Book Review |
The Beer Enthusiast's Guide: Tasting and Judging Brews from Around the World
by Gregg Smith (Storey Communications, Pownal, Vermont, 1994),
136 pp., $12.95 (Can$17.50).
Republished from BrewingTechniques' July/August 1994.
Would you like to broaden your knowledge of beer judging techniques and world beer styles? You can explore numerous beer styles and acquire a practical knowledge of beer making techniques, including detailed information on raw material selection and insight into commercial brewing processes, with this new book by Gregg Smith, an AHA/HWBTA (American Homebrewers Association/ Home Wine & Beer Trade Association) certified beer judge. The Beer Enthusiast's Guide is organized into six chapters that cover brewing processes, world beer styles, beer judging parameters, brewing materials, and preparation for the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) certification exam. Smith also includes several appendixes useful to aspiring beer judges, home brewers, and beer enthusiasts.
The book begins with a timeline of brewers, materials, and brewing techniques, beginning with beer made in the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia, circa 4000 B.C. This section is replete with historical references, folklore, and interesting tidbits about the evolution of the drink we call beer. Did you ever wonder why prehistoric man abandoned his nomadic, huntergatherer ways, or why the Pilgrims ended their journey at Plymouth Rock? You can find the answers to these questions in this new book.
Chapter 2, an outline of brewing processes, provides a somewhat strained technical description of malting and brewhouse operations. The description is at times sketchy; for example, the description of barley malting lacks adequate treatment of enzyme development and protein modification - clearly two of the most important aspects of the malting process. The chapter also includes several questionable generalizations, including the need to rack gravities of 1.012, and unsubstantiated conclusions, such as corn sugar priming causing off flavors and large bead.
I found the chapter on world beer styles to be fairly complete and generally accurate. The styles summary is an equally useful reference for recipe design and beer judging. The lack of detail in several of the author's beer descriptions, however, is unfortunate. The section includes no information, for example, on the common use of spices in Belgian Wit or on the use of various bacteria in the production of Lambic. I also find curious the lack of information on fruit Lambics, such as framboise, kriek, or the less common peche and cassis. Descriptions of these beers are quite common in other reference books. Recent books by Michael Jackson describe world beer styles in great detail. Certainly, Jackson's works should be consulted to obtain a broader and more detailed knowledge of world beer styles.
The chapter titled "Beer Characteristics" covers common brewing faults and characteristics from acetaldehyde to grassy flavors and should be useful for beginning or intermediate judges and home brewers. The chapter describes flavor and aroma/bouquet constituents in detail; however, the presentation of these characteristics could be misinterpreted from the limited viewpoint of beer flaws. One should be aware, for example, that detectable amounts of dimethyl sulfide in most lager beers and low to moderate levels of diacetyl in English, Scottish, and Irish beer styles are not generally considered flaws. These characteristics, attributable to base malts, yeast, and brewing and fermentation conditions often add complexity to the finished beer.
The section on brewing ingredients provides a good introduction to the brewing materials and brewing water that ultimately determine the character of the finished beer. Covered in this chapter are common brewing materials - hops, water, yeast, and malted barley and adjuncts. One should be aware, however, that the accepted definition of adjuncts is unmalted grains or unmalted grain products, and that although rice and corn are commonly used in mainstream American lagers, oats are rarely if ever used by domestic megabreweries. In terms of protein content, oats rank near the top of commonly cultivated grains, with a higher protein fraction than corn, rice, and barley. This section includes a detailed list of common yeast and bacteria strains and typical applications, including Lambic, Berliner Weisse, Bavarian Weizen, and classical ales and lagers. Also considered are common fining agents used in beer clarification and a list of the hop varieties common to world beer styles, which should aid both novice and accomplished home brewers in the selection of hop varieties appropriate for many classic beer styles. This section concludes with a description of barley malt varieties, specialty grains, and adjuncts.
In the final chapter, the author provides an excellent synopsis of beer evaluation for those interested in judging beer in formal surroundings and particularly for those planning to take the BJCP exam. The chapter includes a step-by-step approach to judging beer, recommended judging conditions, and suggestions for improving skills as a beer judge. The section closes with a summary of the BJCP, including exam preparation, exam strategy, assignment of experience points, and requirements for advancement in the program.
The BJCP and formal judging activities present excellent opportunities to broaden one's experience and knowledge of world beer styles. The tenets of the BJCP are to recognize home brewers and beer enthusiasts who demonstrate a thorough understanding of brewing processes, flavor components, and the historical development of world beer styles. As Smith details in his book, advancement in this program is accomplished through attainment of judging and competition organization credits and demonstration of the requisite knowledge. When you enter your beer in a national or regional competition, it is tasted, evaluated, and scored by a panel of two or more judges. Through discussion and consensus, these judges establish the strengths and weaknesses of your beer. Judges strive to include comments and recommendations for eliminating common brewing problems to help you improve your beer and brew stylistically accurate beers.
Overall, this book is methodically written and generally accurate and will make a valuable addition to any reference library on brewing and evaluating beers from around the world. It provides a concise guide to judging the myriad domestic and imported beers now commonly available in North America. Although coverage of specific beer evaluation techniques and beer judging protocol is complete, treatment of common brewing processes should have been expanded and augmented with a thorough description of common home brewing techniques. Because of the book's emphasis on the BJCP, where the beers judged are home brewed, it could have elaborated more on home brewing processes and their contrast and similarities to commercial brewing techniques.
-Rob Reed Kokomo, Indiana
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