When I envisioned what a beer book co-written by Greg Koch would look like, the word subtle never crossed my mind. As CEO and co-founder of the Stone brewery, Greg has developed a reputation for being outspoken and uncensored, creating an aggressive style of craft beer marketing that has been taken up by breweries like BrewDog. So it was quite the surprise to find that The Brewer’s Apprentice never said I wasn’t worth of it or the information it contained. At no point in these pages was I, the reader, mocked in any form, which was a little disappointing and pleasing at the same the time.
The Brewer’s Apprentice is a hard beer book to classify. It contains a wealth of information about brewing, but is in no way a homebrew book with recipes and step-by-step instructions. Yet it contains a vast amount of information about how a homebrewer can improve the quality of their beer, much of it scientific in nature. (Temperature=science, right?) As like many other beer books, it is arranged in chapters that cover a specific topic (aroma hops or lambics) and finishes each chapter with a Q&A with a brewer. It offers insight about how the larger American craft breweries make their delicious beverages, while giving examples of how a homebrewer can modify the steps to recreate the brewing techniques. Perhaps it is best to describe the book as a behind-the-scenes look at how beers are really made by breweries such as Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada.
The most enjoyable parts are definitely the interviews with brewers and owners that come at the end of every chapter. A couple of nuggets: Nick Floyd, co-owner of Three Floyds, likes to gives hops a chance to mellow in his beers to allow for more nuances to come out. His rule: you can age hoppy beers one day for every IBU. The Lost Abbey uses dextrose, aka corn sugar, in some of their beers, as opposed to Belgian candi sugar. Jean van Roy of Cantillon thinks that Canada, along with the US and Italy, will soon be making better lambics than Belgium. Any one of those comments should be enough fodder for hours of conversation between beer geeks.
The most enlightening chapter was definitely the one on brewing Belgian beers. Having mainly been around traditional North American breweries (malt, water, hops, yeast), it was a revelation to see how different it is to make a Belgian ale and why they are so unique when compared to other European or North American ales. I can know wrap my head around how an additive like candi sugar can create a different taste and mouthfeel in a beer. (Perhaps this is standard knowledge to anyone with a minimal amount of brewing prowess.) I only wish they had interviewed an actual Belgian brewer at the end of the chapter.
The design and layout of the book was a nice change to the plain formats that beer books often come in. Lots of excellent photos and short little paragraphs make it an easy book to read in short spurts or pick up and read right through in a couple of hours. Yes, that also means it’s not the most dense book, but the flip-side is that there is minimal filler. A nice addition to any bookshelf.