Monday 27 October 2014

The Independent Manchester Beer Convention

It's 8am on a Saturday morning and I'm just settling into my seat on the red-eye from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly. My friend Andrew Drinkwater, who has spent the last few weeks brewing at Weird Beard cracks a wry smile as the bottle of beer in his hand opens with a hiss. I reassure myself that this is fine because a) it's a coffee IPA and b) the silently agreed rules for drinking only after the horse has cleared the yard arm do not apply when you're on a train. 

The beer is called 'Out of Office', it was brewed by Andrew with Chris Taylor of the most excellent home brewing duo Crema Brewery and it is wonderful. Imagine a really good American IPA, all citrus and pine with a distinctive, pithy orange note from Amarillo hops running through the middle. Then add in a twist of coffee bitterness but one that is nuanced and controlled. It's pretty much the perfect breakfast beer which is reassuring when pairing it with my croissant and bonafide cup of joe. Not one to spoil the party, once Out of Office is emptied I produce a giant can of Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale from my bag and begin decanting it into our emptied coffee cups. We were setting ourselves up for a big day out, although perhaps not very sensibly, because we were heading to a beer festival which I then planned to follow with a pub crawl.

Now in it's third year The Independent Manchester Beer Convention is something of a game-changer and its shortened name; IndyManBeerCon is spoken among beer geeks with an almost hushed reverence. It appeared seemingly out of nowhere in 2012 and presented an experience that demonstrated beer festivals needn't be about swilling pints from over-temperature, under-conditioned casks. It brought with it the opportunity to experience a multitude of flavours and take in a bewildering amount of beer in a short space of time and to add to the sense of occasion it is held within the inspiringly beautiful Victoria Baths.

There was one problem though, I'd never actually been, instead having to experience it through a string of excellent blog posts almost universally singing the festivals various praises. I say almost because like with any aspect of beer culture IndyManBeerCon has its doubters. I put both arguments out of my mind when I joined the queue outside the baths which quickly started to lengthen behind me. The ten minutes I had to wait for the doors to be flung open seemed like an age. I was desperate to get my hands on a beer, especially as the effects of the first two were rapidly wearing off. Thankfully my prayers were soon answered and I made my way inside. I dropped my bag in the cloakroom, purchased a fistful of tokens and approached the nearest bar only to be greeted by Buxton Brewery's Colin Stronge who duly topped up my glass with his Jaw Gate pale ale.

This was the first thing that IndyManBeerCon brought to the table when it established itself three years ago. Beer served by the people that made it, gifting an opportunity to the drinker to actually communicate about how what's in their glass came into being. This is good for both parties, the consumer gets to meet the people that make their favourite beverage, breaking down barriers and increasing transparency which is very much at the crux of what craft beer is. For the brewer, they get a chance for immediate feedback from their customers and are given an opportunity to build a relationship with them, ensuring of their continued business if done properly. It's a win/win situation. 

I knew a lot of people who were at the festival, some were now old friends and some I met for the first time but the sense of community within the walls of the baths was incredible. I tried to divide my time between as many people as possible while endeavouring to make sure my glass was always topped up which led to a lot of wandering around the beautiful surroundings of the baths by myself. There were three main spaces each with the bar being in a disused swimming pool and plenty of long tables littered around the place. These ranged from the cosy, dark space occupied by Magic Rock which also had a stage for some live music (although I did not see any on the Saturday afternoon session I attended) to the bright, spacious hall sponsored by Summer Wine Brewery

There was more to it than just these three excellent spaces, outdoors was an area where Brewdog had literally parked the bus. One negative here was that it took me two hours to actually find this space as it was poorly signposted. Admittedly I only found it when I actually went looking for it but if I hadn't have known it was there I would've struggled to come across it. Near the entrance were the glorious turkish baths where Beavertown had taken residence and had managed to get the party started despite it being 11am and appearing to be nursing stonking hangovers. Behind this was yet another room where Manchester's Port Street Beer House had set up a bar across from another that seemed to be dealing exclusively in brain jarringly good beers from Italy.

