to aerate.

Brewed 10/23/11 with Luke

Collected 9 gallons of 1.060 runnings. Added candi syrups as it came to a boil. 2 gallons of final runnings boiled separately and added back at cooling. Chilled to ~70 F, racked into two carboys onto half of the starter in each. Shook to aerate.

Added dregs from Anchorage Love Buzz Saison, Russian River Consecration, Wine Barrel Solera, and De Dolle Oreabier Reserva to the short fill. Accidentally added the dregs from a Bourbon Barrel Sour Porter to the clean portion... might add a hint of tartness funk as the beer ages.

Quick start to fermentation in the low-60s ambient.

10/27/11 Put the clean half into a pot and onto a heating pad set to high to boost the temperature to ensure complete attenuation and a bit more Belgian yeast character.

10/31/11 Fermentation appears complete so I turned off the heating pad.

11/6/11 Down to 1.015, big nutmeg aroma. Racked the "clean" portion to a keg. Racked the sour potion to a 3 gallon and a 1 gallon fermentor.

12/21/11 Great tasting result, especially for only two months old. The malt and candi sugar work together really well, complex without making the beer too sweet.

8/22/12 Racked the three gallons of the sour portion onto four pounds of mixed plums including Methley and a slightly lager darker variety I didn't catch the name of.

1/24/13 Bottled 2.75 gallons with 2 3/8 oz of table sugar. Also added a splash of rehydrated Premier Cuvee (Champagne yeast). Plums really meld nicely with the dark fruit of the grain and candi syrup.

6/13/13 Tasting of the plum-aged portion. The flavor nicely blends the dark fruit from the malt and the fresher character from the plums. Solid sourness, moderately funky.

4/13/14 Finally bottled the 1 gallon of plain/sour with .75 oz of table sugar and a splash of rehydrated champagne yeast.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sour Beer Blending Experiment

The seven beers arranged by color.With three of my beer nerd friends (Alex, Dyan, and Matt) having their first children in 2011, it seemed like a good excuse to trick them into bottling some beer for me. I respect all of their palates so I invited them over (along with my friends Nathan and Peter) to help blend and bottle a selection of sour beers I’d been aging for between 9 and 18 months. Sadly Dyan’s child had been born only a week earlier and Matt was busy (apparently children these days are no longer capable of raising themselves), but we decided to go forward with the plan anyway and just give those two a few bottles.

Blending is one of the only aspects of brewing that is an art (as opposed to a craft or janitorial work). Being able to taste a variety of beers and mix them together to get something greater than the individual components is difficult and takes practice, especially since bottle conditioning will alter the flavor of the beer. Most of my experience with blending is from combining commercial beers or homebrews in the glass. This was the first time that I had enough beers ready at the same time to conduct a legitimate blending session.

My friends enjoying some post-blending burritos.There were seven beers available: Berliner Lambic (5% brightly acidic Berliner weisse), Fruit Salad (a blend itself of a Golden Sour on soursop and the Quick Oud Bruin on raspberries and black raspberries), Dark Saison III (with buckwheat honey, figs, and fall spices), Apple Brandy Golden Solera (sharply acidic, and pretty oaky), Buckwheat Amber (young and fairly restrained), Irma (the amber saison Nathan and I brewed at McKenzie Brew House last fall... the "Extra" barrel aged version of which is running a 4.3 on BA), and Capitol City ESB on Brett (the last of a keg I won, which I pitched Brett Brett B into a few months ago).

