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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Book Review: Brewing With Wheat

Brewing With Wheat
Stan Hieronymus
Brewers Publications, $17.95

The books in Brewers Publications' back list form a rich trove of information for those who choose to dig in. BP has hit on a successful formula that combines history, style exploration, and brewing tips on a given topic--pretty dense stuff that won't appeal to everyone. But for those to whom they are aimed--pure manna. The latest is Stan Hieronymus's Brewing With Wheat, and for beer geeks of a certain temperament--like me--it should be considered a must-read.

It's not a brewing manual, a point Stan is quick to note at the start--but in some ways, it's more valuable because of the historical information. Stan digs deeply into the background of wheat brewing (which was once more common than it is now) and this provides a wonderful context for his discussion of styles later on. I was fascinated to read about grain rivalries and how this affected brewing. (The wheat-eaters claimed highest status; rye-eaters looked down on oat-eaters.) Taxes, bans, consumer preference--all these played a role in the waxing and waning of wheat's popularity among brewers.

The table set, Stan begins loading it with full glasses--Belgian wits, goses, weizens, deceased styles and emerging ones (the Widmers get a section). These are fascinating and so full of info that I can't imagine most readers not finding buckets of new info. Like:
  • The various forms of witbier that existed before WWI (they looked markedly different from the beer Pierre Celis revived in the sixties).
  • How the shape of a fermenter--and whether it has a lid--affects the production of isoamyl acetate and 4-vinyl guaiacol in hefeweizen.
  • What 4-vinyl guaiacol is.
  • How to give gose the thing that makes it swing.
Stan traveled around quite a bit doing research (poor bastard), and the information is parted out through interesting anecdotes from brewing characters he found in a Brussels apartment, a Bavarian village he identifies as Petting/Schonram (where the Weihenstephan-educated brewer is from Wyoming), Portland, Maine, and someplace called Pacific City, Oregon--among quite a few others.

I was inspired enough by the book that when I brewed a spring pale ale, I used 33% wheat. It was designed to be just a regular pale, but to employ the wheat to draw a fresh softness. I had that pound of Nugget hops from Steinbarts ($14), which I used liberally throughout, including in the carboy. It worked--the wheat made it light and soft and more spring-like. As I looked around my basement afterward, I realized that almost every recent batch of beer I brewed also used wheat: lambic, farmhouse grisette, and an old ale. Apparently, I like to tuck a bit of wheat into my recipes. Reading about the grain made it likely the trend will continue.

Great book. Those of you who will be interested know who you are--go buy it.
Full disclosure: although I've never met Stan, I admire his blog and I regularly trade emails with him; BP also sent me a copy of the book for review.


  1. I just had the Weihenstephan Hefe at Beir One in Newport the other day, and it was an awakening experience to the true nuance a hefe can possess.

    Wed, $3/pint... and the pints were more than honest... all in all, a reason to hit the coast from time to time.

  2. I agree, this is an amazing book.