Andy Hamilton is a Bristol-based home brewer, teacher, gardener and forager. His first book, Booze for Free, was a guide to growing and foraging ingredients for making your own beer and wine. Brewing Britain, subtitled The Quest for the Perfect Pint and How to Make It has a wider scope, still covering the brewing element but adding a more general guide to beer and beer styles as well.
The format is very much that of a practical handbook for the total novice, starting with how to analyse beer: the colour, aromas and flavours and how they're achieved; glassware, serving temperature and cellaring. The second section moves us on into making our own beer, introducing the basics of sanitising, taking readings, priming and bottling, followed by concise descriptions of what's involved in kit, extract and all-grain brewing, and a guide to trouble-shoooting problems in finished beer.
When I first received this book I thought that reviewing it would be a doddle; My wife’s uncle is a horticulturist who specialised in hop growing and processing during the 50s and 60s at the Greenmount Agricultural College. However my plan backfired because every paragraph he read sent him into reveries and he would recount in extraordinary detail the time he spent working with Ireland’s last commercial hop growers.
This was all well and good, but it wasn’t going to get the book reviewed.
The book combines the history with the chemistry of the hop. It starts by discussing the aroma of hops and an in-depth view of the odour compounds found in hop oils. It then goes on to examine the perception of aroma and how it varies from person-to-person. All the way through the information is backed up with data and examples (all easily understood by a hop novice like me).
The recent surge in craft brewing and specialist pubs in London means that the Borough of Southwark is perhaps not the standalone beer mecca it once was. That said, it remains home to such luminaries as The Rake, Brew Wharf, The Market Porter and The Dean Swift, as well as more understated beery excellence down at Harvey's Royal Oak.
The modern visitor supping his Kernel IPA in The Rake may not be aware, however, that Southwark's beeriness stretches far back into history. Borough High Street was the thoroughfare along which Kent's precious hop harvest was transported north each year and the old Hop Exchange building is still standing in the area. One of London's most famous breweries was also based in Southwark: Thrale's, later Barclay Perkins, later yet Courage. The first Russian Imperial Stout was brewed here on the south bank of the Thames. The stories of London and its beer are bound up together in Southwark and it's this history that Pete Brown explores in Shakespeare's Local: Six Centuries of History Seen Through One Extraordinary Pub.
The Oxford Companion to Wine was first published in 1994 and is now in its third edition. It is widely regarded as the authoritative work on wine by both connoisseurs and those in the trade, with contributions from the most well-respected writers in the field of viticulture and oenology. It is, in short, a book for people who take their wine seriously.
That in 2011 the Oxford University Press published an equivalent volume for beer is the clearest sign yet that our poor relation of the drinks industry is suddenly finding respect among the public at large. But does The Oxford Companion to Beer rise to the task of being beer’s authoritative work?
The title of this book is ambitious, and the author’s credentials are certainly impressive enough to back up the book's claim to completeness. George Hummel is a home brewer and writer from Philadelphia. His shop, Homebrew Sweet Homebrew, has been located in the city since 1986 and both his beers and writing have won numerous awards. Don’t be fooled by the title though, this book is not a complete guide to the art of brewing aimed at the established brewer. Instead, it’s aimed very much at the novice brewer. Simple and accessible, it focuses exclusively on extract brewing. With 200 recipes from ales and lagers to extreme beers and even ginger ale, George Hummel may have written the complete guide to extract home-brewing.