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Wild Brews: Beer Beyond the Influence of Brewer's Yeast Paperback – May 25, 2005

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About the Author

Jeff Sparrow

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Brewers Publications (May 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0937381861
  • ISBN-13: 978-0937381861
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,770 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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72 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Stearns on June 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
Wild Brews covers those beer styles of Belgium that depend upon fermentation by wild yeast and bacteria, specifically East Flanders brown, West Flanders red and lambic. Although you may be under the impression, as I was, that a lambic brew could occur only in the Brussels and Payottenland areas and inside cobweb infested barns with leaky roofs, Sparrow contends that wild yeast can occur anywhere. It is the cultivation and control of the right microorganisms that create a quality brew.

The book looks at the history, brewers and brews of the area and includes many photographs, but of particular interest to advanced brewers are the sections on the nature of Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, Saccharomyces and other microorganisms that ferment and acidify wild beers. Temperatures and other environmental factors can enhance or inhibit their activity.

An infusion mash is commonly used for Flanders red and Flanders brown and a turbid mash for lambic. The methods are detailed in the book, plus specifics on how to control the fermentation process to balance the yeasts and bacteria by allowing dominant stages and adjusting temperatures. The addition of fruit would amplify the complication. This is not a book for a beginning home brewer.

Brewers will find it nearly impossible to copy a style because of the unpredictability of wild yeasts and bacteria. Two brewers using the same recipe are likely to come up with brews quite different. Wild brews are often blended to change the character of a beer or achieve consistency. Blending is an art that requires trial and error to learn.

Sparrow provides ten recipes, including options to experiment with the brews at different stages. The recipes and information in this book provide a wonderful challenge to create a unique brew while aspiring to the standards set by the Belgium brewers.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Timothy George Roettiger/Belgian Mare Brewery on December 20, 2007
Format: Paperback
As the title suggests, this book deals with the history and manufacturing techniques related to sponteneously fermented beers (lambic, gueze). It shows a very different perspective on what is "beer" from that of modern America where Budweiser dominates. Similar to "Farmhouse Ales", this book explores how culture and geography combined in the creation of these beers. It also deals with how modern attitudes are challenging the continuation of some of the methods. It seems odd that after 500 years someone would decide that a production method is "unsanitary".

This raises a great point. If the reader is like me, much of the methodology described in this book will seem like an unclean heresy compared to the dogma that new homebrewers are indoctrinated with. Which, to me, makes it fascinating. For the majority of American homebrewers this book will open a whole new world.

The book does a good job of describing the history, culture, biology, and methods that create "wild brews". Equipment and techniques are thoroughly described. In fact, this book inspired me to give barrel aging a try. It worked! At times the text does seem to wander and bog down (the reason for four stars instead of five). The author also falls into the "malt-extract beers are not as good as all grain" mantra. I see this a an annoying elitist attitude with little basis in fact. As Tess and Mark Szamatulski point out: "Award winning beers have been, and continue to be brewed with malt extract." Let each brewer choose the method that best suits them.

To sum up: The good points of this book far out weigh its negatives. This book provides a fascinating and inspiring look into a world of beer that barely exists for most North Americans. If you are a homebrewer who enjoys experimenting it will provide you with many avenues of exploration and hours of enjoyment.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Patrick on October 18, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've noticed that most beer books on Amazon have almost all 5 star reviews. This makes sense in some ways, since everyone loves beer and there aren't many brewing books - so we really appreciate the people that take the time to write these books!
But I do think that some beer books can be better than others, and don't always deserve an automatic 5 stars. This one was a disappointment for me.

It's a very dry read - it's a struggle to get through cover to cover. You'd think beer would be an easy topic to make for exciting and animated literature, but the author in this case has a very dry, biographical writing style. When I compare this book to The Brewmaster's Table with Garrett Oliver's animated writing style and constant humor, it's like night and day. And it's not only that book - compared to Brew Like a Monk, this is a very difficult book to get through.

I realize wild brews are a difficult topic, but that doesn't mean that useful information cannot be delivered in an expedient fashion - I learned more of value from the Brewing Network's three radio podcasts on lambics + Flanders ales than I did from this book.

The first half of the book contains very detailed histories of various traditional Belgian breweries and their wild ale processes. These are useful if you want to study up on specific beers I suppose, but not very useful if you want to learn general techniques with wild ales - the author even says himself that it's somewhat pointless to try to clone classic Belgian wild ales because there's so much random variation.

Also, it really could have used a good editor to give it better organizational structure. It just jumps around all over the place constantly.
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