After tasting and discussing each of the beer on its own we began playing with different combinations, taking notes, and passing around our favorites. After the initial round of tasting no one liked the Fruit Salad (the soursop gives it a weird Parmesan flavor), or the Cap City (too young and hoppy still) enough to include them so I put those carboys back for further aging. When we started to get close to our targets for the actual blends we measured the ratios by making 100 g samples on a scale. It was easy to figure out the percentages and a reasonable sample size to get a real taste of the beer. We took 50 g of each blend and poured it into a separate cup, that way after taking a sip there was still a reserved amount that could be adjusted from a known starting point. Below are the blends each of us settled on:

Nathan sanitizing bottles... so may bottles.50% Apple Brandy
30% Berliner Lambic
20% Dark Saison III

33% Dark Saison III
33% Irma
33% Apple Brandy

66% Berliner Lambic
18% Buckwheat Amber
16% Apple Brandy

40% Buckwheat Amber
40% Dark Saison III
15% Berliner Lambic
5% Apple Brandy

With all the blends determined, Peter checked the math to ensure that we'd have enough of all of the beers to bottle two gallons of each blend and still have at least two gallons leftover of each beer to bottle straight (luckily we did).

Before we started bottling I distributed one packet of rehydrated champagne yeast between the carboys (to avoid having to add yeast to each of the eight buckets to come). Ideally we would have had a scale with a large enough capacity to use weigh to dial in the blends, but I didn't so we used the marks on the side of the bottling bucket as a guide to measure by volume. All of these beers were similarly dry, so we did not bother to factor in an adjustment for the switch from weight to volume. When blending like this an auto-siphon is a must, but hold the end of the tubing above the beer until the air is cleared from the line and the next beer starts to flow (otherwise you’ll be oxidizing the beer as the air bubbles in the line out).

My share of the day's blending and bottling.Before priming the blender tasted the scaled up combination to see if any adjustments were needed, in Peter's case the beer was not as bright as he wanted so we a quart of additional Berliner Lambic. To prime the blends I boiled 5.5 oz of table sugar in 1 pint of water, adding 1/2 cup for each two gallon. For the plain batches I made individual priming solutions tailored to their specific flavor/volume. One gallon of Peter's blend and one gallon of the straight Buckwheat Amber each went onto one pound of sour cherries. I had considered dry hopping some of the beers as well, but did not notice one that called for it. Lots of tasting to come in a couple months.

One of the keys to blending is to have beers with a variety of characters. In this case we had a huge range since the beers were all brewed with different recipes, microbes, and with or without spices, oaks etc... but this is not the only way. If you are looking to make a more focused blend you can use the same recipe with different microbes (like the collaborative Isabelle Proximus), methods (as the Bruery does with Oude Tart – fermenting some spontaneously in the barrels for more sourness), or ages (as Lambic brewers do). Some brewers also keep a pale colored "acid beer" on hand that is used to lighten the color/flavor and add acidity without contributing much of its own flavor (with a pH of 3.1, that role was filled by the Berliner Lambic in our case).

It ended up being a successful Saturday afternoon. I got bottles, bottling assistance, and a variety of blends while everyone else got some free beer (half of their blend, and bottles of all the other blends and single batch bottlings). Hopefully with so many carboys now empty I’ll finally be able to start brewing for the Great Souring Experiment (which would lend itself perfectly to another session like this once all of the batches are ready).

The tasting results of these four beers, pretty, pretty, pretty, good.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Russian River Beatification PH1 Clone Tasting

Right up there with the absurdity of my Cable Car clone is this wine barrel aged Belgian single, which was Based on Russian River first batch of Beatification. 001/PH1 was only released once, aged in two barrels they got second hand from New Belgium's La Folie program (when they were stepping up to massive oak foeders). The base beer was Redemption, Russian River's Belgian single. To be clear that beer had nothing in common with all subsequent batches of Beatification, which are sour mashed and spontaneously fermented.

The recipe we used was straight from Vinnie (hard to imagine a combination of a better brewer and more generous guy). We aged it for 20 months in a second use French oak red wine barrel that we had previously aged a sour red ale. The microbes inhabiting the wood were from Wyeast Roeselare Blend, and the dregs of Lost Abbey's Red Poppy that I cultured up (but who knows what is still alive in the wood). We should have gotten some La Folie dregs in there (before they switched to the flash pasteurized bombers), but sadly the plan to brew this beer formed after that first beer was already souring.