And what of the beers? That was arguably the main reason I was here after all. Well Summer Wine's 'Twiggy' all-English hopped IPA was a refreshing, marmalade-y treat. Beavertown impressed me with their 'Earl Phantom' Berliner Weisse which combined just the right amount of lactic sourness, citric tang and tannic bite. Brewdog's delicious CapDog proved that their bite is very much as good as their bark and Quantum's Brett C Pale demonstrated a masterful use of wild yeast in a hoppy pale ale. The beer to rule them all though was not limited edition or constructed especially to impress at an event such as this, it was a core beer from one of the North's most loved breweries. Magic Rock Cannonball reminded me that it is still the best American style IPAs being brewed on this side of the Atlantic. It is the only beer of the day that demanded I went back for a second pour. 

The food was excellent too with plenty of stands littered around the place selling the usual burgers and hot dogs. However it was the fish tacos from Margo & Rita that piqued my interest the most and this was the second tasty example of something that's usually better on the other side of the pond that I experienced at the festival. It was the perfect beer snack and only a fiver for two tacos, paired with a slightly disappointing Thornbridge Twin Peaks that I bought purely to celebrate the news that the iconic show is returning for a third series. Sadly it just wasn't hoppy enough to sate my Lynchian lust but damn, those tacos were good. 

The gathered throng was perfectly sized and the crowds seemed to ebb and flow through each room in harmonious union. This session was sell out but I never once waited for more than a minute at a bar and most of that time was spent deciding what to actually order. I went into IndyMan completely blind, I had not looked at a beer list, I had no specific beers I wanted to tick. I just wanted to drink some great beer with some great people and have the best time I possibly could. I managed to the extent that I would say it's probably the best beer festival experience I've ever had.

IndyMan is an excellent representation of the changing face of the British beer scene, so much so that it has gone on to inspire similar events such as Craft Beer Rising and The London Craft Beer Festival. It is as bright, clean and modern as many of the beers they bring to the festival itself with its location being a nod to tradition. It is not for everyone but then that was never the point. What IndyMan brings is an alternative. Just as the punk rockers of the late 70's brought something brash and new to the tide of prog that dominated the British rock scene at the time, IndyMan brings the antithesis to the British festival scene, festival being the key word. This was a celebration of beer with an infectious, carnival atmosphere. It's easy enough to go to an excellent pub with a massive range of beer on tap these days, just look at Brewdog Shepherds Bush with its 40 plus taps for example but going to the pub doesn't bring with it the sense of occasion you feel when at a beer festival such as IndyMan.         

I felt that by paying thirteen pounds for a ticket and twenty pounds for my beer once inside that I was getting excellent value for money considering the beers available and the fact I got to chat to the people that brewed them. It's far from perfect, there probably isn't enough focus on cask beer for a British festival, there wasn't an obvious place to get water and they weren't plentiful enough and it took me an hour to find the toilet of which again there weren't enough of. However it was bloody brilliant and I'd go again in a heartbeat. In fact the biggest problem I had with the Independent Manchester Beer Convention was that I only went to a single session, something that will be rectified when I return next year.  

Sunday 19 October 2014

An Honest Brew

"People." I'm currently sat opposite Andrew Reeve, founder of Honest Brew, looking every bit the Kiwi expat in shorts and jandals and I've just asked him whether it's the brewing or the retail side of his business that's more important to him. "People" he says "People are the most important part of Honest Brew."

Established at the back end of 2012 Honest Brew is made up of two parts; a brewing operation and an online shop. They spent much of their formative months brewing beers with their early adopters and developing their recipes on a Sabco Brew Magic which has simply been dubbed 'Frank'. This is a piece of brewing kit that is literally straight out of a home brewers wet dream and it resides within the Late Knights brewery in Penge. Once Andrew and his crew are happy with a beer its then scaled up to be contract brewed at RSM Solutions in Hartlepool on their 10bbl kit. Andrew's openness about this aspect of his business was a breath of fresh air. It's a pleasantly transparent attitude proves that his company are not just honest in name but also in nature.

