Brooklyn BrewShop’s Beer Making Book is my latest find in the domain of beer brewing. I’ve added it to my Basic Brewers Books list. It’s designed for folks who a) like good beer but don’t drink a ton of it, and/or b) don’t have a lot of space to spare. There are 52 recipes scaled for one-gallon batches – quantities for five gallon batches are in the margins in case you want to brew the bigger batches, as are food pairing suggestions. Pretty accessible foods, too, not anything you’re unlikely to find or make pretty easily – ceviche and shepherd’s pie are about as rarified as their suggestions get.
The authors, Erica Shea and Stephen Valand, live in New York City, where apartments are tiny and going out for a beer is expensive. So they made do, made ’em good, then made kits to sell at Brooklyn Flea. They got so much interest that they expanded; now they have a thriving business and sell through places like William-Sonoma (and their own site on the internet).
This book will not make you an expert, but they give basic, clear descriptions and recipes for eight overarching categories, and their recipes for kolsch, Belgians, porters etc look pretty much to type – just with some interesting flavor additions. In fact, all their information is pretty well chosen. They describe base malts, basic yeast varieties, and include a hops chart – not exhaustive lists but not confusing either.
Their one-gallon batches fill about ten beer bottles, so they brew fairly often, making very present-tense beers; these are 52 very seasonal recipes here. Shea and Valand love food, and enjoy the creative intuiting of ingredients as they become available.
While I am dubious about some of the flavor combinations, I should keep an open mind. One of my own favorite recipes takes a quarter pound of peppercorns to give a nice spicy flavor, so why should I shy away from Peanut Butter Porter or Mustard Brown Ale until I’ve given them a try? One gallon ain’t gonna break my heart if it doesn’t work out.
I ordered their kit for Chestnut Brown Ale, even though the recipe is in their book and I probably have all the equipment already. I want to see what the kits are like. The recipe ingredients makes sense; I love roasted chestnuts and adding that flavor to a brown ale should work nicely, and chestnuts aren’t as fatty as most other nuts, which would spoil the beer. They include a one-gallon glass carboy with a screw-on cap drilled for an airlock, hosing with a clamp, sanitizer and ingredients. Their instructions are very clear and pretty much plain English. In fact, their description of how to make beer is refreshing for being uncomplicated.
I admit, my first reaction was that this was some sort of pansy-ass way to make quasi-beer, but that does not seem to be the case. Why did I think Real Beer was made in five gallon batches? The reality is that if I were not brewing for competitions and the thirst of many friends at large events, a gallon at a time would be perfect for me. I really like my craft but I don’t drink often or in quantity myself. I like having a few friends over for monthly dinner parties; ten beers is a great batch size for entertaining, and a good size to let me tailor the beer to the dinner menu. Shea and Valand say it takes less time to brew these small batches, but several reviewers say it’s about the same amount; I’ll see when I try their kit out.
The idea of my hobby taking up less space is really attractive. It takes out one of the big impediments to brewing – big equipment, bit batches, big storage requirements. The equipment is smaller and the final batch fits in my fridge. I’m surprisingly strong for a small middle-aged woman – I haul around carboys and big brew pots pretty regularly and without any trouble, other than the general clumsiness of the things – but smaller-scale equipment that fits my height and the length of my arms is really appealing. As I think ahead to the possibilities of travel and living in smaller spaces, this may give me a way not to give up my hobby.
So props to my very cool young friend Robert Mauler for telling me about this book.