It was also an appropriate day to do this tasting because earlier this afternoon I was talking about sour beer with Lauren Salazar (who is in charge of blending La Folie) for an article I am writing about bending beers for BYO. It was funny hearing her contrast the way they brew sour beers compared to the "Russian River way." Russian River brews a different base beer for each of their releases, nearly sanitizes their barrels before filling, stagger pitches controlled amounts of various microbes, and then blends and bottles the batch essentially as a group. New Belgium on the other hand brews only two base beers (a dark and a pale), using them to refill the partially emptied foeders when the beer is ready to blend and bottle, and uses beer from their favorite barrels to inoculate new ones. If there is one thing I am learning from interviewing the Americans who know sour beer production best, it is that there is no one best way to accomplish any task.

Russian River Beatification PH1 Clone

A glass of my Beatification PH1 clone.Appearance – Brilliantly clear gold with a glowing orange-rust core. The thin white head recedes pretty quickly, but retains a ring around the center. Sometimes the color of a beer is just right, this is one of those.

Smell – Bready yeast, fermented pears, hint of vinegar (no nail-polish remover luckily), oaky coconut, not especially funky. It shares many aromatic traits with the sour red that was in the barrel first, but the oak and wine are subtler despite the longer aging period.

Taste – Bright lactic acidity, subtle red berry, wine, and a touch of basement mustiness. The flavor is mostly soft, but the finish just has a slight sharp acetic edge to it (I'm usually not a vinegar fan, but this is just the right level). Not as dry as a lambic, there is still a hint of residual malt sweetness. It still has a touch of cereal character in the finish that I taste in most of my pale sours (should fade with another month or two).

Mouthfeel – Carbonation could be a stronger, I'd call it medium at the moment. The body is lusher than I expected, enough to support the heavy acidity.

Drinkability & Notes – It took longer than we expected to sour, but it was worth the wait. The blend of fruit, wine, and sourness is just about perfect.

The problem with comparing this to the original Beatification is that I only got to try one bottle of PH1... and that was five years ago (almost to the day). I went back and read the review I posted on BeerAdvocate after doing this tasting for comparison: I don't get the perfume/lavender I tasted in the original, but the overall balance and general flavors are remarkably similar. Hopefully a bit more complexity and carbonation will come with more time in the bottle.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Solera on Hallertau, Elderflower, and Cabernet

It took longer than we planned, but a few weeks ago Nathan and I finally pulled the first 20 gallons out of our solera wine barrel and then refilled it with 25 gallons of fresh wort. The extra volume required was to replace what was lost to evaporation and samples pulled over the last year and a half. Our two-man solera barrels seems to be harder to coordinate than the group barrels. When coordinating seven people it forces you to do more planning and scheduling while these solera barrels tend to just get pushed back knowing that we can brew enough to fill them on short notice. So after 19 months we settled on a cool Saturday morning for the pull and fill.

At this stage the beer in the barrel already tasted great: oak, overripe fruit, firm sourness, hint of earthy funk, and some red wine. Of the 20 gallons we pulled only five gallons was bottled as is, we had more interesting (Cantillon inspired) plans for the remaining 15 gallons. Five gallons went onto an ounce of elderflowers in an attempt to mimic Mamouche (Zwanze 2009). I actually though Mamouche was overdone with elderflowers, to the point that it smelled more like green bell pepper than anything floral, so we tried to aim for something subtler. The next five gallons went onto 3.5 oz of Hallertau Tradition. Cantillon Iris and Cuvee des Champions are both dry hopped with European hops. I've had some reasonably fresh bottles of Champions that were terrific, but every Iris I've ever had has been old enough that any hop character is long gone. I have loved the addition of citrusy American dry hops to my sours in the past, but this was my first time using European hops in the same capacity.