"We plan to continue contract brewing and being completely open about it. It gives us the flexibility to try new things, with a great group of people, who are all passionate about brewing good beer." 

The second part of the business is in beer retail which has really come into its own over the last 12 months as they've grown from a pop up shop into a fully fledged online retailer. As well as being able to order your own selection of beers from their website you can order an 'honesty box' and let Honest Brew do the choosing. You simply answer a few simple questions about what kind of flavours you like, select how many beers you want and voila, a box of beer hand picked by the Honest Brew crew arrives at your door. It's a simple idea but it's one that gives them a unique angle as an online beer retailer and adds an extra level of engagement with their customers which is what Andrew is all about. 

As we part ways Andrew passes me a two bottles of their 'Straight Up Pale Ale' which describes itself as being 'fresher than Bel-Air.' The label design is much the same as that of their bright, clean and characterful website. The shade of gold this beer pours is just as easy on the eye and although it does produce a bubbly off white head this soon dissipates to become a mere halo of foam. Putting thoughts of the Fresh Prince and Los Angeles suburbs aside I dive in for a sniff. On the nose are gooseberries, a little lemon rind and just a hint of crushed barley. The flavour is jammy as opposed to being juicy with marmalade and kiwi fruit underpinned by a citrus sharpness that's balanced by a sticky honey note. 

It's not a beer to excite the hop squad but it is exceptionally balanced and easy drinking, it's a great example of a gateway beer. Modern in flavour but dialled down enough to be accessible. It's not trying to be anything its not, in fact it's as honest and transparent as the company that brew it and it'll get more people into good beer which is what it seems to me that Honest Brew are all about. 

People, that word again. Beer is people. It is people that truly define what is craft beer. Andrew shares an attitude that resonates through the young, modern British beer scene. It may well be the case that beer is not going to get any better than it is now (I actually think it will get even better) but the way we're going we've got a bright future ahead of us.   

Although I was given this beer for free I don't think that influenced my opinion of it. 

Thursday 16 October 2014

Darker Days are Coming

Following the success of my sell out 'Introduction to Craft Beer' tasting last month I've been invited to host another event by my friends at The Duke's Head in Highgate Village. We had a long hard think about what we wanted to do next and one idea that stuck was to present a showcase of dark beers that are ideally suited to the approaching long winter nights. As an added twist we thought that we'd pair each of the beers to a complimentary dish making the evening as much about great food as it is about fantastic beers. It is from these ideas that Darker Days was born...

The concept is simple; four exceptional dark beers, each a different style, paired with a complementary dish. With each course I'll provide a tutored tasting and a speak a little on the beer, its story and why I think it matches so well with the dish it's paired with. The menu looks a little something like this.

Hammerton Pentonville Oyster Stout - paired with oysters and kimchi prepared by the Bell & Brisket

Beavertown Black Betty Black IPA - paired with Bell & Brisket coffee-rubbed ale-braised brisket sliders

Siren Shattered Dream Imperial Stout - paired with Batch Bakery chocolate stout brownies

Trappistes Rochefort 10 - paired with a selection of Truffles Delicatessen cheeses

In addition to this the guys from Hammerton Brewery based down the road in Islington will be along to tell us the story behind their beers. The event kicks off at 7pm with the first course being served at 7.30pm. 

Places are very limited and the online allocation of tickets has already sold out! Fear not, there are still a handful of tickets priced at £30 per person behind the bar at the Duke's Head. It promises to be a fantastic evening of great beer, food and chat and I look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Brewhouse and Kitchen, Islington

Nestled around the corner from Angel Station where North London ends and the City begins lies the newly opened Brewhouse and Kitchen the latest addition to a trio of bar restaurants owned by Simon Bunn and Kris Gumbrell. As the name suggests, Brewhouse features an in house brewery for creating its own exclusive range of cask ales, something Bunn and Grumbrell have had their hand in before when setting up The Lamb and The Botanist brewpubs in Chiswick and Kew respectively. The Brewhouse and Kitchen formula has already been tested with great success in Portsmouth and Dorchester so with little trepidation I headed down to Angel, Islington to see what they can bring to the areas already bustling beer scene.

