Posts Tagged ‘hops’

Brewer’s Library: Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels

April 5, 2011 1 comment

Designing Great Beers, by Ray DanielsIf you were going to have a brewing library that consisted of only one book, I would strongly consider choosing Designing Great Beers for the role.  It’s not necessarily an easy cover-to-cover read, but you’ll find yourself reaching for it nearly every brew day for one reason or another.  It’s especially telling that, while Garry and Tyler (of Manzanita and The Bruery, respectively) both have large libraries of brewing books in their offices, this is the one text that I’ve seen out and open on both of their desks.

This work has two very distinct sections.  The first is a relatively concise overview of various topics in recipe formulation: the malt bill; water chemistry; beer color; hop flavor, aroma and bitterness; fermentation concerns, etc.  This first bit can be intimidating if you’re still relatively new to brewing.  That can partially be explained by Daniels’ ability to focus only on recipe formulation.  He is not trying to rewrite How to Brew or The Joy of Homebrewing.  Thus, he completely avoids explaining how to perform most brewing procedures.  If you don’t already understand how the enzymatic reactions work in a mash, you’ll have to head back to the bookstore.  When I was first given this book (by my younger brother – thanks Zach!), I tried to read this first part cover-to-cover and beat a hasty retreat because I didn’t have the background knowledge that Daniels assumes of his readers.  However, as I acquired a better understanding of the brewing basics I found myself repeatedly returning to this first section with specific questions.  Some of the topics he covers deserve entire books of their own, but Daniels makes it clear when he’s merely skimming the surface of a given topic.  His chapters on water chemistry, beer color and yeast are especially notable for the brevity in light of an incredible amount of material that could potentially be covered.  That said, Daniels has done a great job of pairing down these sections to their most fundamental concerns.

The second section consists of guidelines for 14 different major styles (i.e. IPAs and Pale Ales, both English and American, are covered in a single chapter).  Included in each are relevant historical notes; contemporary versions of the style; and essential ingredients, procedures and parameters.  One of the nice things about Designing Great Beers is that these sections are set-up such that you don’t have to rely solely on Daniels’ word.  Whenever possible, he has included recipe data sourced from NHC Second Round entries.  Each of those beers beat out hundreds of others to compete at the national level and collectively provide wonderful guidelines for successfully producing any given style.

If there is any problem with this work it’s merely its age.  First released in 1996, the most recent revision is still over a decade old.  “What,” you ask “could have possibly changed about brewing beer in the last ten years?”  Well, while the fundamentals of brewing have certainly stayed the same, many of the practicalities of modern brewing have changed quite a bit.  Obviously, it’s easier to get equipment and ingredients than ever before.  Homebrewers who have been at it for a couple decades tend to be DIY-madmen and tinkerers because you couldn’t just buy whatever you needed.  Now most major cities have a number of supply shops that could outfit you with a full all-grain system in an afternoon.  The old problem used to be finding hops at all, the current problem is choosing from the array of available varieties.  Not only are more ingredients in stock, but they are also of considerably higher quality.  Homebrewers of the late 80’s reported frequent discoveries of pediococcus- and brettanomyces-laden dry yeast packets, leading to a unshakable preference for fresh, liquid yeast.  As for hops, a number of important strains have been developed since Daniels published this work.  Citra and Simcoe, two industry standards, were only developed in the last ten years and were unable to be included in this work.  Additionally, a number of very high alpha acid hops have been developed that have allowed IPAs (…double IPAs …triple IPAs) to become increasingly bitter.

But along with these innovations came an increased distribution of brewing knowledge.  While Daniels’ book may have indeed been the only work on your shelf back in 1996, today it’s easy to augment his text with knowledge from other sources.  Everything discussed in Designing Great Beers is still pertinent today, Citra or no Citra.  So while I still contend that this work is the one to have if you could only have one, how about just making it the first of many brewing resources in your library?