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157 of 164 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great recipes and tips for all beer styles, December 3, 2008
This review is from: Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew (Paperback)
When I first heard about the publication of "Brewing Classic Styles" last year, I was anxious to get the book so that I could try my hand at recipes that have a proven track record. Previously, I had been getting recipes off the Internet in a haphazard way, with no way of judging the quality of the recipe except by brewing it. I was also excited to read "Brewing Classic Styles" because of the impressive brewing reputations of its authors, John Palmer and Jamil Zainasheff.

John Palmer is the author of "How to Brew," now in its third edition. This is my favorite homebrewing book. My brew kettle will be struck by lightning for saying this: How to Brew is better even than Charlie Papazian's The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing. John has a knack for writing clear explanations of advanced brewing topics. John is a frequent speaker at the National Homebrewing Conference and he writes the "Advanced Brewing" column for "Brew Your Own" magazine.

Jamil Zainasheff has not previously written any homebrewing books, but I think that's only because he was too busy brewing. He has won a multitude of awards in major homebrewing competitions including two Ninkasi Awards for the highest overall score at the National Homebrew Competition. Jamil is heavily involved with the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) and he writes the "Style Profile" column for "Brew Your Own" magazine.

"Brewing Classic Styles" capitalizes on the fact that Jamil has an award-winning recipe for every beer style in the BJCP style guidelines. He has fine-tuned these recipes by brewing batch after batch for competitions over many years. Interestingly, he had already shared most of these recipes on the Internet before "Brewing Classic Styles" was written.

"Brewing Classic Styles" is organized into two main sections: one covering ingredients and process and the other containing Jamil's recipes. John Palmer wrote the ingredients/process portion, which is contained in Chapters 1 - 4 and the four appendices. John provides useful information about style selection, ingredients selection, and brewing techniques--especially techniques for making better beer from malt extract. It is helpful to have this information in the same book with Jamil's recipes. For example, the sections on hop substitution, making yeast starters, and water treatment are ones that I frequently refer to. However, the "how to brew" material in "Brewing Classic Styles" is not sufficient to eliminate the need for a comprehensive homebrewing book.

The remainder of the book, Chapters 5 - 27, is devoted to Jamil's recipes. To help the reader select recipes appropriate for his or her expertise, each recipe is classified with a "level of effort" necessary to brew it. Of the 81 recipes in the book, 24 are classified as beginner, 28 as intermediate, and 29 as advanced. The beginner category contains all of the pale ales, brown ales, porters, and stouts. Strong ales and ales that use unusual ingredients fall in the intermediate category. All of the recipes for lager styles are classified as advanced because they require active temperature control for fermentation.

"Brewing Classic Styles" covers all of the styles defined in the BJCP Style Guidelines. Related styles are presented in one chapter; for example, the Pilsener chapter contains sections for German Pilsener, Bohemian Pilsener, and Classic American Pilsener. Within a chapter, the section for each style is presented in a consistent format. First, the BJCP style description and brewing parameters are stated. Next comes my favorite part of the book: "Keys to Brewing." This is where Jamil reveals secrets of his success for the style. In many cases, these "keys" are the result of brewing many batches over many years. This is the information that you probably won't find with recipes posted on the Internet.

After "Keys to Brewing" comes the recipe proper, which deserves closer attention. Each recipe in "Brewing Classic Styles" begins with the target values for original gravity, final gravity, attenuation, bitterness, color, and alcohol content. Next is a table of malt extract ingredients with columns for the type of extract, the weight in pounds and metric units, and the percent of the total weight. The recipes are based on a post-boil volume of six gallons. The extract percentage values are handy if you are scaling the recipe for a different batch size. After malt extract, the recipe continues with a table of specialty (steeping) grains, a list of hops, a recommended yeast strain, fermentation requirements, and recommended carbonation level.

The final portion of each recipe is the "All-Grain Option," which is the only serious fault of the book. Let me explain. Jamil's recipes were originally designed to be brewed with all grain ingredients, but for "Brewing Classic Styles" these recipes were converted to use liquid malt extracts as substitutes for the base grains. From a marketing standpoint, this is understandable, since the majority of homebrewers brew with extract rather than with base grains. What is odd is that the malt extract version of the recipe is presented as the main recipe and the all-grain version is given as an "option" at the end of the recipe--almost as an afterthought.

Furthermore, it is annoying that the malt bill for the all-grain version of each recipe is not listed in an easy to read table format as the extract ingredients are. Instead, the base grain types and amounts are buried in the "All-Grain Option" paragraph. To make matters worse, the base grain percentages are not given--you must either calculate the percentage of each grain yourself or refer back to the extract section. As an example, here is the "All-Grain Option" portion of the American Pale Ale recipe:

"Replace the light extract with 11.3 lbs. (5.1 kg) American two-row malt. Replace the Munich extract with 0.75 lb. (340g) Munich malt. Replace the wheat extract with 0.5 lb. (227g) wheat malt. Mash at 152 F (67 C)."

Clearly, this is not as easy to use as a simple table listing each grain with its type, weight, and percentage.

Another problem that arises from converting all-grain recipes to liquid malt extract is that the amount of each extract does not jibe with the amount of liquid extract in a can. This results in leftover liquid extract that is not readily stored. It would have been better if the authors had used dry malt extract because it can be purchased in a variety of sizes and it is easy to store any leftovers.

In spite of the well intentioned, but flawed, attempt to present all-grain recipes as malt extract recipes, "Brewing Classic Styles" is an excellent recipe book. It covers the breadth of the BJCP styles with enough depth to sink your teeth into. The "Keys to Brewing" for each style alone are well worth the price. I have brewed six different recipes from "Brewing Classic Styles" so far and I have been very pleased with the result in all cases. In fact, my rendition of the Ordinary Bitter recipe was an award-winner at the 2008 Maryland Microbrewery Festival. If I had to pare my homebrewing library down to one book, I would be left with "How to Brew." But if I were allowed just one more homebrewing book on my shelf, it would definitely be "Brewing Classic Styles."
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Initial post: Jun 14, 2012 8:00:09 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 14, 2012 8:00:39 PM PDT
hal96a says:
this is in the 5 best, most helpful and informative reviews that I've read. Can't imagine what the one person who said unhelpful wanted. Thanks
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