Although the entrance to Brewhouse and Kitchen is on the secluded Torrens Street the bar is huge and the exterior spills onto City Road. The branding is clear and distinctive and the pub certainly manages to stand out on an already busy street. I'm used to new London beer bars being cramped, crowded spaces but Brewhouse is positively sprawling which will be welcome news to those who enjoy both sitting down and the comfort of their own personal space. From the main entrance the pub extends backwards some distance until you reach the brewery itself at the back of the building which is exposed for all to see. There are plenty of tables with more relaxed bar-like seating near the entrance and the brew kit with mainly restaurant style tables taking up the rest of the room.

It's clear from the moment you walk into the clean, modern and stylish interior that a serious amount of cash has been pumped into this place which is even more impressive when you consider its size and location. I wander up to the bar where there are about six hand pumps for the house beer and about twice as many keg taps pouring the likes of Camden Town and Weird Beard as well as some more established names such as Erdinger. There's a decent, if not incredibly adventurous bottle selection featuring the likes of Brewdog Punk IPA, Anchor Steam and those gimmicky yet popular Mongozo fruit beers which personally put my humours out of balance but many seem to enjoy. There is of course a great selection of wine and spirits too.

I decide it would be rude to drink anything but the house ale to start with an so order a Spandau B which labels itself as a session IPA. Not expecting a great deal I lunge in for a large gulp but before I get to the glass I'm awash in a deep aroma of mango and grapefruit. The flavour is full and juicy with a really satisfying grassy bitterness and a moreishly dry finish. I take a second gulp and quickly follow it with a third, this is seriously good stuff for a brewery that's barely got off its feet. This is a major achievement for head brewer Pete Hughes who's also chairman of the London Amateur Brewers Society. It's plain to see he's got a bright future in brewing ahead of him and another taste of Spandau B reinforces my thought that Brewhouse and Kitchen are lucky to have him. 

I didn't eat much while I was there, a few canapés were being handed around of which all were very tasty bar some overdone chicken wings that disintegrated in my hands when I tried to eat them. I'll return in the near future to give the kitchen aspect of the business a proper inspection. I try a half of Black Swan, another of the Brewhouse's own beers which is rich with flavours of liquorice and figs yet still very drinkable but its the session IPA that has me going back for more.  

I think Brewhouse and Kitchen has a bright future ahead of it but I'm not sure hardcore beer slaves like myself are the target audience. Brewhouse manages to bridge the gap between craft beer and the restaurant going public in a similar fashion to the way Belgo did with Belgian beer when they opened in the mid nineties. It's in a central location, easy to find and less than two minutes walk from an underground station. The vibe is busy, casual and inoffensive so it will be as popular with families as it is with suits and those lining their stomachs before the epic pub crawl that the surrounding area is able to offer. It will be interesting to see how Brewhouse and Kitchen fits into the makeup of the Islington craft beer scene especially when they open the planned second branch just up the road on Upper Street in a few months time. I think I like it though, and I'll be going back again to make sure I do.  

Wednesday 8 October 2014

An Introduction to Craft Beer - Part II

As I make my way up Highgate Hill I stop and consider a slightly dilapidated 'Take Courage' sign on the side of The Old Crown. I was nervous, I hadn't been the days previous to this one but now I was starting to worry that I might let myself down. Under my breath I was rehearsing lines, making sure I remembered my facts and trying to instil a confidence within myself that would be required for the next few hours. 

