Brewing Better Beer: Review

by Karl | Updated: May 27, 2011

Gordon Strong’s beer credentials are impressive.

He’s a three time Ninkasi winner. For those of you who don’t know, that’s the annual award given out at the National Homebrew Competition to the person with the most wins in the final round. It’s homebrewing’s most prestigious award, and the fact that he’s won it three times in absolutely insane.

If that’s not enough, he’s also the president of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).

Yea, he knows beer. And now he’s sharing his expertise in his new book: Brewing Better Beer: Master Lessons for Advanced Homebrewers

I was fist drawn to the book by the title – Brewing Better Beer. I’ve got a huge collection of homebrewing books, and when I read the title I immediately starting going through their focuses in my head: radical/extreme brewing, brewing classic styles, step by step guides, brewing with wheat…

Nope, nothing completely focused on brewing better beer. It looks like Gordon found a gap, so let’s see how it turned out.

The book starts off with a forward by Michael “Mufasa” Ferguson of Rock Bottom Brewery. I normally wouldn’t point out a forward, but this one stood out for harsh attack on malt extract brewing, saying it’s “akin to making Kool-Aid.” Gordon then throws a similar zinger, relating extract brewing to TV dinners.

I disagree with the statements made about malt extract, but that’s a tiny part of the book so I don’t want too focus much on it. Gordon is entitled to his opinions and he states them up front.

The book is broken out into the following chapters:

  1. The Philosophy of Brewing
  2. Mastering Techniques
  3. Mastering Equipment
  4. Mastering Ingredients
  5. Evaluating Your Own Beer
  6. Envisioning Your Beer
  7. Troubleshooting
  8. Finishing Beer
  9. Competition Brewing
  10. Conclusion

Gordon says in the intro that he didn’t want to write a textbook. As an expert homebrewer, he’s constantly asked questions by his brewing buddies, and this book is essentially the summation of his answers. A brain dump if you will (my words, not his).

My favorite parts include:

  • The specific advice on decoction mashing, and when/when not to use it
  • Picking flavor combinations that work and avoiding flavors that clash
  • Tips on blending beer
  • Guidelines on creating recipes from scratch, adapting recipes, recreating historical recipes, and making recipes inspired by food

To me, the best part about this book is the way it’s written. It’s like you sit down with Gordon and pick his brain for a few hours about homebrewing. Not everyone may enjoy this format. If you like a more rigid structure, his stream of consciousness style might frustrate you.

Also, if you have no interest in style guidelines or competition brewing then a big chunk of  the book will be irrelevant to you. As a BJCP judge, he’s in a unique position to give advice on how to win competitions.

My overall impression

If you’ve been brewing and studying the topic for years, then much of what he says will be old news. To me this book was about the nuggets that I didn’t know. His method of mashing dark grains, for example, is completely new to me. His development of recipes and the research that goes into them was extremely interesting and I could have easily read a whole book on that.

He’s very clear about saying “This isn’t the only way to do it, but here’s what I do.” He talks about different options you have and then describes his particular method.

This is unique among brewing books. When reading them I often wonder,  “Ok, but what equipment do you use? What techniques do you use when making this beer?” Brewing Better Beer lets you into the mind of a master homebrewer.

I want to point out that Gordon goes to great lengths to make award winning beer. In fact he’s anal about it. He pays more attention to detail than 99% of homebrewers, and most brewers aren’t willing to put that much effort into their beers. You don’t need to  follow all of his methods, but if you want to improve your beer then you can pick and choose things that may work for you.

Bottom line – what you’ll get from this book is easily worth the price. Get it.

Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.