Those grapes are going to give a great color to the beer.The final five gallons went onto a gallon of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (St. Lamvinus is aged on Merlot and Cabernet franc grapes). This is rate of about two pounds per gallon, double the one pound per gallon that I thought was too light in my Lambic #3 (that beer may end up being combined with this one at bottling). We used the final bag of frozen grapes from the five gallon bucket I purchased last year (happy to have some freezer space again).

For the fill we decided to simply rack the freshly chilled wort into the barrel, rather than fermenting it out in carboys first. Our chosen method is certainly easier, but in the long run it risks introducing autolysis as the layer of yeast on the bottom of the barrel grows. Using fermented beer (especially a dry one) would be a good idea if the solera was getting too sour, since it would reduce the amount of fermentables available for the bugs.

We were pretty happy with the direction the beer was going, so we kept the recipe very similar to the one we had used initially (Pilsner, wheat, oats, and minimal hopping). When we racked the beer into the barrel we did not add extra yeast, which turned out to be a mistake. The barrel had been sugar-free for too long, and as a result the microbes that were left took about a week to start producing enough CO2 to put bubbles in the airlock. This probably wouldn’t have been a problem if we had stuck to the 12 month rotation we had targeted, but after so long I can’t say I was surprised. We'll make a determination what to do at our next pull, I'd like to avoiding more yeast if possible (again to minimize autolysis).

It was appropriate that we finished filling the barrel just in time to make it to ChurchKey for the tapping of Cantillon's Zwanze 2011, one of their lambics aged with Pineau d'Aunis grapes and Bramling Cross dry hops. I was lucky enough to have tried the previous version (test batch?) of this beer at the Lambic Summit last year. I thought the dry hops added to the new version added a subtle complexity that made for a really interesting beer. Before the tapping I got to sample a blend from Gueuzerie Tilquin for the first time, great to see a new blender (especially since it is the first that is allowed to buy from Cantillon). The gueuze was solid, with a firm acidity, and a big lemon character. It was not quite as rustic/funky as I like, but that should come with additional time.

After two weeks on the hops and elderflowers we bottled those two portions, leaving the wine grape carboy to complete its secondary fermentation. Hopefully this barrel stays productive, increasing in complexity as the average age of the beer steadily increases. It is a lot of fun to have this much sour beer laying around because it allows us to do experiments that we might not try otherwise (especially in such large amounts).

I am beginning to worry about our second solera barrel, at nine months it has already taken on a slightly acetic edge. We are aiming for an early November pull from it, at which point we will decide whether to refill it as planned, or pull the plug and find some friends to help with bottling/kegging all of it. Our plan was to get these on a similar schedule so we could blend them at bottling, but it looks like that may never happen... luckily we only spent ~$200 getting each one of these going including the barrels (about the price of a gallon of Zwanze 2011).

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dark Saison on Cabernet Grapes

A beer this big and bold  begs for a snifter.The brew day for our fourth annual Funky Dark Saison is right around the corner and I'll be blending and bottling the third batch this weekend, so there was no time like the present to taste the second batch aged on Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. At two years old it is a wonderful marriage of sour beer and wine: hearty, complex, and still balanced.

Funky Dark Saison #2 on Cabernet Sauvignon

Appearance – A thin off-white head sits on top of a nearly opaque dark brown body. During the pour I can see deep purple tones, but the beer is too dark for them to be visible in such a wide glass. The edges look clear (not surprising after two years). Despite the poor head retention the ring that persists is trailed by lacing.

Smell – Huge aroma that I can smell as soon as I start pouring. Toasted and chocolate malt, jammy fruit, spice, and clean alcohol. It is hard to tell if the spice is from the yeast, grapes, oak, or black cardamom (probably something from all four).

Taste – Starts like a bold red wine, the sourness hits the middle of the tongue fading as the malt picks up in the finish. I love a beer that progresses through each sip, changing as it travels over the tongue. The lactic acid is smooth and not overpowering, but there is no question that this is a sour beer. The peppery spice of the yeast comes through more than in the aroma. ~11% ABV adds warmth, but the sourness hides the booze surprisingly well.