Tonight I was hosting a sold out beer tasting at the wonderful Duke's Head in Highgate Village. About six months previously the owners had contacted me and arranged a casual meeting over a few beers. I pitched them my ideas which to my delight they went for. Weeks of planning followed by promotion then led to me walking up that hill muttering to myself about beer. The theme of the tasting was an 'Introduction to Craft Beer'. Myself and the team at Duke's had selected six beers, each a different style and included kegged, canned, bottled and cask brews. We'd also arranged for Duke's current kitchen residents The Bell & Brisket to whip up some salt beef sliders, pickles and fries to make sure our guests didn't go hungry. I was confident that I had a lineup that would please both stalwart beer enthusiasts and newcomers alike, all it needed was me to remember these damn facts and deliver them. 

I arrived and the pub was quiet as hoped, we'd picked a Thursday night for this reason. A few guests had beaten me here, some I recognised and some I didn't. I got myself a pint to steady the nerves and it almost worked. I poured over my tasting notes for each of the beers one last time, trying to remember key points that would trigger longer pieces of conversation. Conversation was my key word, I didn't want to spend two hours talking at our guests, I wanted to get people talking about beer. Eventually the remaining attendees started to arrive but so did a lot of other people, the pub was suddenly packed and loud. This didn't deter me, I would just have to speak louder I thought and I like to think that speaking with passion at volume is one of my few talents. I slowly walked up to the head of the crowd, glasses of Hammerton Steam Lager were put in the guests hands, I put my notebook down and began.    

I sought advice from numerous experts who do this sort of thing regularly and I thank them dearly for their help. One piece that stuck in my mind was that I was simply talking about beer and this is something I do all of the time, for fun and I held this with me throughout. It wasn't quite that simple but it was an immense amount of fun. I began by talking about the history of steam beer in America. The snappy, bitter version from Hammerton was a perfect accompaniment to the story of Anchor Brewery and Fritz Maytag. We then moved on to Five Points Pale Ale, served on cask and I enthused about the first uses of Cascade hops and how that began to change peoples perceptions of what beer could taste like. It was safe to say I was in my element. 

By the time I had placed the cans of our next beer, Fourpure Oatmeal Stout on the tables any shred of nerves had disappeared to be replaced with only pure adrenaline. It was interesting to see the reaction of a few guests at beer being served from a can but this was all part of my plan to hopefully dispel any bugbears they might have had about them. People cooed over this beer, many told me it was their favourite of night, a dry and drinkable stout with big flavours of roasted coffee and dark chocolate. This also triggered discussion about dispense methods, all friendly of course and all methods showed their benefits on the night.  

At the start of the evening I had given everyone a menu of the beers we would be serving and encouraged people to make tasting notes as they went along. I made sure with each beer we took in its appearance and aroma as well as its flavour and mouth feel and it was great to see everyone scribbling away as they analysed their beers. After refuelling on bagels we ploughed onwards with a palate cleansing Partizan Lemon and Thyme Saison. This beer divided opinion, I described it as 'a beer you can baste a chicken with'. Some really enjoyed it and a couple screwed their faces at it but then that's the beauty of beer. I also genuinely think it would work as a fantastic marinade for poultry. I spoke fervently about Saison and its origins, the style that people were probably least familiar with but hopefully they were inspired to try a few more afterwards. 

We finished the evening with a pair of absolute belters from The Kernel. I used Chinook Simcoe IPA as a platform to enthuse about my favourite style of beer and as I had been drinking each beer along with the attendees I was suddenly delivering my talk with a tad more gusto. We finished on an Export India Porter that had been ageing away in the Duke's Head cellar for a few months and we couldn't really have ended it any better than that. It was rich and fulfilling, it rounded off an excellent evening of beer. All that was needed at the end was a glass full of Bowmore to bring me down from the ceiling. It almost did the trick. 

My first thought after finishing up was that I immediately wanted to do it again and the good news is, we are. On Wednesday the 26th of November we will be bringing you Darker Days, an evening of dark beers, great food and a few other surprises that shall be revealed soon. Keep 'em peeled. 

Thanks again to the amazing team at The Duke's Head for inviting me to host this evening and being incredible hosts themselves on the night. Photo 2 & 3 were snapped by Duke's General Manager Tom Harrison. 

