Subject: Book Review (long!)
Date: 1989-03-13 15:35:36 GMT
The Complete Handbook of
"The Complete Handbook of Home Brewing," by Dave Miller,
ISBN 0-88266-517-0. Storey Communications, Inc, 1988. $9.95.
A book with this title is what homebrewers have been
waiting a long time for: a single reference source that gives
"how to"s and "why for"s in one location, in a clear, lucid style.
Sadly, brewers will have to wait a while longer for the book
that goes with the title.
For this book is not Complete; even Miller himself doesn't
believe the title. In the introduction, he states that "...I
have not hesitated to judge the worth of certain findings in the
light of my own experience." What this means is that he
occasionally gets different results with his equipment than those
reported elsewhere, and in those cases he has given us what he
got. This is not necessarily bad, if indicated as such, but this
hardly makes for a Complete Handbook.
And it is not. As a small example, consider lautering
systems: Miller uses a grain bag in a bucket with a tap at the
bottom, a common enough lautering system. So he spends a page
describing it, accompanying it with 3 very nice drawings. What
of the popular picnic cooler/copper manifold? It gets a
paragraph and is referred to as a mash tun and a lauter tun; in
reality, there need be no such restriction. It is never fully
described, and the reader is referred to unnamed articles on its
construction and use. Left unanswered are questions about why
someone might choose such a system, what its advantages and
disadvantages are, and so on.
Even this would not be so terrible if he told us that he
is only reporting on his methodology. Without such caveats, it
is hard to know when he is speaking of accepted practice and when
we are getting what he does in his own kitchen.
It is this lack of focus that really keeps this from
being a seminal work such as "Brewing Lager Beer". There, Noonan
also reports on his own activity, but his passion for decoction
and denunciation of infusion make it easy for the reader to
separate them from the important information carried with it.
Now that I have told you some awful things about the
book, let me recommend it as a terrific book for beginners who
may feel that they will want to advance past extracts eventually,
and a companion to "Brewing Lager Beer" for all grain brewers.
As a companion, brewers can compare and contrast the
information given and make a more informed choice about
procedures and techniques (e.g., "should I use/avoid the iodine
test for starch conversion?"). Where they agree, you will be on
solid footing. In general, Miller gives a more practical
As a beginner's book, it has the right emphasis. There
are 3 chapters on brewing from extract and an appendix that lists
basic recipes for many styles, which you can easily customize to
your own taste. When you want to understand more about your
beer, there are 8 chapters on all grain brewing, 9 chapters on
the raw materials, and 4 on storing, serving, and appreciating
your beer. Each is full of detail, yet they maintain easy
The recipes are wonderful. Miller first describes the
style he is trying to achieve, discusses how he goes about
achieving it, and then gives a clear, basic recipe. If he feels
that you may not be able to make such a beer with standard
ingredients or yeast, he lets you know that you are headed for
rocky shores, and how to chart around them.
His writing style is coherent and straightforward, if
just a bit dry. There are no cloying jokes or distracting "funny"
beer names; Miller is more interested in the work at hand than
entertainment, and his book grants you the respect of believing
that you will be, too.
This is an earnest book that you should definitely
consider in the landscape of the 1980's homebrewer. Following
Miller's guidelines you will not go far wrong. For advanced
brewing, however, you must still look to other sources to see the
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