Mouthfeel – Doesn't come off as thin or hot, but the featherweight body and moderate-high carbonation let you know it is Belgian. The tannins extracted during the long time spent sitting on the grape skins helps to add firmness.

Drinkability & Notes – I think this batch is terrific, I'd put it up against Russian River Consecration any day. The grapes temper the black cardamom, and their sugars helped spur additional souring. I'm trying to hang onto as many bottles as I can, this one should be even better in a year or two.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Craft Beer Bottle Sizes (Rant)

A lineup of craft beer bottles of different sizes.Can craft brewers please stop with the bombers and 750s of strong beers? Why is it that the same brewery will put their pale ale in 12 oz bottles while their barleywine goes into bombers? Why would I want a beer with a higher alcohol content to come in a larger serving size? When I’m bottling I use the big bottles for session beers, while I save my 12 oz bottles for strong beers with just a handful of bigger bottles for sharing. I know that some people like bigger bottles for homebrewing because it means fewer bottles to clean, sanitize, fill, and cap. If breweries passed on the savings they got from using fewer bottles/labels/caps etc… I would have less of a complaint.

Instead of seeing a per ounce savings the large format bottles are often more than twice as expensive as their smaller counterparts. Here are some examples of 12 oz versus 22 oz bottle prices from one of the local beercentric stores: Hop Rod Rye $2.59 ($.22/oz) vs. $5.49 ($.25/oz), Lagunitas Maximus $2.39 ($.20/oz) vs. $5.99 ($.27/oz), and shockingly Rogue Dead Guy is $2.99 ($.25/oz) vs. $7.99 ($.36/oz)... almost a 50% premium on the beer in the bomber! I think some of it is psychological, for some reason I think a $4 bomber is a good deal, even though that works out to a $13 six-pack (and a somewhat pricey $10 bomber is the equivalent of an outrageous sounding $32.72 six-pack).

The weird thing is that this seems to be a craft beer issue that doesn’t happen with the big breweries. For example Kirin also comes in 12 oz and 22 oz bottles, for $1.99 ($.17/oz) vs. $2.99 ($.14/oz). Same goes for Budweiser: 12 oz $1.39 ($.12/oz), 24 oz $2.29 ($.10/oz), 32 oz $2.69 ($.08/oz). That is the way the price structure should work, you should get a discount for buying beer in bigger bottles not a penalty. I understand that this is not necessarily the case when buying special release larger packaging (magnum or larger) since they require more labor, but if they have a bottling line there shouldn’t be any difference.

Even the six-pack is no longer safe, with breweries like Founder’s moving many of their beers to four-packs. Again despite the smaller amount of beer the price seems to have stayed about the same or even gone up from what the six-packs used to sell for.

What does it come down to? Marketing pure and simple. People are willing to pay more for a beer they perceive as special, big bottles call out to us, corked and caged bottles doubly so. Nice labels, waxed tops, bags, boxes, metal tubes, tissue paper, hand signed, you name it a craft brewer has tried it. As craft beer consumers we need to stop rewarding breweries that try to dupe us with this added packaging that boosts the price, but doesn’t make the beer taste any better.

It seems like more and more beers are only being released in larger bottles, especially limited release and collaboration beers. When I am buying a beer I haven’t had before, or one that sounds weird/experimental I’d rather buy as little of it as possible (which is why it is great that some beer bars sell sampler sizes). I’d love to see more breweries putting their weird beer into smaller bottles (7 oz nips would be perfect), but I’d be thrilled just to see more 12 oz bottles.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How many batches do you have in fermenters right now?