Sunday 5 October 2014

The Cult of Zwanze

Chris and I arrive at The Kernel at about ten past seven in the evening. It's not yet busy but already buzzing. A beaming Evin O'Riordian, the Bermondsey brewery's founder excitedly shakes our hands as our names are checked off a list. I've never seen Evin so animated, he's clearly thrilled to be hosting an event that is so well respected in many circles of beer.

We join the short queue for the bar and admire a more than respectable draught list featuring sour beers from some of the UK's finest and a few from Belgium's most respected. We order both a Fou' Foune and a Lou Pepe Kriek from Brasserie Cantillon, the brewery that has caused us to be here in the first place. These beers, both as rare as hens teeth, are good enough to ruin you for most other sour brews. The subtle, sherbert and apricot nuances of Fou' Foune are delectable enough to make a grown man weep with joy and this isn't even this evenings main event. 

We are here for Zwanze (pronounced Svanz-ee) Day and right now beer geeks around the world are waiting, waiting for a taste of this Zwanze, a beer released by Cantillon only once a year. Each year the beer is different, it is Cantillon owner and head brewer Jean-Pierre Van Roy's chance to push the boundaries of his beer as far as they will go. At 9pm Belgium time nominated Zwanze venues across Europe and the United States will tap a single keg of this beer and the Belgian brewery's most ardent fans will stand in line in order to obtain a glass of what will probably be their only opportunity to taste it.  

My first Gueuze was a Cantillon, I jumped in feet first at the deep end. I've now tried countless others but I always come back to Cantillon. It may be too acetic for some but I find this beer and its variants as elegant as they are intense, it simply has no equal within the genre. I first heard mention of Zwanze Day about two years ago but so secretive is this movement, and with the beer in short supply this is almost understandable, I had no idea what it was or which brewery it involved. What I did read were reports of endless queues and disappointment, mostly from the United States where some that had travelled to a Zwanze event had failed to obtain any of that years release.

A year later and Zwanze Day came around again, The Earl of Essex in Islington was Britain's nominated venue. Again it passed me by and I didn't obtain a ticket but I did see more complaints referring to an overcrowded venue that wasn't quite prepared for the throng of zealots that descended upon it. Over the next 12 months I tried more and more Cantillon beers and I too became one of the brewery's acolytes like so many have done before me. There was no way in hell I was going to miss out on this years Zwanze.

So I followed Cantillon's movements religiously and I clung on to every hint of information they released about this years beer like a comfort blanket. When the London venues of The Dove and The Kernel were announced I emailed The Kernel faster than a thunderclap in order to reserve my space. The days ticked down and eventually I was sat there with Chris in The Kernel's tap room. It felt unusual being there at a late hour with the arches of Bermondsey drawing closed but there was an incredible feeling of camaraderie in the room as we were all here for the same very important reason. 

It gradually got busier but not as busy as it can get on a Saturday lunchtime. I watched the clock, trying to time my queuing perfectly so as to minimise my wait and ensure I got my promised third of Zwanze. I drained the last drops of my kriek, another masterclass of a beer with sweet and sour in perfect harmony. I gently lunged my way towards the bar so as not to draw too much attention to myself. I was one of the first there as I had planned it and soon the line lengthened behind me taking over the room. Finally it was my turn, I exchanged three pounds and fifty pence for a wine glass of an effervescent, russet red liquid and I dove in, feet first. 

Iris is Cantillon's dry hopped version of their Gueuze. It adds an assertive bitterness to the already potent sourness, it is divine but it is not for the faint hearted. Aged for three years in oak this beer then becomes a Grand Cru. This Iris Grand Cru was then blended with a Kriek in order to complement the base beer and then in a final twist British Bramling Cross hops were used to futher enhance this beers complexity. The beer is called Cuvée Florian, named after Jean-Pierre Van Roy's son to mark his 18th Birthday and it is this years Zwanze.

