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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Secrets of Master Brewers

A new title has elbowed its way onto the increasingly-crowded beer section at your local bookseller: The Secrets of Master Brewers, my latest book. It is, foremost, a guide to homebrewing. But it's not just a brewing manual. The idea behind the book was to introduce the idea of national tradition, this notion that people who inhabit a region begin to think about beer in a similar way and develop techniques that accentuate their preferences in beer.

A satisfied customer!
I've organized the book around these national traditions, and each section begins with an introduction describing those elements that define it. The chapters focus not on styles so much as archetypes. Bavarians think about and make lagers very similarly whether they're brewing a bock or helles but differently than the pale lagers made in neighboring Bohemia. Based on my travels and writing, I mapped out the extant national traditions as I know them and the archetypal styles within each. Whether you want to brew one of the beers in the book or just understand them at a deeper level, this book has information you won't find elsewhere.

The Techniques
The Secrets of Master Brewers describes the way classic, archetypal beers are made at the breweries that made them famous. You definitely get the details of mash rests, boil lengths, and fermentation processes, but you also get to hear how brewers think about beer, what they emphasize in their own brewing, their ingredient selection, and specific techniques to bring out the flavors they prize. There's an anthropologic bent throughout. For example:
  • John Keeling (Fuller's) explains parti-gyle brewing, and
  • Ian Cameron (Traquair) emphasizes the importance of open fermentation.
  • Hans-Peter Drexler (Schneider and Sohn) gives the lowdown on ferulic acid rests, and
  • Matthias Trum (Bahnhof) provides techniques to conduct lactic fermentations.
  • Hedwig Neven (Duvel) describes how to achieve balance in yeast-driven ales, and 
  • Alexis Briol (St. Feuillien) offers a tutorial on subtle spice infusions in biere de Noel.
  • Of course, I didn't neglect the US, and Ben Edmunds (Breakside) gives a seminar on modern techniques for making hoppy ales, while
  • Brian Mandeville (Fullsteam) advises readers how to use corn in their brewing.
Throughout the course of the book, you'll learn techniques like decoction mashing, kettle souring, making invert sugar, cask-conditioning, adding speise, how to use different spices (which may be bark, seeds, blossoms, leaves, herbs or roots), wild fruit inoculations of wort, growing your own hops, and more.

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I recognize not everyone is going to want to buy this book. I hope everyone does pick it up and page through it to see what jumps out. Beer-making is not just a chemical process. It has evolved over the centuries and includes a whole range of local philosophies, approaches, and techniques. If you want to understand how brewers think about the beers they invented, this is your best resource. And, if you want to brew those beers yourself, that's cool, too. Amazon is currently offering a pretty good price, so act now! :-)


  1. Congratulations! Here's hoping this will contribute to the US (and Ireland, for that matter) learning how to do cask properly.

  2. Thank you, sir. I would settle for convincing A FEW of them to just appreciate them. But I'm a man of modest goals.

  3. Sadly, I think the US craft industry is too far gone. Too many of them are raised on the BJCP gospel that brewing is some kind of black box. Water recipe + hop and malt recipe + standard brewing process = beer to style!!!

    Homebrewers are our only hope, but only if they can find this gem in the litter box full of Gordon Strongs and Ray Daniels and Jamil Zainasheffs.