Chile, Chocolate, Cinnamon, Vanilla Imperial Stout in the foreground.0 - 9%
1 - 17%
2 - 22%
3-4 - 28%
5-6 - 11%
7-10 - 6%
10-15 - 1%
16+ - 2%

It is terrific to see how many people have a lot of batches going, 21 people who responded had 10 or more fermentations going? Glad so many people brewing!  It probably helps that it is peak brewing season with beautiful weather for brew days, and good ambient fermentation temperatures for most ales. It's also the right season for making ciders, pumpkin beers, wines, and using fresh hops.

At the moment I have beer in four barrels and 12 Better Bottles (and carboys and jugs).  Although that number just dropped a bit as Nathan and I bottled two beers tonight (five gallons of our wine barrel solera on both Hallertau Tradition and elderflowers), and about to fall precipitously as next weekend I'm having a few friends over to help me blend and bottle another five or six batches. I've already stockpiled several cases of clean delabeled bottles, but I'm worried that it is still a few short of what I'll need.

Not sure what I'll be brewing to refill all of those emptied carboys.  The next few batches for me are going to be lagers, a Vienna and a Tmave (the Czech version of a schwarzbier).  I'll have to get some sours going as well, it may finally be time to get moving on the Great Souring Experiment...

Monday, October 3, 2011

Booze for Free: Book Review

A few months ago the publisher of Booze for Free: The Definitive Guide to Making Beer, Wines, Cocktail Bases, Ciders, and Other Drinks at Home emailed me to ask if I’d be interested in a free copy of the book, I couldn’t turn down the irony. Andy Hamilton's focus in this book is on making beer, country wines, infusions, and other alcoholic beverages with ingredients that can be foraged. Despite the title, most of the recipes call for buying malt, sugar, yeast, etc… although there are a couple truly free recipes (like one based on corn stalks).

I found the book to be a bit of a mish-mash as it tries to cover a wide range of topics without doing any of them justice. It starts out with a brief overview of the brewing process and equipment. These sections are pretty basic, and would probably not be enough to adequately guide someone who had never brewed before. For example I didn’t see any discussion about fermentation temperatures, pitching rate, aeration etc… There is a brief mention of starters... made with refined sugar right before pitching.  I’d rather see this section skipped than done so poorly (especially as the author points out in the intro, how frequently peoples’ first attempt at fermentation go awry).

The remainder of the book is divided into four sections, each with recipes based on what is available during a season. This is a really cool way to organize a book, and it lends itself to flipping through the pages for inspiration. Each two to three page section is centered on an ingredient with information on where to find it, a bit of history/lore, and usually a couple recipes. Luckily the book mainly stays clear of the medicinal claims that turned me off of Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers.

Foraging is something that I’m interested in trying, but the instructions/descriptions aren't detailed enough to make me confident about eating something I find in the woods. In many cases the descriptions are on the vague side and lacking a way to positively identify a plant you’ve encountered. For example on the section on yarrow he mentions it is easy to confuse with hemlock, but doesn't provide any positive identifiers for picking it out.  I also can’t tell how many of the plants are available in my area (the author is English). To have a great book on foraging you’d need maps, detailed descriptions, pictures etc… The same goes for the gardening suggestions, they would only be adequate if you were already knew how to garden. Luckily many of these items are available for purchase, but that defeats much of the point of the book.

Most of the recipes seem to rely too heavily on sugar for me, which is one of the same problem I had with Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers. It doesn’t help readability that the batch sizes vary wildly, swinging from a couple pints to 50 gallons. Standardizing recipes makes them easier to quickly compare and adjust. Maybe some of my issues are in the terminology differences between English and American homebrewers. For example in his Nettle Ale #2 recipe (which incidentally calls for no malt whatsoever) he suggests that the person who gave him the recipe uses brewer’s yeast, but that he has had better luck with ale yeast… what does that mean? In that recipe he also suggests pitching the yeast when the wort has cooled to “blood temperature” and adding ½ lb of sugar to the keg for conditioning, what terrible advice!

There are some interesting tidbits to be found for sure, but when I don't like an author's basic brewing instructions I have a hard time taking their advice on other topics.