Immediately on the nose are blackberries and sour cherries along with green apple skins and that barnyard musk that reminds you that this is a Cantillon beer. The nose translates almost perfectly into flavour, fruit and caramel keeping perfect control of acetic sourness. It has the tang of sour cherries but the juiciness of ripe blackberries and this lingers and lingers with a prickle of bitterness making sure that you want more. It is wonderful, it is as close to perfection as you can find in a glass of beer. 

The atmosphere in the room is electric, almost tangible and the verdict on this years Zwanze is unanimous. We have each fallen in love with Cantillon all over again. Soon the glasses of Zwanze are drained and we will have to wait another 12 months to taste Jean Van Roy's next creation but thankfully we weren't quite ruined for other beers. We work our way through the remainder of the beers on tap, smiling, laughing, comparing tasting notes, the people as much of the occasion as the beers themselves. 

Making my way home much later, still elated but significantly worse for wear I think out loud "damn, I wish I had gone to last years Zwanze day after all" to which my friend Claire replies "you didn't miss much, last years tasted like butt."

Saturday 4 October 2014

Wisdom for Home Brewers

Now before you jump to conclusions I am not about to dispense a load of frankly terrible advice for home brewers. This is in fact a review of a new book co-authored by Ted Bruning and Nigel Sadler entitled Wisdom for Home Brewers. The cover of this neatly presented little hardback promises 500 tips and recipes for those keen to make their own beer. As someone who has been toying with the idea of home brewing on and off for almost as I long as I've been writing this blog I was looking forward to seeing what knowledge I could glean and maybe one day put to use.

I've been promising myself that I'd start home brewing for ages. Somewhere in the attic above my flat is a Muntons brew kit plus a few extras I picked up and two vacuum packaged bags of pelletised American hops that have probably gone stale. After reading Charlie Papizian's excellent The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing I felt enthused, like I could brew anything. The reality is that I spend so much time drinking and writing about beer that putting a day aside to actually make some of it almost too big a commitment. That and the fear of failure, I don't want to dedicate precious time to making something that I don't love, especially when there are some many people that can already do it so much better than I'll ever be able to.

Wisdom starts at the very beginning with essentials such as equipment and sterilisation. Each piece of advice is broken down into a neat bullet point, a format it maintains from cover to cover. Its chapters are divided between methods, techniques and describing the ingredients themselves. It begins with bare bones basics before progressing from using malt extract to all grain brewing. Bruning and Sadler manage to cover brewing a range of styles from lagers to bitters through to new world hopped ales and even wood aged sours. However the writing indicates to me that their hearts lie with brewing traditional British recipes which isn't a negative, just an observation. The final chapter even covers the first steps of making the transition from home to commercial brewing. Literally no stone is left unturned. 

The bullet point format lets me down slightly. Every time you reach a section that you really want to get your teeth into it ends and moves on to the next one. When you're reading one of Papizian's excellent guides you feel like you're having an engaging conversation with one of the most enthusiastic and skillful brewers you've ever met. On this occasion it feels like the authors are instructing you like secondary school teachers and that makes it slightly less enjoyable to read than similar manuals.

Despite this I still found it highly informative and gleaned some brewing knowledge that I hadn't before. Their advice on water treatment was something I hadn't even considered as a home brewer, for example. I think this book will mostly appeal to people who are completely new to home brewing and brewers that are just about ready to move on to all grain brews. The recipes certainly seemed to be aimed more closely at the novice rather than the expert. Experienced home brewers may find some use for it but much of it should already be common knowledge to them. They may find the final chapter helpful for the step that may come after that however. 

My final criticism is than other than the odd cartoon there is almost nothing to break up the relentless plod of bullet points. It would have been nice to see some photographs of equipment and some diagrams but the text is resolute. Despite this it would still make the list of recommended reading if a friend of mine decided to turn their hand to brewing their own beer. 

Wisdom for Home Brewers by Ted Bruning and Nigel Sadler is published by Apple Press and available now. This copy was sent to me free for review purposes but I don't think that influenced my opinion of it. Original photography by Dianne Tanner